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Growing up Black, Spokane teen feels caught between two worlds

Doug Nadvornick/SPR
Rogers High School in Spokane (FILE PHOTO)

When Nwannediya Kalu heard about a call for essays about Black experiences in Spokane, she immediately thought she had something worth saying.

The Spokane native and Rogers High School junior says she’s felt like an outsider for years, in part because she didn’t comport with stereotypical views of what a Black person looks or sounds like.

"There have been many times where I felt like I was divided with fellow Black people," Kalu says. "It was like I was in the group...where it's like, 'You don't act Black, but we know you're Black."

Kalu channeled her thoughts into an essay called “A Planted Seed,” which was published in the Spokesman-Review this month. Her words resonated with many of the people who contacted her after reading the essay.

"Teachers and friends and peers have been really proud of me, and telling me that what I did is really good and courageous and important, and in my eyes I didn't see it as that. [Hearing the feedback] I'm like, 'Maybe it's bigger than I think it is,'" Kalu says.

Others have reached out to tell Kalu that her perspective made them start thinking differently about their own preconceptions about Black people, something Kalu says was a cornerstone goal of her essay.

Kalu says the point wasn't to drag Spokane down — she says she loves the city — but to get people stop judging others by how well they match stereotypes.

A Planted Seed

by Nwaddediya Kalu

As I gradually open my eyes after a long night’s rest, the morning sun captivates me. I am aware that my day is about to begin.

We never know what the day will hold or the lessons that are soon to be learned, but luckily that’s the beauty of life. Growing up, I personally have had a positive outlook on life, always wanted to make friends and simply be accepted. To this day, I am the same person but the experiences of code switching, microaggressions, insecurities and degrading have been glazed over my brain. You may think that took a sharp turn left, but this is how reality hits you. It’s how it hit me.

As a young African American woman, I never thought I would be a victim to some of the endless traumatic acts my fellow Black people have experienced, but I was wrong.

Over the course of my life, an abundance of internal pain and self-doubt has been experienced. There were times where my days would be taken over by my emotions of sorrow and worry about what the outside world thinks of me. What they think of my Blackness and my own culture that is portrayed through me when I step out my door. Growing up in Spokane, a city that is not as diverse as others, has undoubtedly played a role in these moments of my life.

My need to bond over culture was not provided to me as much as I wholeheartedly craved. My soul ached for times where I could bond over the size of my afro with my brothers and sisters who rocked them with confidence just like me. Or have that time to sit and discuss social justice issues with one another and not have a doubt in my mind that they related to the same struggles I faced. Taking into consideration that we have influences all around us, I took what was in front of me and tried to make it my own, finding bits and pieces of my culture anywhere I could amongst the lack of diversity. Still, added to my memory were stereotypes and absence of knowledge from peers.

“You don’t talk Black; you’re whitewashed,” when I would speak.

“Is that your real hair?” when I style my hair they assume doesn’t belong to me.

The weight those words hold is enough to sink a ship, but instead the ship is my self-confidence. It’s quite draining trying to fight these constant ideologies that have been stamped on your forehead as soon as the world saw your skin was colored a little more than the rest. But hey, I guess that is just the seed that was planted and continues to grow.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.