Friday, August 15, 2008

Getting Back to Familiar Waters

Pearl, I feel ya. College often is a huge adjustment and it can be scary. You're being thrown, head first, literally and academically, into this new world of unfamiliar and sometimes unwelcome ideas, of people the likes of whom you've never encountered, and of tremendous and terrifying responsibilities. What are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to keep a handle on who you are while at the same time allow yourself to grow into someone different? (Because why be in college if you're not going to grow?) We have to find that touchstone, that thing that keeps us grounded. That thing that keeps it all in perspective for us. Honestly, I can't recall what that was for me when I went to college for the first time, but when I entered graduate school, it was Sounds of Blackness's song "Familiar Waters."

Picture it: a young Black woman in a predominately White town at a predominately White institution. I couldn't find anyone to do my hair; don't even think about finding some place to buy it! I grew up in a predominately black community and was used to being validated in every regard--my race, my faith, my intellect. Here, I was definitely out of my comfort zone. But as I would drive to school, I would put in my Time for Healing CD by Sounds of Blackness, hit #15, and instantly, I would feel like I was home. Not only did it emotionally transport me back to a space where I was surrounded by family and friends, but it also gave me courage and peace. It helped me feel like even if I didn't quite belong there, somewhere existed a place where I did belong. Even if I wasn't appreciated there, somewhere a place existed where I was appreciated. It reminded me that the work I was doing--studying Black folk--was valid and necessary and good. It encouraged me to hold onto who I was while so many things threatened my sanity. (Certainly this song was played over and over during the dissertation process.)

In truth, whether it's being placed in an environment in which you have to take showers instead of baths or you're a racial minority in a community of strangers who could take you or leave you, life presents us with the challenge of the new and we have to rise to the occasion; we have to find a way to keep our heads even when it seems everyone around us is losing their mind. We have to find that thing that lets us know it will all be okay.

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