Confessions of a Black Diva

How many kids do you have?” one of the RATco students asked me, not offensively but out of pure curiosity.

“I- er- none!” I struggled to respond, taken aback by the question itself and my obvious unpreparedness for the situation.

Of course I love kids. Anyone who has been around me in the presence of babies or small children would undoubtedly say that I have an abundance of love for small little human friends. But being asked if I had physically given birth or raised a child of my own was a completely different story. I seriously did not want kids anytime soon and felt appalled that I would even be asked a question I initially viewed as nonsensical. After a conversation over a misunderstanding that I was related to one of the younger RATco children who apparently resembled me, I walked away, smiled and amused that someone could think of me having a baby.

However, my reaction came long before I learned about teenage pregnancy rates in Alabama. In all of the United States, the Black Belt  has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies. Within those states, Alabama has the highest rate of teen pregnancy. And within Alabama, Lowndes and Dallas county were almost in competition for the highest rate in all the counties. Many, if not most of the RATco kids live, grow up and go to school within these areas.

After learning this information, I started to put together why she would ask if I had kids. If at least 3/10 of her friends were raising kids before high school graduation, it would almost be normal to ask if I was in the midst of raising one of my own as well. It was this moment, but not this one exclusively, that I realized I played an especially unique role as a young, Black female volunteer in a program where the audience of children was almost all Black as well.

In some ways, I was already accepted into the community because of my skin color. My first week in Selma, I was stopped at least 4 times because people wanted to know where I got my braids done. I’m still getting asked where I get my braids done, many assuming that I had them done somewhat locally. When I pushed my cart through the Walmart aisle (assuming I was wearing “non provocative” clothing), I didn’t really feel uncomfortable because lots of people around me looked like me. During RATco rehearsals, it was often assumed by a good number of the children that I was from somewhere near Selma. Even during our canvassing of local neighborhoods, I usually failed to draw serious attention to myself unless I was with a mixed race group. Although I’m not sure I know exactly what to do with these perceptions- it is the interactions with the community in comparison to some of the other volunteers that lets me know that I’m surely being perceived in a slightly different way.

Additionally, this week has marked the influx of 5+ volunteer interns that are sharing the apartments with Karan and I. Needless to say, it’s really hard. Like really hard. I’ve gone from having 6+ hours of alone time to sometimes less than an hour. The fact that I’m here for a fellowship and not personal space makes the purpose literally trample over any minute suffering, but it doesn’t necessarily change the fact that I’ve got to work extra hard to learn to deal with more people and less space. Growing up, I was an only child and as spoiled as it is and sounds, I spent the majority of my life accustomed to my bedroom as well as a toy room so I rarely shared anything. It wasn’t until my Junior year when I transferred to boarding school when I learned that sharing and proper communication/people skills were necessities.

Boarding school was my first time sharing living space long-term and my first (and last) time living on a sleeping porch. A sleeping porch is an enclosed, enlarged porch that holds series of stacked bunk beds where the students are designated to sleep. I learned that even though I had spent years being socialized in school and daycare, I still needed to work on my only child privileges. It was the simple change from having copious amounts of alone time incorporated into my schedule to incorporating alone time in myself. Living with more roommates is a test of my growth, and although I have progressed from Junior year when I passive aggressively told my roommate that I didn’t want to share flip-flops, I still have a lot of weaknesses to overcome.

While I could go on and on about my daily varying levels of discomfort due to my personality type, horoscope sign, upbringing, etc., the truth is that I’m here for a purpose. Just like everyone else participating and volunteering in the foundations, we have common goals that we all want to see achieved. As Robert says, one of the RATco mentors and chef extraordinaire, “if we all swept our own front porch, the world would be a cleaner place.” So I’ll probably be sweeping my own porch for a while, all the while reminding myself that the end goal is way more important than my own personal annoyances.

Before choosing a location in my application for the Center for Public Service fellowship, I debated a lot between two sites: Nicaragua and Selma. As a Spanish and Latin-American studies major, I felt inclined to choose a site where I would be able to really use my Spanish and make connections with Nicaraguan culture on a very personal level. I also felt inclined to choose Selma, a site where I would have the wondrous and rare opportunity to spend concentrated time learning about Civil Rights movements and community involvement through various outlets. I obviously chose Selma. However, it wasn’t just for the learning experience but I also had hopes in that I would be able to connect with different parts of my Black community that were in need. I wanted to make a difference without being or having the mindset of a pretentious, spoiled diva who traveled to underprivileged communities to make herself feel better about the work I was doing. I didn’t want to come home to Virginia feeling sorry for everyone who grew up in Selma. I wanted to come home informed, with a new sense of what I could do for others as a young Black person still struggling to face and confront oppression on my own. In many ways, spending my summer in Selma has so far done a lot for me than I feel that I’ve done for the community. I am learning to prioritize what matters the most to me.

It is exactly this learning experience, this reflection piece, that draws me back to my sense of purpose that ultimately helps fuel and restore my well-being.

Andeulazia Hughes-Murdock ’18