*Cries Vitamin C ‘Graduation’ song*

You know Lindsey, your mom and I were talking the other day about you, and one thing that we both said was that we aren’t worried about you. You have the strength and knowledge to go so many places, so both of us are confident you’ll go far.”

These words of encouragement came from my grandmother, the other day when I was having by far one of the most exhausting and frustrating days of my undergraduate career. It was such a warm and thoughtful thing to say, however it didn’t negate the fact that I am two weeks away from graduating from Ohio University and still don’t have a job.

These are always the words we want to hear or feel, but at the end of the day, until you are put in the position to create a new life for yourself after four years of much of the same things, you’ll realize it sometimes isn’t enough.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

Back in the fall, I applied to my first job for after graduation and within two months of a waiting period, was given a job offer. I was ecstatic, because at the moment, it was exactly what I wanted to do. But after I started to do my research, and well quite frankly, weigh it up against other potential careers, I realized that maybe I was disregarding my full potential as a professional.

The job offer was a great opportunity for someone who was passionate about all those things, it just wasn’t me. The truth is, most of us soon-to-be-graduates might not always land our perfect, dream job immediately after college, but to me that shouldn’t also prohibit from shooting our shot.

What do we have to lose after all?

So I picked myself up, after feeling discouraged about turning that job down, and had to remind myself who I was again. This took longer than I’d hoped, and I ended up having to reach out to those who had in my eyes “made their dreams come to fruition.”

To be honest this might be my biggest piece of advice for those beginning their senior year. It is crucial to drop anyone who brings negative energy into your life, and isn’t on the same wavelength as you. The people you spend that last year with have the potential to uplift you, support you or detract you from what you came to college to do.

This is why I can’t possibly take credit for the blessings and connections I have had, because truly, I have the best support system ever. Between my friend who has relocated to Oregon for her dream job, sending me emails and giving me kind words, to my mom giving me pep talks, I never felt as if I was doing this alone. But I did come to realize that although my friends, boyfriend and family were all there for me, this always came down to my desires, wants and priorities.

Everything from the desired salary I would set for myself to whether I wanted to be in a sunny or cold place were determining factors in my next move (but not last move). I started to look at all my options and immediately found that it made the experience of searching much more enjoyable.

So as I reflect on my last days here, the good and the bad, I have to remember that they all shaped me to be who I am, and who I need to show those employers when I do get that job. I would be in complete denial if I told you I wasn’t terrified. Terrified that I don’t have a reliable source of income coming in soon, terrified that I have no idea how long this will last, or if one job offer may come before the next and it not be the main one that I want.

But what I have found is that I won’t be in control of all of those things, God will, and what is meant to be, will always be.

Life doesn’t start and end immediately after graduation, it really is just the beginning and so although I believe it is in your best interest to have that job lined up immediately after, sometimes it doesn’t go that way.

After writing #MogulsInTheMaking, I came to realize that all of those people I admired, didn’t have the same results or same timing for a lot of their life changes, and in fact didn’t experience some of their best moments until they had faith and let it all fall into place.

That being said, I think there is something so admirable about those who had their mind set, and took this next chapter of their lives on early. The people who received their job offers early and began planning the other parts of their lives, should always be commended, because anyone who has graduated or even stepped foot into their senior year, knows how stressful it can be planning for that and school.

It’s not easy, but it’s also not impossible. I found that it was extremely important to find some students who are people of color to share their post graduate plans because in this day in age it always feels good to see each other succeed.

At this point in the year if you ask any senior at any given time how they are feeling, it’s usually a lot of different feelings. There are good days and bad days, but it wouldn’t be normal if one didn’t feel somewhat overwhelmed in the beginning.

Here are three students who shared their feelings about embarking on their next chapter.

Jeffrey Billingslea

Moving to NYC to join Edelman Communications Marketing Firm on there Public Affairs Communications Team.

1.What is one word you would describe when it comes to how you are feeling about graduating? Fulfilled.

2.What do you wish you would’ve known then that you know now?
“I would have immersed myself into more academic programs by adding more certificates and additional business minor.”

3.Black Alumni weekend is in three years. Where are you trying to be at by then (professionally)? *What’s the glo up going to look like?*

I’m [looking] to have begun my dual MBA and Law Degree, in hopes of practicing corporate law.”

 

Michael Mathews

Working all summer back home and preparing himself to go to Spain in the fall to teach English. He plans to stay there for 1-2 years so that he can perfect his Spanish before he comes back to the U.S. to begin grad school.
1.  What is one word you would describe when it comes to how you are feeling about graduating? 

Finally!!!!!!!!!
2.  What do you wish you would’ve known then that you know now?

“I wish that I would have found out about some opportunities and some resources before I was a senior.”
3. Black Alumni weekend is three years. Where are you trying to by then professionally? What’s the glo up going to look like? 

“Well, If I’m back in the States by then I would like to have graduated from graduate school with my masters in Speech Pathology with a job waiting on me in Cali. If I’m not back in the country that I’ll probably be still traveling and learning about different languages and cultures.”

 

Lauren Boulding

Attending Loyola University Maryland to pursue a Masters in Business Administration.

1.What is one word you would describe when it comes to how you are feeling about graduating?

Ecstatic!

2.What do you wish you would’ve known then that you know now?

“I wish I would’ve known that I didn’t want to work in the clinical side of Healthcare, so that I wouldn’t have wasted a semester studying topics that don’t interest me. However, I’m glad that I realized that I prefer the business aspect of the healthcare field.”

3.Black Alumni weekend is three years. Where are you trying to by then professionally? What’s the glo up going to look like? 
“I definitely hope that I will be working for a prestigious consulting firm. That’s my ideal job post graduation because it pays well, and I can gain a lot of experience working in different health care settings. The traveling part of consulting is also a plus. Hopefully by that time, I’ll be living in Atlanta or Houston! We’ll see!”


To think that these four years are almost over, genuinely makes me feel so many things.

Anxious. Upset. Nostalgic. Ready to go. Not Ready to Go. Excited. Grateful. Blessed.

We overlook the fact that we are simply here way too often. I remember coming in with some, only to lose that friend the next semester. I have endured so much during my time here, but I know I wouldn’t have half the strength I have now without those experiences.

So out of all those feelings, I mostly feel hopeful, because at the end of the day, we always have to move forward. I am beyond excited to see what all of my friends and classmates end up doing, and how they plan to elevate the fields they go into.

A lot of markets lack representation of African Americans or other people of color, but we are changing that. Black graduates are important, and we are innovating and changing the world with each of our talents.

So that being said, congratulations to all of the graduates, whether or not you are where you want to be right now.

The world is ours.

 

 

 

 

 

A Sense of Community

As the semester comes to an end, so does Melanin Matters. I’ve been reflecting lately on the topics we’ve discussed, such as intersectionality of black gay men, the evolution of masculinity in fashion, mental health, colorism, natural hair and interracial relationships. And while these are all elements of black culture that we may not discuss as much as we should, many topics still remain.

One of which I plan to discuss today — religion and race, particularly those of the Muslim faith.

When I first started writing this article, I would start to type and then delete something and then type again — only because I was afraid of speaking on something I myself have never lived, or known.

Over the last year or so, I have had the privilege to get to know many international students who live in my complex, on a much deeper level than I anticipated. They have shared their stories with me in passing, in the kitchen of my dorm, and even at a program.

For today’s post, I spoke to someone at the mosque who put me in contact with Nura Abubakar, a graduate student from Nigeria who will be receiving his Masters in African American Studies this spring.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

Nura, a 32-year-old man, who is an international student, represents many different identities. Not only is he of the Muslim faith, but he is also African, an international student and a male. Growing up in Nigeria, he explained that about 75-80% of where he is from, people identify as Muslim. He represents many marginalized and feared identities in this country, however he is completely fearless and unbothered by them.

He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, before attending Ohio University, and prior to that comes from a very educated family — although he was the first of his siblings to receive his degree. And when I say he is absolutely brilliant, I mean he is absolutely brilliant. He finished reading and studying the Quran by age 12. He explained to me how it is very easy for some, while others may take longer to process and apply it to their life. At the end of the day, I find it beautiful that it is something people can interpret at their own pace, like the Bible.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

Having gone to school in different places, he found that the best way to adjust to the different environments was to immerse himself in each of the different cultures. However, he was always fully aware of his sense of self.

“Being someone from Northern Nigeria you also have to learn the culture, you have to always act like a Muslim, be a Muslim and do so many things as a Muslim,” Abubakar said.

However, Nura went on to say that he didn’t know that he was considered a minority when he came to the United States, where he realized the amount of attention placed on the difference in religion and even the color of your skin in black culture.

“In Nigeria you don’t even look at your color, but again there are some people who are fair in complexion than me. So they look and see, oh you are white but we are all African,” Abubakar said.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

Learning about Nura and what his family taught him growing up about prayer throughout the day, doing well in school and embracing all it is to be a Muslim man is beautiful — simply because it is based solely on bettering himself as a man — truly focusing on self-reflection and building a strong foundation and sense of community.

What made me smile most, was the optimism in his voice when he talked about coming here. He focused on what he knew he had control over, which was his faith, his degree and his love for his country. It made me wonder what it feels like to have a strong tie to two places. In one sense, it is nice because he has exposure to so many people, and is able to create another strong community of likeminded people.

We see things through such a narrow lens, and much of what he shared with me was the interesting thing about what people see first when looking at him. The whole interview his head was held high and a warm smile was on his face. It made me reflect on how strong we are as people of color and how much we endure, but even more so if we aren’t native to the United States. When I asked him if he felt a strong sense of community here at OU, he responded saying that he did.

At the end of the day, people may never know what it’s like to be stared at because you are wearing a hijab, or know what it feels like for people to just consider your one identity and disregard the others, but you will never know if you don’t seek every opportunity to learn.

I smiled because I recently saw Kanye West feature a model who is Muslim, Halima Aden, in his show.

It’s great to have different types of representation for young women, but let’s take it a step further.

Let’s not just feature them in fashion shows because they are “exotic”, let’s be inclusive each and every day in our daily lives. Let’s stop generalizing and putting people in categories. Let’s not be tone deaf, and for goodness sake, let’s take it upon ourselves to embrace every person’s differences.

For more by Lindsey Mathews, click here!

#MogulsInTheMaking : Ashley Osborne

Ashley Osborne, the bubbly, quirky and bright soul, is the person you want to know if you want to explore all things photography, art and entertainment. Osbourne is a December 2015 graduate of Ohio University and has proved to all the haters that it is possible to pursue not one, but all of your passions.

The Middletown, Ohio native is currently working as a consultant for boss girl, Jess Weiner in Los Angeles. It is here that she helps create content for Weiner’s blog, producing podcast scripts, and other tasks related to digital media and production. But luckily, Osborne has also been able to set aside time for herself to still feed her other hobbies and interests, such as producing art of her own, photography, and dance

Los Angeles, California via Instagram

I first met Ashley through a mutual friend when I was a sophomore. I had attended an event she put on called #OhioConnect, put on by Amplified, an organization Osborne helped create and presided over. This event featured young professionals on a panel discussing their careers. But perhaps the first thing that I noticed when I met Ashley was her energy and ability to help put on a program that clearly required so much hardwork and dedication. She was energetic and full of excitement even in the midst of being busy. But what I found baffling was that her love for life and the unknown is how she always is. She remains an optimistic person, and most importantly a goal digger even when she is fortunate enough to be where she is.

The Well, Los Angeles via Instagram

Since arriving in the City of Angels, beautiful LA, Osborne has had two jobs at two very different settings. While both have been jobs in media and digital production, she found that her most recent job has been the best fit.

Her previous job was creating digital media for an entertainment brand, but she found it just wasn’t a good environment and culture for her. Because she felt it didn’t value creativity as much, she decided to leave, and that is when she began working for her current boss, Jess Weiner, whom she feels is a much better fit due to the fact that they share many of the same values.

Jess Weiner, a public speaker, entrepreneur, and author, has served as an ambassador for brands such as Dove for their Beauty campaign, and has long been an advocate for social and cultural change, especially for young women. Her site jessweiner.com is where you can find most of the content and contributions that Ashley has also helped produce.

As far as developing herself professionally, outside of her job as a social media producer, she has taken on photography, art and dance, all avenues of self expression that have made her unique, but also quite marketable in digital media.

“My title is social media but I do so much more, all around I would call myself an artist,” Osborne says.

Hudson Loft, Los Angeles via Instagram

I asked Ashley a few questions about what it’s like to not only have a new job, but to be in a completely new city across the country. Often times, we’re afraid to move far out because of the close relationships we have with our loved ones, but she provides insight on not only her professional journey, but her personal one as well.

SXSW, Austin, Texas via Instagram

What is your favorite part about being in this field?

My passion lies in having more positive representation of women of color in media, I think representation is so important. It shapes not only how we see the world, but how we see ourselves. If you grow up without seeing someone who doesn’t look like you wont feel a connection, or it may have a negative effect on your self esteem. That’s why I like being in media because I get to create. I think when I was growing up I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me, and if they were they weren’t showing [audiences] the full scope. Black Women are multi-dimensional. That’s why its very important that I create.

NOHO Arts District, Los Angeles via Instagram

How has postgrad life been so far

Honestly it has been great. College is so restricting in a sense. Its good for learning how to take care of responsibilities, but it can be very Eurocentric, and I hate being graded. I like that now I can make what I want and know that if you don’t like it I won’t be penalized, other than my job. I have the freedom to do what I want. I love not being in school. I think it’s a good ticket, [and] I would not be where I am today without it, but I’m glad that it’s over. I think it’s helpful to feel that freedom. You can move across the country, you can move across the world. I like feeling like the world is open and I can make whatever decision  I want to make.

 

The Grove, Los Angeles via Instagram

Do you feel as if you have to have a degree in this field to receive the maximum amount of opportunities?

“I believe anything is possible. There are plenty of people who went to school and dropped out. Sometimes I feel like when you don’t go to school, youre forced to make things happen on your own. School or no school I think you have opportunities. With school you get more time to figure it out, but that doesn’t automatically get you a ticket. I think a degree helps if you want to get into management, but if you want to be a creator, you don’t have to have a degree. A degree is a bonus accolade. Anything is possible in the field of media, especially now since people are able to make their own media. You [just] have to be self-motivated.”

 

Los Angeles Trade-Technical College via Instagram

Do you have any advice for graduating students? And what advice do you have for other college students who are looking to pursue a career in your field?

“For graduating students, I would say don’t stress too much. I had a lot of anxiety, because I had so much I wanted to do. Whatever is going to happen to you is going to be the best for you, the other part of me was used to being a go-getter.  After graduation, I worked at Starbucks, just to keep working. I went through anxiety (senior year), but didn’t let it weigh my down. Don’t be so anxious about the next move. Look at all you’ve accomplished by graduating. Whatever is coming, has already happened.”

L.A. Live, Los Angeles via Instagram

“For other college students, I would say pay attention to the things that interest you naturally. Even if you don’t know exactly, we’re all pre-filled with a purpose. Create your own experiences; the internships may not always fulfill what you have in mind. That is so much more valuable than working at anyone’s office. I encourage everyone to do that in college because you do have the resources and the equipment, but some people completely overlook that. Nowadays in media, you have to create your own stuff and have your own personal brand.”

SXSW, Austin Texas via Instagram, Photos by Ashley Osbourne

Is there anything you know now that you wish you could tell a younger Ashley? 

“That it’s okay to be crazy and weird. I feel like I’ve always been crazy and tried to tone it down and change who I was, but then in college I realized who I am isn’t going away so I need to love it. Take the time in college to try to get to know yourself. Dig deeper into your interests. Even if you don’t have it all the way. Use this time in college to get to know yourself, or start to get to know yourself.”

Instagram:@hi_ayeoh

Twitter: @hi_ayeoh

Embracing All Identities

Since the beginning of time, we have lived in a world where gender roles take precedence over what men and women may want to be. The minute we are born, we are checked to see what gender we are, which determines a lot of things for us — our name, what we wear, how we are treated and how we are raised. These are all expectations that we don’t have any say over, but the minute someone chooses to identify differently, all hell breaks loose.

I interviewed Dontay Graham, a senior studying Integrated Language Arts, whose bright and open demeanor radiates the moment he enters a room. Not only is he extremely involved, holding executive positions in The Scene Magazine, Faces Modeling and SHADES, but he is also extremely well traveled. I interviewed him last year for my radio show about the Shades Ball, an event that the organization, SHADES, puts on every year, but I knew that his story went much deeper than the fives minutes we spoke.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

Graham grew up in a military family, living everywhere from Virginia to Italy to Guam. When he came out to his family, he explained to me that his parents were extremely taken aback at first. However, now they have a relationship where they are supportive, and even discuss news that pertains to the LGBTQ community, such as gender constricting uniforms.  When I asked him about any other outside support he mentioned his friends.
“I feel like I was never really in the closet with my friends,” Graham says. In fact, it wasn’t until he came to Ohio University that he noticed the level of homophobia and racism that the Midwest still possesses.

Geographical Location: OU vs. the World
So first off, I think it’s always important for us to remember that we live in Ohio. Not that Ohio is bad, but it’s Ohio, and there is so much out there as far as identities and different lifestyles go. I think because we live in such a small city, and most of us don’t live too far from our school, we haven’t been exposed to other countries or regions or identities.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

“In Asian culture, there’s this hybrid formation where roles can be interchangeable,” Graham says. “There has even been multiple European royal families in history where members have been and identified as bisexual.”
Socialization
As millennials, we may be hooked to our phones and maybe even slightly lazy, but we are also outspoken and passionate about who we are, so it’s our responsibility to honor any person’s way of embracing their inner self. The media’s perception of how gay or trans people are may represent some experiences, but not all of them.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

There are people who are targets and may live all of their life hiding their sexuality. In black culture, we place more of our beliefs and ideals on Christianity than we think. I identify as a Christian, a spiritual person actually, however it has always been my perception that religion is and always will be interpreted differently depending on the person and their experiences. It’s important to catch that part — experiences, because at the end of the day, do we truly know what someone’s gone through if we haven’t even tried to see it from their perspective?

Photo by Nick Oatley.

“I still feel like there are idiots who don’t think homosexuality, bisexuality and other identities are valid,” Graham says. “They just may not have a platform to express it.”
The strong sense of community is what many people in the LGBTQ community have had to create themselves, but in my opinion, it shouldn’t be a group of people who feel marginalized, it should instead be a group of people who are constantly empowered by others.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

“I feel like if you bring up certain issues in the church there is definitely pushback and I definitely feel like I have to sometimes tone it down or be silent,” Graham says.

Intersectionality: Being Black & Gay
Dontay and I spent most of the interview discussing the many double standards and trials each identity faces. Being a black man already places him as an immediate threat because of his skin color, so that’s just one of the challenges he experiences. His identity as a gay man, is one of a completely different experience. I just can’t help but wonder why a man wanting to be with another man somehow makes him less of a person, and not able to identify at all with a heterosexual man.

We are all facing the same challenges.

 

Photo by Nick Oatley.

“Black Masculinity is much different than white masculinity,” Graham explains. “White masculinity is much more fluid and open to interpretation.”

Over the course of the year, I have discussed natural hair, fashion for men, body image, colorism, mental health, and interracial relationships — all elements of black culture that we are often times patronized for. This is equally as important.
“I feel like people always want for something to be in a category for them to understand, not for something to simply exist.”

Sharing Their Story

I was sitting on the edge of my seat, fists clenched and anxiety through the roof. My hand was over my mouth for most of the movie, and I constantly found myself glancing around the theater to see if people just saw what I saw.

Get Out, a suspenseful, romantic thriller directed by Jordan Peele, was perhaps the most insane movie of 2017, and maybe ever. A lot of people, as well as bloggers, examined Peele’s film, looking into certain characters and things that may have had a deeper meaning.

I’m still realizing little things that I may have missed along the way. Perhaps the most exhilarating part of the film, other than the experience of seeing it in theaters versus at home, was the makeup of the audience. To our left, sat another couple, but five or six rows down sat a group of middle-aged women. It was sold out everywhere, and images from the movie were (and still are) floating all over Twitter.

Ironically, about a few weeks prior to seeing it, I sat down with my older sister and mom in the kitchen and somewhere in our lengthy conversation, we had gotten on the topic of relationships. Since I can remember, my mom has always known the right thing to say, and most of our conversations have ended with me feeling secure, confident and open-minded about my decisions in life.

However, there is one topic, my sister and I have never really agreed with her on and that’s interracial relationships. Now I want to clarify, my mom is in no way, shape or form against them, but she has always made it clear to my sisters and I that it adds a different element to a relationship. It took me a long time to process that most of this uncertainty came from her growing up during the Civil Rights Movement with my grandmother, who lived through segregation and discrimination as well.

These are women who didn’t have the right to really date outside their race, so their perception of interracial relationships will always be different. This made it difficult, however, for my sisters and I to date when we were young, because both of my parents didn’t grow up in the same times, and school system where we did, so they didn’t understand the desire to be with someone who didn’t look like them.


I had the opportunity to have an amazing interview with two Ohio University students on the topic. Aida Diop and Russell Baldrick, both freshmen, are from the same hometown. They went to different high schools, but met when they were still in high school. They have been together for two years, but still look at each other like they are meeting for the first time.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

They have refreshing and happy expressions on their faces when I first sit down with them at Court Street Coffee, and were sitting confidently by each other the whole time. The positive energy is the first thing I noticed about the two, because I wasn’t interviewing them about their favorite color, but about how and if not being the same skin color affected their relationship. It could have easily been tense and awkward, but they didn’t allow it to be.

While sitting down with them, I got two very different opinions and feelings. Aida, who grew up in a primarily white neighborhood, expressed more of an open conversation around race. She expressed that during her time here, it’s become very clear who is in support of interracial relationships, and has been made a much bigger deal.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

“I get frustrated sometimes,” she said. She explained that every now and again they will get looks from people, but she just ignores it. She did say that sometimes she will see a different reaction from people, in which they may dap her boyfriend up or high five him, which is usually black men.

Russell, who has a very quiet, but insightful demeanor, expressed his need for not letting race become a prominent part of their relationship. He shared that he doesn’t believe it should be a “thing” and he doesn’t understand why people allow it to have such a negative connotation.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

Although this is where the couple had different stances, they didn’t seem to allow it to affect their relationship. It actually seemed to strengthen it since they were able to communicate and accept that in each other. They explained that they were thankful that both of their parents have accepted the relationship, despite whether or not they initially did.

“I don’t think my parents really wanted me to date anyone back then,” Diop giggled, in which Russell stated that he has always wanted to strengthen his relationship with her father.

This was a big moment in the interview because it was the one moment where I realized why this relationship has lasted for two years — they are still trying to embrace each others’ families, culture and differences. The fact that it is has been this long, they are still young, and he still wants to have a relationship with her father, speaks volumes and I think it should be acknowledged.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

After a few weeks passed from the conversation I had with my mom, seeing Get Out, and conducting this interview, and I was able to process the encounters, I see exactly where my mom is coming from, in the respect that we will always have to experience things in relationships, so the person you’re with shouldn’t be written off just because they’re not able to identify with you completely.

No one in a relationship is able to identify with someone completely — that’s why it’s important to embrace all differences, not just how we look. The other perspective that I have that I think resonates with most people of color, is that race should and needs to be addressed. Far too often, people who are in interracial relationships believe that maybe if we pretend it’s not a thing, it won’t be a thing, but I think this is the worst thing you could do.

It is your duty to ensure that you have open communication about all things that may affect a relationship, and that’s just relationships, in my opinion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making an effort to talk to your significant others about the experiences they are having, and if racism and discrimination is one of them, I think it’s important that you’re there for them and don’t allow it to break your relationship.

We live in a world, where yes, it’s getting better, but just like many other things, we have a long way to go. Be open, be communicative and be willing to learn even the hardest and most uncomfortable things, even when you don’t want to.

For more by Lindsey Mathews, click here!

 

 

Living in Color

Growing up, I was fully aware of what set me apart from my classmates as far as my skin color. From an early age, my parents educated my sisters and I on what we may deal with being some of the only black kids at our school, and what it may mean having differences in our appearance. But although I was aware of my race, I don’t feel as if I became fully aware of my actual skin color until college, when I experienced for the first time in my life, some privilege.

Now if you have any experience with teaching, you know, that regardless of your personal beliefs, even if someone has you all up in your feelings, you have to remain calm, cool and collected.

Below are the words uttered by a four-year-old boy, who is white and comes from a middle class family. He was one of my favorite students. Bright smile, wonderful energy and always open to playing with different kids in the class. His best friend — the only black boy in the class.

“You guys can’t sit at this table. This table is for the peach people!” one of my students said.

When I first heard him say this, my heart dropped. Never in my life had I seen such innocence come from such a bold statement. But there was another part of me that knew if I had ever said those words, my parents would have had no mercy on me. It was my job to make sure he understood the message behind that statement.

I got myself together on the side and then proceeded to explain that trying to segregate the class based on the color of our skin, means making the classroom divided and less welcoming for students.

It both confuses and angers me that people who function in a world where when they pick out an outfit, decide what their favorite color is, choose a game piece for a board game — don’t see color. I think we should consider what makes us not see color, versus pretending race isn’t a physical attribute that some have to recognize more often than others.

We place such a negative connotation on race and colorism, that in my opinion, should have nothing but a positive one. To pretend that someone doesn’t look different than you is the refusal to acknowledge differences. 

But the realization that light, brown and dark skin did in fact, have subliminal implications to what we all consider the standard of beauty, came when I began getting more into print media, specifically fashion magazines. For some reason, it never donned on me how these fashion publications were lacking in diversity, when there is (and always has been) a sea of black women looking to pursue modeling careers.

Not only that, but darker skin women, who are continuously rejected or told they don’t have the look simply because that’s not what people are used to seeing. To tell someone they don’t have the look is a disservice to all the women who wish they had someone who looked like them or someone they love. And although I love my Naomi Campbell, Chanel Iman, Joan Smalls, and Iman Hammam, I’m tired of seeing the same black women in magazines, that don’t always represent what some women look like. It should never be difficult for someone to break into an industry where women are typically praised for what makes them different, and maybe at some point in their life, insecure. 

I interviewed six girls on campus who stand out as poised, confident black women. I spoke with each of them about their experiences being black women in America, where they may have felt either an advantage or disadvantage to having their particular skin color. Every single one of them said that it has had an effect on them, both positive and negative.

Here’s what they had to say:

All Photos by Nick Oatley

What is colorism?

Diarra Ndiaye

“My definition of colorism is these predefined notions that if you’re dark skin you’re not cute, and if you’re light skin you’re cute. But I feel like that’s not right. All black girls should feel beautiful and all black girls have the right to shine.”

Rasheedah Beatty

“Colorism to me is just a spectrum, it can be how you identify but primarily to me, it’s just color. I don’t really see the “ism” behind it or everyone thinking it needs to be a theology, it needs to be a theory … it’s literally the color of your skin. And then if you then choose to delve into that deeper, which you should, then we start talking about race and ethnicity.”

As a black woman, do you feel as if your skin complexion has given you certain advantages or impacted your life in a different way?

 Jasmine Lambert

“As a black woman I feel there are disadvantages and advantages to my skin tone every day. I think it makes you realize that you have to work harder and sometimes you might walk down the street and get a few more stares than a white girl. But it’s all about perspective and if you’re ashamed of your color it will always be a hindrance, but I choose to embrace my skin tone and love it.”

Danielle Baston

“Growing up I grew up in a suburb where it was really diverse, but there are a lot of white people too, so I always felt like I would always fade away. Like I wasn’t truly black. A lot of my family is light so sometimes I wouldn’t think I was as black as my other friends.”

Is there a stigma with being a certain shade?

Jasmyn Pearl

“People expect me to be stuck up and rude, and I’m not. I think there are prejudices with every skin color, but when you’re light skin, some black people think you’re better than others, and some white people think you’re more like them than dark skin people. It’s the perpetuation of things that happened after Africans were brought over to America.”

 

Breaking the Fashion Mold

Gender norms — They tell us how to act, how we should look, how we should behave. They’re these expectations we place on each other. The worst part is that they’re embedded in us from the time we grow up, to the time we are off on our own.

One of my least favorite gender norms placed on men is the restrictions that they have as far as embracing fashion and investing time into their appearance. I’m talking about the scrutiny that young men experience for trying to break the boundaries to which they can dress without being labeled. I appreciate when men look different — the desire to wear something that catches peoples’ eyes, and makes them turn their heads.  

Photo Credit: Pinterest

One example of this that I think we may all be familiar with is Jaden Smith. When he recently wore a skirt in Louis Vuitton’s womenswear advertisement, it nearly broke the internet. This wasn’t the only instance where he was in the spotlight for his fashion choices — his appearance in Vogue last year seen with a flower behind his ear was all over social media.


Within the last year, we’ve seen a rise in crop tops being worn by men, particularly athletes. But by far the biggest toss-up in the entertainment and rap industry was when Young Thug released his album, JEFFERY, which featured him in a long purple gown. It completely challenged his identity and complicated the concept of “black masculinity.”


When I think about the trends that we see in fashion, like crop tops, dresses, skirts, pastel colored tees, super skinny jeans, short shorts, tunics, and purses, I can’t help but chuckle because these are all trends we’ve seen before. They were just in a different decade with a different set of people who embraced them.  But now, just like at any other time in history, we live in an era where we are judged for the ways that we express ourselves through fashion.


I interviewed a friend of mine, Nile Harris, a senior Chemistry major who is the ultimate Tumblr boy, curl goals, and juice god. He is notorious for his style and effortless swagger. But I didn’t just interview him because of that sole reason. I interviewed him because not only is he fashionable, but he is going into a career where his interest in apparel and personal style wouldn’t typically be seen.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

When I asked Nile how style has evolved for men, he also agreed that it has become much more experimental.

“I think before men have definitely been in this box of masculinity where it’s not “man” enough to wear certain colors, or certain fitting clothes, but I think that barrier has slowly but surely been eliminated as time has been passing,” Harris says.

When asked what specific trends he has seen in the media, or even on the average person, he said that one of the things he is noticing more and more of is men beginning to wear tighter fitting jeans.

“I remember back in middle school it was pretty much a social death sentence to wear skinny jeans, but now it’s like, if your jeans drag on the ground you can’t be trusted,” Harris says. “For myself, I definitely do own a few pair of skinny jeans, but I still enjoy not so fitted jeans, just to keep a variety.”

Photo by Nick Oatley.

You could wallow and worry about what people will think, or you can embrace the idea of being different. This doesn’t require you to go out and buy a skirt, or sport a crop top for the next time you want to hit the gym, but it does challenge you to stop looking at style through a microscope.

 

Love Your Imperfections

My first memory of recognizing body image was in my fifth grade history class. I have always been thin; however, I hadn’t grown into my head, and on top of that, I was super skinny. People frequently teased me for being “too skinny” and would tell me that I needed to eat more. For some people, they’d see nothing wrong with that, we were kids, right?

One day, I’m standing in line and all of a sudden a girl in my class yells, “Are you wearing … a bra?” I was humiliated. In retrospect, it wasn’t a big deal, but when you’re eleven, and you just had the puberty talk, emotions are running a little higher than usual. I think I was also terrified because at the time I wasn’t even an A-cup, so, yeah I can’t explain this one.

Fast forward to age sixteen where I basically got boobs overnight. Suddenly, I was walking a little different. I felt grown up, and I was feeling myself to the fullest. During this time, I ran cross country and track, so my metabolism was out of this world.

Next thing I know I’m in college, and bam, everybody and their mother seems to have curves, and at this very moment, I realized I looked like a lanky teenage boy. It took me years to accept that as much as I wanted curves, I’m most likely never going to have them. But I think what opened my eyes to realizing I wasn’t alone in my insecurity was a new wave of women on social media taking on these journeys of their own.

As college students, our bodies seem to be forever changing due to birth control side effects, the lack of healthy food options, and busy schedules. But, despite this constant pressure for perfection, these college years of our lives are meant for personal growth — mind, body and soul.

I had the opportunity to interview three wonderful women on campus who spoke to their perceptions of body image in society, as well as their experiences learning to love their bodies.


Kayla Young, senior at Ohio University, spoke to me about the pressure to stay healthy and confident in your body while dealing with stress or anxiety. But one thing she preached was making sure that during your process to living a healthy and happy life, you should love yourself every step of the way, even the hardest ones.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

“Healthy doesn’t always mean skinny,” Young says. “Love the body that you’re in, because at the end of the day you’re the only one who can love yourself.”

Young has been on her own fitness and healthy-living journey for two years now, and she explained that undergoing this type of commitment is more difficult than it seems on the surface. But what stuck with me most about what Young shared was the need to love yourself throughout the process.

“Don’t be afraid to have cheat meals,” Young says. “It’s not really about how you look, but how you feel.”

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Photo by Nick Oatley.

Which brings me to my next point … since when did being healthy and happy have to be limited to one size? More and more today we are seeing young women getting surgical procedures to fit the ‘hourglass figure’ mold. The mold that was set by us.

“We expect women to look like that when it’s not physically possible,” Young states. “There’s so much pressure, especially at a young age.”

As young people, our perceptions of the perfect body will forever be changing. It’s human nature, and greatly influenced by what we see in the media.

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Photo by Nick Oatley.

“What I considered to be a perfect body was a female who was skinny, [had] a butt, boobs,” senior Kayla Printup explains. “Stuff that is glorified by the world.”

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Kayla Printup. Photo by Nick Oatley.

When I posed the question of whether plastic surgery could have a negative effect on youth, senior Nia Hogue expressed her concerns about it.

“I think it encourages younger girls to pay and fix something they don’t like about themselves,” Hogue says. “But I do think it’s up to that person because if that’s what makes them happy then that’s up to them.”

However, what I personally have learned in my 21 years of living is that despite what you may consider perfect on one person, may be completely different than what they consider to be perfect. No one’s opinion of their body remains the same throughout their life, and that’s okay. Loving yourself, every little thing, is what’s important.


I’m a firm believer in building on your insecurities, and it’s up to you to find what makes you feel empowered and beautiful. Whether it’s getting plastic surgery, exercising, maintaining a balanced diet or just embracing your body as is, it’s your body, and your way of loving yourself.  Learn to love your imperfections because I guarantee that there’s someone out there who will love them too.

 

Peace of Mind

It’s week 7, but for some reason it feels like week 10. I thought maybe it was because of my senioritis, but as each week has passed and we’ve gotten closer and closer to midterms, I realized it was much more. You see, everyone paints a picture in their head that their senior year, despite the intensive job search, will have less work and more play. At least that’s how your girl imagined it to be, until I received 6 syllabuses all demanding at least 4 hours of reading each week. Anyone who knows me, knows I enjoy reading, for pleasure that is.

Since I can remember, I’ve hated reading from old, dusty textbooks that weigh more than me, but I especially dislike it if it is reading about something that doesn’t intrigue me. What I came to find out was that the cause of my stress hasn’t necessarily been the readings and heavy workload, but my 39,029 other commitments that I have. I rustled with the thought of possibly letting go of all my outside commitments, or just getting up earlier in the day to feel less frazzled, but the truth is, my anxiety and stress come in waves from time to time.

I first realized that I struggled with anxiety last fall, when like this semester, I decided to take on several extracurricular activities while taking 18 credit hours. If by now you’re wondering if I struggle with saying “no” to people, the answer is HYFR. I have since 1995, and it’s not something that I’m proud of. I’ve come to terms with the sheer fact that I like being busy, and it feeds my passion for always staying productive and working with people.

It wasn’t until one day last October that I realized I was out of my mind, and had dug myself into a hole. There were six weeks left in the semester, and I was completely behind in everything, which is unlike me. I am someone who has worked hard each semester despite the hardships, but all of a sudden I felt myself letting go of what I had worked my butt off to be here for.

It was that week that I sought help from friends and family.

 

The Media’s Impact

I believe that a large part of the stigma around people seeking help stems from how men and women act in the media. Since we have grown up, men and women are expected to be perfect and have it all together, but the truth is, no one does. Not even Beyoncé. I mean, for goodness sake; she even wrote an album about her emotions. We have set up these gender expectations for men to be tough and not discuss their feelings, and for women to be strong and fearless.

However, we are all human and sometimes life is extremely hard. We sometimes find ourselves comparing each other to those who we are curious about, admire and are inspired by.

Unfortunately, as a society we often times only see the good stuff, what people want us to see; not even knowing what people are battling internally. Scott Mescudi, also known as Kid Cudi and Kehlani Parrish, are two examples of public figures who have shared their battles with depression and anxiety through social media. Kid Cudi released a statement online saying that he needs to take a break from music to take care of himself and regroup. About a year ago, the internet nearly broke when singer Kehlani came forward after breaking up with Cleveland Cavaliers player, Kyrie Irving, addressing her struggles with depression.

We have to stop feeling like we can’t talk about these things, especially on social media, which is in some ways the most instrumental way to spread love and positivity. Our generation seems to struggle when it comes to having sensitivity to certain things, however it’s important to realize that just because it’s not a hot topic, doesn’t mean it’s not extremely important to talk about. Mental health and caring for yourself are the two most important things in our lives.

Why it Matters

Mental health may not be something that you struggle with, but the thing is, not everything that you support needs to be something that you’re struggling with. Mental health is a serious part of one’s life and it should never go unnoticed. Being a college student, life gets difficult sometimes. If it’s not one thing, it’s another, and often times 24 hours isn’t enough time in the day.

But, this year has been a remarkable one for me because I’ve found what works for me, and how I can go about my day stress-free. Just know that it took a few different ways to get there, and like everyone, I still have my bad days every now and again. What keeps me going is the people I know I can count on when I need it most. I hope that telling my story reaches someone and touches them, because at the end of the day, you’re never alone.

Finding inner peace should always be the end goal.

Curly Hair, Don’t Care

“The best part about curls is that when you jump, they jump with you!” My 11-year old sister exclaimed.

These words that my youngest sister uttered were ones that would have never come out of my mouth ten years, or even two years ago. Finding what sets you apart is difficult at that age, and the fact that she not only knew what made her different, but also found the beauty in it, touched me more than anyone will ever know.

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Photo by Joy Kostansek

My name is Lindsey Mathews and I am a senior at Ohio University studying Early Childhood Education, Child Life & African American Studies. I grew up in Bexley, a suburb of Columbus, where if you are a black girl, you are likely to graduate with just a handful who look like you.

I had a wonderful childhood and experience at Bexley. I was an athlete on a sports team, won Homecoming Queen and had lived there for as long as I can remember. However, there was one thing that I suffered with my whole life, and that was accepting and loving my natural hair. It weighed on me more than anyone will ever know, and I was constantly finding ways to change it.

The first time that I realized I had different hair was in kindergarten, when a classmate came up to me and felt my hair, exclaiming “You’re hair is so soft. It’s like a pillow.” It made me feel embarrassed, and I wanted to crawl into a hole because at five years old, I didn’t know why it felt like that nor did I want to be the center of attention.

This all changed when my mom purchased my first-ever perm kit. I had thought it would be a one-time experience, however that was just the first of many perm kits, and 17- years later I found myself with damaged and dry hair that couldn’t seem to grow past my chin.

When I got to Ohio University, I had the privilege of meeting so many black women who really challenged me to come to terms with all that I hadn’t experienced in life, including experimentation with my hair. I soon began to lay off the straightener and invested in a sew in. But it seemed like as soon I got it, more and more women were beginning to wear their hair natural.

Suddenly wearing perm was taboo, and the new black was luscious bouncy curls. During spring of 2014, there was a curly-q photoshoot featuring undergraduates with natural hair, and that was when I realized the beauty of curly hair and all the different types that there are.

Because it’s hot and the last thing that people often feel like doing is straightening their hair, I felt it was only right to do my first feature on curly haired girls on campus. I want to make it clear that not every black woman has been natural their whole life, and not every woman has found what it is that works for them.

Having curly hair is a lifestyle, and I’d like to point that out because I don’t expect every person to walk away from this story wanting to purchase Shea Moisture. What I do want to do is enlighten folks on all of the different types of products to use, inspiration these women have had and how to make that leap to embracing natural hair. Each of these women have a different story of their natural hair journey, so my hope is that you can find someone who you can relate to.

Part of my concern with writing a piece on natural hair is that I am not credible. Who am I to talk about something I haven’t really experienced in full force? I represent what it’s like to not be completely natural. But then I thought about it further, and I found that maybe it’s not such a bad thing to have a different perspective. I tried being natural this past summer and found that it wasn’t for me, however that doesn’t mean I won’t ever try it again in my lifetime.

There are people who would have never imagined wearing their hair natural, like Abigail Thomas, a junior at Ohio University who stated that she didn’t start wearing it natural until last November.

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Abigail Thomas | Photo by Joy Kostansek

“I got my first straightener in sixth grade, I think it was so exciting to be able to straighten it all the time. Straight hair, you think, always looks more put together, “ Thomas said.

And the truth is, Thomas’ remark represents what a large amount of black women think, whether or not it is part of an everyday look or for a job interview. There has been a lot of scrutiny towards natural hair in certain work settings or job interviews, and some women have even had their hair reported for being a “distraction.”

Senior April Cunningham, who has been natural for three years now, gave a different perspective on the issue. “I think for me, I’m going into a field where it’s more laid back. If I’m going to an interview I’ll definitely clean it up a bit,”  Cunningham said. “I really don’t like to do that though because it’s me.”

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April Cunningham | Photo by Joy Kostansek

Although certain career fields may be more “relaxed” about it, it still doesn’t negate the fact that it is a huge problem. Many employers claim to not discriminate based on appearance, but I think women wearing their hair curly and not being given a position, or being told to wear it differently certainly counts as an act of discrimination. Thankfully, more and more people are beginning to break that stereotype and expectation to wear their hair a certain way in order to conform.

Now I want to address the elephants in the room… one, shrinkage is the devil, but don’t ever be fooled. Just because the curl is super tight, doesn’t mean that it isn’t 14-inches long. And two, the common misconception that wearing your hair straight means that you permed it. This myth or fleeting thought that women have straighter hair because they regularly perm is not always the case, and more often than not, these women have straight hair only because they straighten it habitually.

My younger sister has extremely tight curls, however from the time that she was in middle school up until her senior year of high school, she wore it pin straight and was constantly asked if she had a perm or wore a weave. This accusation has become part of our culture, and suddenly women who wear their hair straight are deemed as not embracing their real hair, or are ostracized for putting all of those chemicals on their hair.

For some, straightening their hair was merely a phase. Thomas explained that she too preferred to straighten it every day growing up, which ended up damaging her hair immensely.

“It hit me when someone told me that when I straighten my hair that much I would lose my curls. When [they] said that, I started wearing my hair curly,” said Thomas. “Wearing my hair curly has taught me to love myself.”

Thomas shared that although she wears it curly now, she still straightens it from time to time, but it just doesn’t feel the same. “Curly hair suits my personality. It’s taught me to learn to embrace who I am,” Thomas said.

Getting in the habit of wearing your hair curly influences a lot of women to get used to their process, to the point where they may even want to implement different ways of wearing it curly.

Junior Kymaia Gadsden, is someone whose hair journey has been nothing short of inspiring. She has been natural since 2011, and has since tried many different products and curl styles. Gadsden is very unique in the sense that she actually has many different curl patterns throughout her hair, however she explained that hair typing can sometimes divide the hair community because of all the different types of hair.

Until recently, I wasn’t aware of the curl pattern spectrum, but now I can see why it can be educational, but also demeaning in a sense. It can have a positive or negative effect. It has the power to make women who don’t have a certain type of hair feel less about themselves, and makes them fully aware of the type of hair that they have so that they know what works best for their hair.  

Senior Morgan Benson said that she too, has different curl patterns, and she tends to give certain parts of her hair more attention than others. Benson has been natural since 2014, and has since dyed her hair, causing her hair treatment to change quite a bit. “The dye has made it a lot drier, but I wash and I deep condition every time. It is a tad bit frizzier, but I don’t hate frizz because it actually gives me a lot more volume,” Benson explained. “When you have curly hair you’re very particular with it.”

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Morgan Benson | Photo by Joy Kostansek

One thing that all of the women interviewed have in common is their very specific hair regimens. It takes some people time, like Thomas, who explained that she is still figuring out what works for her. But when I asked all four ladies what their secret was to their beautiful curls, they all shared their favorite beauty products, which include Shea Moisture Dry & Damaged, Vanity Planet Scalp Massaging Brush, Shea Moisture Intensive Hydration, Carol’s Daughter Leave in Spray, Kinky Curly 2Day, and Shea Moisture Mousse.

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There are also little things that one may not think about investing in, such as a towel from Deva Curl, which Morgan Benson uses. There are also various ways of achieving a certain curl pattern that you can get by using foam roller sets, doing twist outs, bantu knots or braid outs. The options are endless, and overtime you find out what works and what doesn’t.

When I asked the women what the advantages and disadvantages of being natural were, there were far more perks than setbacks. Overall, the common answer for setbacks was the upkeep, cost of products, the confusion on what to do with it in the winter time vs. in the summer, and the beginning stage. However, all four women reported having natural hair to be much easier to deal with in warm weather, less limiting in terms of outdoor and water activities and such a unique part of their look.

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Cunningham, Thomas & Benson | Photo by Joy Kostansek

While being natural may feel like it is a long and hard process, each of these women found that it was worth it. Cunningham, Gadsden and Benson all agreed that women should definitely take the leap of faith.

“It’ll be hard at first, but after you get into it you’ll be so proud of yourself,” said Benson. “Don’t be afraid to ask other people what to do.” Thomas also added that it’s important to go at your own pace, and to progress in a way that is good for you.

During my short, natural hair journey, I realized that it wasn’t going to be something where you snapped your fingers and your hair would be exactly how you wanted it to be. It is so much more than that, and it requires a lot of patience and self love.

What people fail to realize is that it is so much more than your hair that develops in the process, it’s your confidence too. The willingness to stay strong through the hard phases, seek help from Youtube and other websites, and be your own advocate isn’t always easy.

But then again, when has being a woman, and trying to achieve a certain look ever been easy? Women should wear their hair in whatever way makes them feel beautiful and fearless.

If there is any advice that I could offer, it would be to give it a try. I think every woman should do something that makes them step out of their comfort zone and experience something different than what they are familiar with, because when it’s all said and done, no one can ever rock your natural hair like you can.