Growing up in Nashville, my parents always raised me to just be a person — no boundaries, limitations, or hesitations. I was happy and fearless, and nothing was too big or small.
I absolutely love my parents (mother, father and step-mother), but I was — and still am — a daddy’s girl. At age 4, I moved with my dad, and while I have many fond memories of him, my strongest ones are of him doing my hair in the bathroom every morning before school, walking me to school everyday (we lived just over the pond), me running to him as fast as I could when he picked me up from school, and him DJing and MCing on his equipment in the living room. All in all, my situation was normal.
My dad, who statistics say should have been M.I.A. in my life, was instead such a prominent part of it. He married when I was 6, and every move and decision he made was based around his family. I was enrolled in an elementary school that was more white than black, which would become the story of my life.
Fast-forward, and I remember very clearly being in the fourth grade, and there were four African-American students at the beginning of the year. As the school year progressed, slowly the four students were moved to different classes, and it trickled down to just being me. Now clearly I knew I was African-American, and I love my skin color, my culture, and the differences between my upbringing and my peers' upbringings, but I think at that very moment in my life — when I looked around and saw just me — I realized I was different.
Although I don’t recall being treated differently, I realized that I did not have anyone to “have my back.” There wasn’t anyone else who could understand how it felt to feel like an outcast. While I don’t believe that my teacher or fellow students saw the difference or treated me in any wrong sort of way, I do recall having uncomfortable moments.
Moving even further along, in high school, I went to a performing arts magnet school, and we were an extremely diverse students body ... diverse in sexual orientation, color, you name it. I appreciated seeing so many different types of people and not judging them or being judged.
When I attended Belmont University, I felt so welcome, but I was obviously different. There were days when I'd be walking on campus, and President Bob Fisher would say, “Hello, Kia.” It was to my dismay that he remembered my name. Other days I would be forced off of the sidewalk by parents visiting the school. (It got to the point where I would just stop on the sidewalk … walk around me or you will be face-to-face with me … they ALL walked around.)
I was the only African-American in many of my classes, and as I would bring in minority scholarship students for interviews, they would often ask about my experiences. I shared with them, “You have to be prepared for what you are walking into. This is a majority white school with privileged students, and you will usually be the only African-American in your classes and organizations, but your education and opportunities will be worth it.”
Throughout my schooling, I was extremely inquisitive and nearly obsessed with history, particularly African-American history, and even more specifically the journeys of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. I engrossed myself into their lives and wanted to know everything about them, their struggles, their passions, and why they were such an important part of who I was.
Often we look at history, whether it is the holocaust or slavery, and start asking the “what?” and “how?” questions. I wondered what would I have done during slavery and howwould I have survived the civil rights movement? My answer was ALWAYS that I wouldn’t have made it; the beatings, lynchings, mob attacks, being maimed and spit on with attack dogs nipping at me. I was (and still am) outspoken with bigger-than-life visions, most of which I have accomplished or am still working on. I'm not sure I could have been a non-violent protester. More likely I'd be the one going down with a fight.
As I looked at my mentors (in my own head), Tubman and Parks and the dozens of other women who paved a way for everyone (not just women), I soon realized that I COULD survive, and I would have been a part of Harriet Tubman’s many treks to and from the North. I would have been keeping watch and scurrying those along who were moving a little slower. I indeed would have been with Rosa Parks (who, for the record, was sitting in the correct section, but when whites needed to sit, she was demanded to move ... whole 'nother story) on the bus ... not moving, going to jail, and steadfast in the movement. I would have marched, sat at the counter, and raised my family in the same fashion.
I still, to this day, visit my parents' house and see the artwork of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks on my bedroom wall and know that like them, I too would have been considered a “rebel” and ahead of my time.
I know that it might be hard to understand why Black History Month is important; it's hard for me to understand also. I believe that black history (along with all history) should be appreciated every minute, day, month, and year. All history is valid, and black history should be included and correctly conveyed through school books, educational programs, and historical teachings.
I don’t have a chip on my shoulder because I am African-American. Instead, I am thrilled about all of the experiences that I have had, for better or worse, and what my culture has taught me about life and surviving.
I am Kia Jarmon: an entrepreneur, woman, daughter, sister, friend, and African-American.
This blog was first seen in HerNashville in February 2010.