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Posted under: Race & Identity Opinion

An Open Letter To My Niece: They Pick On You Because They Like You

A letter I wrote to my niece for her 7th birthday.

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I can remember hearing the bell — fifth period is over. I have five minutes to; run to my locker, put my books away, socialize a bit, dart down the science hall, drink from the ‘good’ water fountain, and then do a combination of a skip, a hop and run down the back staircase. Giving me a little under a minute before my gym class starts.

I remember my phone ringing. A text, my sister just gave birth! I was ecstatic, I remember going up to the first person I recognized and sharing the news.

I remember my father picking me up from school. He sped down every side street, leading right to where you were. I remember feeling that feeling you get once you inhale that first whiff of hospital smell. I felt sick. I was nervous. For the past nine months, I was aware of your existence, I just wasn’t prepared for your arrival.

I remember first holding you. I was tense. I didn’t want to hurt you. You were sleeping — peacefully. As dainty and as sweet as you could be. You didn’t cry, not once. I’ve never seen cheeks so plump, so pink.

You glowed and you still do.

You’re growing to be a beautiful little girl. Yet, from time to time, I get quick glimpses of that little chipmunk I first met all those years ago.

Every day you’re experiencing new things, traveling to places. Places you’ve never seen before. Even if these places are just beyond your street. Your imagination has been crawling up until this point and now it’s ready to stand up on its own and let loose — but I see you are reserved. I watch you on the sidelines. I can see those big brown eyes working to dissect, reassemble and make sense of everything you see.

I look into those eyes of yours and I’m haunted by the memories of being your age.

You remind me a lot of myself. Like you, I was wide-eyed and curious. I too stood on the sidelines and would just watch. Too afraid to dive in and experience what life had to offer for me. Mainly because not everything I saw was pleasing. Sometimes the things I witnessed were ugly and unfair, and I didn’t want to open myself up to that torture. Standing on the sidelines was ideal to me, or so I thought.

I want to share a story with you: When I was about your age there was a little girl in my class who sported colorful neon ribbons on the top of her head. It was hard for anyone not to notice her; you could spot her in any crowd purely based off the ribbons she wore. The little girl had somewhat of a posse, a group of girls who would follow her around and fawn over her hair and those same neon ribbons.

There was also a boy in my class who was known for causing trouble. Everyone hated to see him coming. I would watch him pick on this girl almost every day. He would pull her hair, tug on her school dresses, and basically any and everything else that would send her running to the nearest teacher.

I could never understand why he terrorized the poor girl so much. From what I saw, she never bothered anyone and was always friendly. One day after we finished our snacks and were preparing to lay down for our nap; the young boy snuck up behind the little girl and with a pair of scissors, cut each and every single ribbon out of her hair. This sent the girl into a frenzy! I watched from my matt as she kicked, flailed and screamed from the top of her lungs. The boy, on the other hand, stood there frazzled. He couldn’t see why she wasn’t seeing the fun in all of this as he did.

Soon enough, our teacher came running over, snatching the scissors out of the boy’s hands, demanding an explanation. Quickly the boy scanned the room, realizing he was alone in his actions and obviously embarrassed; he began to cry. He sobbed for several minutes, unable to articulate his thoughts and express how he felt. His forehead wrinkling and his heart increasing in pace by the second. He instantly knew he was wrong.

By this point, it wasn’t just me watching. The entire class looked on, waiting to hear the excuse he would come up with. Though the boy continued to cry, the teacher refused to let up. Staggering over him, she still demanded an answer. The classroom fell silent as the boy’s sobs began to cease. I watched as his eyes bounced from the floor to his palms to the ceiling and back to the floor again. Ready to reveal his truth, his mouth began to part and with his eyes fixed on the teacher, he spoke quietly, “because I like them.”

“What!?” The teacher leaned in. A little louder, this time, the boy tilted his head back and screeched, “because I like them!”

Because I like them? That was his reasoning for terrorizing this poor girl? Pure admiration for her and her ribbons was reason enough for him to pick on her day in and day out?

Somehow, to him, this is what his infatuation translated into.

I share this story with you because like you I once held the wall up and refused to partake in the moving world around me, out of fear of scrutiny. I once, just like you, held my imagination captive inside of me and refused to let it run free all because I was scared of how others would react. I was afraid to share what was unique about me in fear of standing out and being picked on for it, but I want you to know that people will only pick on you just because they like you.

People will see the lack of hesitation when you smile. They will see the glow you have on you. You are unapologetic with your joy and it spreads to others around you. Unfortunately, these same people will pick on you for it. Someone will see your potential for greatness, the charisma you carry, your beautiful Black skin and those big brown eyes and will shame you because of it. Don’t let how people treat you, or how you observe others being treated stop you from diving into the moving world around you.

One day you will grow from a girl to a young lady and ultimately into a woman. Know that this is not a curse.

You are blessed. Be proud of your quirks and features, all while remembering you stand on the shoulders of leaders, scholars and compassionate givers. All of whom saw what you are seeing and decided to either change it or change how they looked at it.

Know that these same people won’t always be presented to you, so you must search for them. Never wait for your truth or history to come to you, instead seek it out on your own. With it, you will carry the knowledge, the fervor and the heart to run on.

You already possess everything that you will ever need.

I implore you to share that contagious spirit with everyone you meet. Continue to ask questions and stick around for the answers. Remember the world can’t be seen from merely watching The News, and that the places you hear about that lie beyond your street, do in fact exist. Go, touch them and feel the air around them.

I know that you’re constantly faced with images and coded messages that cloud your thinking. You turn on the TV or open a book and once again, there they are! Please understand, that in this world someone will constantly be working to define you. They will work endlessly to marginalize you and will even try to assemble the path that you will lead. Don’t stand against the wall and wait for your path to be revealed to you. Instead move forward and explore every nook, every cranny and journey onward to find your own path that will lead you to self-identity, love, and your own truth.

Most importantly, I want you to understand that there is nothing you can ever do or say to make me stop loving you. With every breath, you breathe there is a piece of me that passes through you, and with that same breath know that you are strong. Know that you are capable of anything.

You. Are. Magic.

I look into your eyes and I can see that you see the endless amounts of possibilities that lie before you. It won’t be until you step off of the sidelines will you begin to taste the sweet fruits that life is serving.

Dig in.

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God created Black People & Black People created Style — I'm a creator. Originally from Chicago. Currently chasing dreams in NYC