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Talk Back: I Am Not a Single Story

JET wants you to Talk Back.  This is one of the reader submissions that we received and opted to publish.  Want to make your voice heard?  Submit your commentary, TV show recap, poem, 500-word book excerpt or essay HERE.  Read all the rules  so you know how it works.  

I went to a staff training earlier last year and we watched a phenomenal lecture by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story. She talked about how people judge you based on stereotypes without acknowledging the fullness of the person you are.

For years I was associated with a single story- Young Black Girl with a Child. The assumptions were that I was uneducated, on public assistance and that I didn’t know who the father of my child was. During routine doctor visits, nurses and older patients would turn their nose at me. It didn’t help that I looked twelve and wore my hair in a side ponytail either. But the point is, those people had a single story of me. Their assumptions of me were written all over their faces. But it wasn’t just the clinic’s staff, it was members of my church congregation, friends I had known for years and strangers on the street. The baby I carried inside of me, to them, was a scarlet letter. An outward reminder of a mistake I’d made; a punishment for a night of pleasure.

At nineteen-years-old, it would have been easy for me to fall victim to the story some in society had created for me. In fact, when my son was born I was an unemployed college student on the verge of dropping out. I had applied for public assistance and internalized my single story. But through many nights of tears and prayer, I chose to change my story. I chose to earn a bachelor degree in English. I chose to work full-time and earn money to support my son. I chose to build a loving relationship with my (now) husband. I chose to become a mentor for young girls and a public educator. I chose to be more than that single story.

It’s easy to become so wrapped up in a single part of our lives that we lack the motivation to push forward. We stereotype ourselves and never reach our full potential. Whether it’s fear of the unknown, or the opinions of others, we cannot let the adversities of life dictate our fate. For overcoming adversity makes us stronger, it builds character, and it makes us who we are.