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I’ve always known that Black was beautiful, but it wasn’t until recently that I fully recognized that my Black is beautiful.

Growing up in the small town of Kinston, North Carolina, I learned what it meant to be a little Black girl living in a white world at an early age, in elementary school.

I was selected to take academically gifted courses in the second grade, and I was the only Black girl in the class along with another Black boy, who is still my friend today.

I remember feeling alone and like nobody ever understood me at times, which caused me to become timid. I suppressed who I was in an attempt to fit in with my white peers, so I could be accepted and have friends. My mother had to teach me early on how to have tough skin. She thought it was important for me to know my worth and not let anyone devalue my gifts. I had to learn my strength in silence.

As I grew older, I became more exposed to my blackness, but it wasn’t until I went to high school and read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, that I learned the beauty of the struggles of being a strong Black woman through the main character, Janie. I didn’t realize the book would help me embark on my own journey of Black womanhood when I began attending college at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I began my college career alongside four other beautiful Black women who eventually became my best friends. They were my main source of support, helping me embrace being a Black student at a predominantly white institution. Although they helped me navigate college as a young Black woman, it wasn’t until November 25, 2014, when I began my search to find my own identity. I remember that day so vividly because it was the morning after Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, was acquitted of all charges for killing the unarmed Black teen in Ferguson, Missouri.

That day was very dark and gloomy, and it was a reflection of how I felt on the inside. As a senior walking on my campus, it was the first time that I felt invisible and unvalued.I participated in a peaceful protest and "die-in" on campus that day, where students presented their personal testimonies of police brutality and what it meant to be Black in America. Everything was surreal to me. I felt like I was becoming more in touch with how it feels to be oppressed and not be as equally valued as my other peers on campus.

It was at that moment when my view of the world drastically changed. I realized that based on the color of my skin and my gender, I had become America’s main target. When I looked at myself in the mirror after the protest that day, I decided as a 21-year-old Black woman that I would begin my journey of finding and fully embracing my Black identity.

Brianna Rhodes/Timothy Hargett

Although it's unfortunate that a tragedy prompted my journey, I became very dedicated in my quest of understanding my blackness in this country. I was unsure where to start, but I was comforted in knowing that I had a tribe that would help me along the way despite our different personal experiences. I realized there was joy in learning the process together since we were rooted in the same struggles.

In the beginning, I took the time to learn about the history of Black people’s contribution to my campus since it is the oldest public university in the nation and slaves built the university. The experience was very enlightening, and heavily influenced my process in shaping my identity. I began learning about significant Black figures such as George Moses Horton, who was a slave on campus and the first African-American man to publish a book in the South. I also learned more about the beauty in my blackness by taking African-American psychology courses and reading African-American literature.

My journey continued when I attended the University of Maryland, College Park to obtain my master’s degree in journalism. Graduate school definitely helped me be more conscious and influenced me to live my life as a carefree Black girl.

I made the initiative to take my education into my own hands and decided that I wanted to make my contribution to the world by writing about current events, specifically those that affect the Black community. I became interested in writing stories about the Black narrative to expose individuals about how significant our ancestors are not only to our race but history as well.

Living in the DMV introduced me to freedom of expression, diverse people and the different variations of blackness. The environment continues to give me the motivation I need to be proud of who I am and reaffirm the mindset that I can accomplish anything.

Although I feel like defining my Black identity is a never-ending journey, I have found peace knowing that there is beauty in being Black. My experiences have helped me develop self-pride, and it has raised my self-esteem. I now have a better understanding of who I am as a Black woman living in this country, and that is what I’m most proud of. My quest has been a struggle, but I am glad I'm at a point of knowing who I am as a person, and I’m excited to see who I will continue to become in the future. Most importantly, I’ve learned that no one’s identity is defined as the same, but that diversity in Blackness connects us.

Today, as a 25-year-old woman, I am blessed to pursue a career of writing for Black publications to celebrate the versatility and limitless beauty of being Black. It feels great to be a source of enlightenment for people to know that their Black is beautiful by celebrating Black pride, Black love and being unapologetic through shared experiences.

My journey has taught me to embrace my full lips, my melanated skin and my thick 4c hair. All of these traits have shown me the importance of being unique and free.

It’s important for my Black brothers and sisters to also continue to champion all that is beautiful in being Black, from our culture to our physical traits today, tomorrow and forever. There’s no better time than now for us to redefine what it means to be Black.