Someone once said, “The best things in life come when you least expect it.” For the longest, I heard that saying and was never able to truly apply it to my life, until I was accepted into the Reese|Brooks|Gilbert Collegiate Leadership Initiative at The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects. In all honesty, I struggled to get my thoughts, feelings and emotions about the RBG cohort and The Lighthouse onto paper. Not because I didn’t have much to say, but because I haven’t been able to express exactly how I feel about it until now.
I will start with five words: Groundbreaking. Healing. Eye-opening. Life-changing. Informative. These five words have been circling through my head since I left The Lighthouse and my new cohort sisters. As cliché as it may sound, I am still trying to figure out how I was so lucky to occupy a space with 13 girls who each poured into me and allowed me to be myself, but also challenged me to be and do better.
Being a part of the RGB cohort was partly about getting to know the other students around me. While it would seem that it would be hard for college-aged young women to be vulnerable and genuine with each other, we never struggled to be just that. Getting to know one another, where we’re from, and our hopes and dreams was an indescribable experience. We cried, laughed and even got a little annoyed with one another. However, no matter the time or place, we remained respectful of each other’s lived experiences. I never felt as if who I am and what I do was invalidated or made to feel unimportant. In a world where all I see is women tearing each other down to boost our own agendas or feelings, it was astonishing to see what we all we wanted from each other was transparency. Not in attempt to judge but to relate with and understand one another.
While forming these bonds, we also toured the Southeast and found ourselves in spaces that challenged everything we thought we knew. In Alabama, we visited the Legacy Museum, a museum that focuses on the history of slavery and racism in America. In New Orleans, we went to the Whitney Plantation, a former plantation turned museum that is the only plantation that shares the narrative through the perspective of the enslaved person.
Though hopping from state to state was nice, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the anger I felt in hearing stories of my ancestors’ traumatic experiences. Distracted by the sadness I felt knowing things have not truly changed in not even 50 years. Distracted by the charge I felt in my heart to be a change agent for the voiceless or those who don’t even know any better. I began to consider who I am, what my purpose is and if what I thought this trip was going to be (a fun 10 days full of travelling and making friends) would be the same by the end.
While everything turned out amazing, and I met some of my best friends to date and received new information about myself and my people, I think it’s important for me to stress just how grateful I am to The Lighthouse, my cohort sisters and my college for this opportunity. I can, without a doubt, say I had a positive transformation while on this trip. A transformation that needs no words. I will never be the same and I mean that in the best of ways. A once quiet, reserved girl learned there is power in silence and taking in every moment without feeling pressured to say something. A once extremely entitled girl was forced to step outside of her comfortable day to day routine and consider all those who came before her and fought for her right to live a life filled with the things she loves. All of the lessons, big or small, I take with me and reflect on daily.
I want to leave a token of inspiration I took from the trip, in Alabama, with whomever may be reading this. “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” This quote from Dr. Maya Angelou beautifully sums up how I feel about the trip and the history I learned while there. There is beauty in pain and past experiences but the true beauty is we don’t have to repeat it. In fact, we can take it, use it and become better and do better which is what I’ve done since I left Jackson, Miss. almost 4 months ago. I am taking everything I’ve learned, seen and experienced and using it as a tool to leave my mark on the world.
Applications for the 2020-2021 Reese|Brooks|Gilbert Collegiate Leadership Initiative are open now until March 1, 2020. Information about the two year program for college-aged women can be found here.