Loneliness and Covid-19

lifestyle, reflection, self love, Uncategorized
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Me, before a socially-distanced, masked-up visit with my sister

BY KIARA LEE-HEART

 

Let’s face it, the pandemic has unravelled just about any and every social norm there was pre-March 2020. This includes but isn’t limited to attending large gatherings without a care in the world, visiting friends, entertaining overnight guests, traveling and hopping on and off flights, and more. All the things I listed are either non-existent at this point or extremely altered, so much so, that they are virtually unrecognizable from pre-pandemic times.

Our new frontier has brought many folks a deep sense of loneliness. For many of us, we can’t see our friends and family (at least how we want to), we can’t fully celebrate major life events the way we would have wanted to, and  circumstances and situations (quarantining, social distancing, etc.) have just made things very unconventional, to put it mildly — all in the name of slowing the spread of and avoiding Covid-19.

I’m going through it right there with you. My entire work life went online in an instant; my students were completely shocked and I had to put in the extra work to help them adjust and succeed, while many of them were battling ill mental health as a result of the pandemic, dealing with Covid-19 illness and deaths and other matters that caused them to feel lonely. When the pandemic started, my husband and I were in the midst of trying to start a family and boom — I was blessed with a bun in the oven. And just recently, I received a very prestigious journalism award (The Green Eye Shade!) for my work with Teaching Tolerance Magazine. Two very big things I have not been able to properly celebrate because of the pandemic. And with some of my own family and associates, there is discord on how to handle social distancing and everything else virus-related. It’s a doozy.

As I’m spending a lot of time by myself these days and as I’m very conscious about staying safe and healthy (especially with one on the way), I’m learning the best ways (for me) to cope with loneliness during the pandemic. What works for you and what works for me surely aren’t the exact same, but perhaps sharing how I cope can help you figure out how you can stay sane.

  1. I hash out my feelings. For me, this can happen in a few different ways. I love to write and many times, poetry can be my way out of a dark place. So I write and I read what I wrote. Over and over. It’s often my release or my “let me get that off my chest” outlet. Most of the time, even when I write, I talk to someone in my circle, which is comprised of family and close friends. They are the kind of people I can tell my truth to and the kind of people who will listen. I talk about my feelings and they validate them. The recognize that living in a pandemic is odd enough and that working from home while taking on scrupulous measures to stay safe and healthy while pregnant during a pandemic truly takes the cake. But there is a big difference between hashing out my feelings and feeling sorry for myself and I try my best to avoid the latter. My feelings can be messy sometimes, but I let the mess out to deal with. I don’t let it fester in my mind for too long.
  2. I validate my own feelings. Don’t worry, I’m not back-pedaling on the talking to friends and family piece I mentioned in number 1. What I’m saying is I give myself the space needed to feel lonely, isolated, sad or whatever negative emotion may be taking over me. I’m a worker bee at heart but sometimes, a day that was meant to work on my to-do list turns into a day I meditate and polish my nails. Sometimes, I give myself permission to feel blah, but only for a little while, and then focus on things that make me happy. I recognize that the blah comes and I have to figure out my own best practices to deal with the blah. I realize I can’t healthily go on if I act like the “blah” doesn’t exist.
  3. I embrace (safely) spending time with people who share similar views on the pandemic. This is an isolating time, but that doesn’t have to mean we can’t spend time with our people at all. I’m one of those people who is trying their best to be cautious and avoid potential virus-spreading situations. As of right now, I wear masks out, I don’t eat in (or outside at) restaurants, all vacation plans have been put on hold for the foreseeable future, and I do not spend time inside anyone’s home, even with a mask on, among other precautions. I have my household and now an unborn child to protect. So at this point, I embrace quality time spent with those who respect my feelings about the virus and my particular situation, being pregnant. I talk to my family on the phone all the time and when we visit in-person, we are outside with masks. My best friend and I have “car dates” where I make us smoothies or fresh fruit juice and we talk and spend (socially distanced) time together from our cars. Before I got pregnant, I did virtual happy hours on Facetime (which are surprisingly fun, I must say). Some people think I’m overreacting during this pandemic, but hey, that’s on them. Those are not really my people, and I’m okay with that. Quite a few of my family members contracted Covid-19 and some have even passed from it, so I already know what this virus is capable of.
  4. I reflect and count my blessings regularly. I find myself trying to find the bright spots of this crazy pandemic time. I need light in my life now more than ever. So I end up reflecting on all that God has done for me and mine. I was recently gifted a gratitude journal from a close friend of mine (thanks, Tanya!) and that has helped make these blessings even more explicit. Reflecting on my blessings during this particularly challenging time has helped me tremendously on some of my worst days. Reflecting on my blessings on a good day makes that good day even better. I’m thankful for being employed during this time. I’m thankful for good health in my immediate family during this time. I’m thankful for this baby I planned and I prayed for, even though living out this special time amidst a pandemic was certainly not in my plans. When I count my blessings, it really puts my temporary feelings of loneliness and isolation into perspective. Sometimes, I need to be reminded that there is a bigger picture this is all part of.

 

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou struck a chord when she said “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Our loneliness, our isolation is our story. We don’t have to shout it from the rooftop if we don’t want to, but we don’t have to leave it trapped inside of us. We don’t have to let it suffocate us.

Let it be. Be lonely. Be angry. Be sad. Be fragile. Be human during this unprecedented time.

Be human and when you’re ready, deal with yourself. You deserve it, pandemic or not.

Black Folk and ‘that ‘Rona:’ A Black Woman’s Take

lifestyle, self love

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BY KIARA LEE-HEART

I’m writing this in the midst of the global pandemic that is the Novel Coronavirus. Many of us Black folk have simply coined it “’Rona” or “that ‘Rona.” No matter what you may call it, it’s striking people all around the country and all around the world at alarming rates. This deadly virus wreaks havoc in the body, often causing high body temperatures, a dry cough and breathing difficulties. Although it is a global pandemic and no one place or group of people has gone unscathed of its wrath, Black people are particularly at a disadvantage in the battle against this invisible enemy. In my humble opinion, Black women, regardless of location, occupation or health status, are universally working the front lines in an additional battle: keeping our villages safe and informed amidst the apathy, misinformation and marginalization that makes us overrepresented in virus cases and causalities.

 

 

We are constantly warning and informing. Our parents, aunties and grandparents have been through a whole lot, and to many of them, this is just another struggle to go down in the books. Our friends are stubborn and still holding gatherings and doing other things against the wise counsel of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), Dr. Anthony Fauci or Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams. Our relatives may not necessarily be naysayers, but some of them may not be as phased or fearful as we are and we are very concerned. So we’re trying our best to correct their reckless behavior (i.e. not protecting themselves from the virus, going out and about like business as usual, etc.) and keep them updated on the latest developments. While other people have the privilege of watching the news and keeping up with things for their own individual consumption, many of us Black women are looking out for news about Uncle’s job with the virus outbreak, relaying information to grandma Rosie about her “sugar” and the virus and making sure our parents, partners and children are eating and living right during this extremely unsettling moment.

 

We have to take the lead in taking precautions. Within our own homes, we’re planning to ensure food lasts to minimize trips to the grocery store, and when we do make those trips, some of us are even managing to sanitize the groceries when we get home. We’re often setting the tone for somewhat-healthy diets in our households. In many instances, we lead the charge of cleaning and disinfecting, doing our best to keep things clean. Furthermore, we’re monitoring the comings and goings of our household in a world where staying home is the best defense against the virus. In the face of adversity, we are leading, be it up front or behind the scenes.

 

We carry the burden of living in the margins. For many of us, our family members are essential workers. The mental stress of their potential risks in the workplace and our own physical exposure to them presents a unique stressor. The marginalization of our own contrasts greatly with the low risks posed to others with the privilege of working from home or not working at all (but still getting paid, nonetheless). Some of our loved ones have pre-existing conditions that are barely managed (often a result of low income, limited access, etc.), and we know that those people have an increased risk of complications from the virus. We know that everyone is not socially distancing, whether it’s because they’re an essential employee or because they simply aren’t aware of the life-threatening dangers of gathering at this point in time. And to top it off, all we have to do is log in to social media to see photos of crowded outdoor spaces, parties and cookouts in which we are the overwhelming majority. In some way, Black folk are always living in the margins, but it is mentally cumbersome to expel the energy to navigate and mediate our oppressed position in wake of a global health crisis – but we must.

 

Black women are left holding down the fort on a normal day, but unfortunately, today the burden is extra heavy. In the near future, let’s call on our village to figure out how we can strengthen the foundation of our house of cards, so we can all be good as a collective once “that ‘Rona” passes, but for now, Black women, we must find coping strategies for our own selves to lighten the load someway, somehow, for if we crumble, the rest of the cards will come tumbling down right behind us – in the midst of a global pandemic.

A College Student’s Guide to Staying Sane During the Coronavirus Pandemic

advice, lifestyle

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BY KIARA LEE-HEART

It’s a crazy time to say the least. We’re in the midst of a pandemic. Our normal routines have been disrupted and life as we know it in in constant flux; day to day we’re learning something different about the Coronavirus, its impact and expert predictions about the pandemic. With so many colleges and universities moving to online/ remote teaching and making other significant changes in response to the pandemic, many of you are concerned about your college careers, all while dealing with stress and anxiety that can threaten your physical, mental and emotional health. This is why I decided to put together this post. Disclaimer: though I am a recent PhD grad, I teach at a university and I have recently taken a more holistic approach to my health, I am no expert in higher education administration, medicine, policy or anything like that. Nonetheless, I hope that what I have to offer helps you out, even just a little bit, because these days, we need all the love and light we can get.

 

  1. Figure out exactly how you’re going to take care of your body. This virus has spread at an exponential rate and you need to be especially ready, because you’re already stressed about your status at school. This is the time to get your hands on a multivitamin, vitamin C, herbals, etc. and to be intentional about incorporating healthy foods in your social isolation/ quarantine stash. I just got back from the store and let me tell you – there are plenty of fresh fruits and veggies left; it’s all the junk food and filler food that is gone. Also, unbeknownst to many – you can freeze fruit! Just soak the fruit in water to clean it, put it in a gallon-size freezer bag, and stick them in the freezer (peeled/ chopped into smaller pieces). When stashing non-perishables, try to incorporate multigrain or veggie-based things (que the veggie & whole grain pastas, etc.). You want your body to be the best it can be right now and what you put in your mouth plays a large role in that effort. Another important part in that effort is staying fit. I am a huge fan of working out outside; you should give it a go! You can run, stretch, practice yoga, do HIIT and virtually anything else outside – just be creative about your exact setting. If working out outside is not your thing, there are plenty of home workouts online (i.e. YouTube) that can be done in your house (there are even apartment-friendly ones).
  2. Save any and all records. I’m mainly talking about unofficial transcripts and syllabi. You need to get your hands on them and save them in a safe spot. I say this because you want proof of what you’ve done IF something goes awry. If you’re in a situation where the sequencing of your classes change, your professors/ advisor leave because of the pandemic or anything like that, you want proof of the work you’ve done. I don’t mean to scare – I just want you to be prepared!
  3. Class of 2020: You’re going to graduate. Although it might not be when you originally planned to, it’s still going to happen – and no one can take that away from you. This is a period of time where we all unfortunately have to adapt to drastic changes in our regular routine. If your graduation is postponed (or soon to be postponed) just think of it this way – you have complete license to be as loud, litty and extra as ever on your big day – whenever it may be. I would also hone in on #2. Nothing wrong with being over-zealous about the hard work you’ve done.
  4. Be transparent with your professors during the online/ remote transition. If you don’t quite understand how to use an online learning tool that is now part of your new normal, tell your professor. If you have limited access to the internet or a computer to even partake in online education, tell your professor. If your fear and anxiety about the pandemic, online education or both are interfering with your participation in class, please tell your professor. I’m a professor and let me tell you, we’re anticipating that and more from our scholars. If you wait until the end of the semester to let your professor know about an issue, they’re going to be frustrated, and you’re going to be frustrated at them being frustrated and it won’t be good for anyone! We need to know these things early on to best accommodate. I can also tell you with confidence that now more than ever, your professors want you to do well. Don’t be scared to look out for yourself.
  5. Don’t get too consumed with yourself. Focus some attention on your loved ones. It’s easy to slip into “woe is me” mode with everything that’s going on. It’s natural, but don’t stay there too long. You’re not the only one in this, remember? We all are in it together. With that being said, show your loved ones some love and get out of your own head. Call them up. Facetime with them. Share funny memes with them. Make (hypothetical) plans for when the pandemic is over. Work on tracing your family’s genealogy with your relatives. These are just a few ideas of some ways to spend time talking with those close to you in the midst of social distancing while taking your mind off of your own troubles.
  6. Give back, if you have it to give. There are kids out of school with no food and there are elderly people who are most at-risk with no way to get food. Your help is so needed! I can’t think of a better time than now to give back, if you’re able! It won’t be hard to find a reputable person or organization collecting money to feed those in need. There may even be some people who can’t get out to the stores that you could help in some capacity. My mom and I recently donated to Community 50/50, an organization well-known for feeding those in need. Right now, the organization is collecting to feed kids who live in an area of Richmond, VA that is considered a food desert. Every little bit helps!
  7. Nourish your spirit. Do what you need to in order to make your spirit feel good. For me, that includes having quiet time, reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for (especially when I’m feeling discouraged), writing poetry, praying in the morning and getting into my bible at night. What does nourishing your spirit mean for you? If you don’t know what it means, figure it out soon. During times like this, it’s just as important to take care of your inside as it is to take care of your outside. It doesn’t have to be religious. It doesn’t have to be non-religious. It’s what is best for you. Whatever nourishes your spirit makes you feel whole, connected and refreshed. Who wouldn’t want the bright spots of wholeness, connectedness and refreshment during these trying times?
  8. Embrace your new routine. Your routine will make or break your success the rest of the semester. You must be intentional about this new routine. You are probably so distracted and so thrown off by the current state of affairs that you need an extra push to get you in (online/ remote) school mode. Maybe you find that you work best in the afternoon. Maybe your home workout works better on Tuesdays and Thursdays because of your other obligations. It might be harder for you to focus finishing up this semester online since you’re home more, so you may need to find a designated part of your home to work in. For most of us, life as we know it has drastically changed and that calls for drastic change on our end to keep up.

 

 

Life has changed, but life hasn’t stopped. You have a lot to do, see and achieve, but we all have to get through this pandemic first. You got this. We got this.

 

Stay safe, stay sane and stay socially distanced!

You Betta Work: The Labor of Self-Love

self love, Uncategorized

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BY KIARA LEE-HEART

Earlier this month, many celebrated Valentine’s Day. We all know all sorts of emotions can be a buzz during this time. Every year, I think about my grandma because February 14th is her heavenly birthday. Every year, I see opinions plastered all over social media about who should or shouldn’t celebrate this day, how it should be celebrated, who should pay for dinner, who shouldn’t pay for dinner, and so on and so forth. Yeah, people tend to be all over the place.

Every year, I have my own personal reflections about love and my life around this time, as well.  One of the things I try to really hone in on is this idea of self-love. Self-love has become a buzz word of sorts in recent years, but beyond the fluff and the minimization of it (i.e. get your nails done and boom, check off that self-love box), what is it really and are we really truly loving ourselves? I’m approaching the dirty t-word (thirty!), and I’m finding more and more that self-love is indeed a radical act in the words of Audre Lord, but it also takes getting our hands a little dirty in order to truly achieve. Here are just a few things I think of when I think of the “work” of self-love.

Self-love means recognizing our own toxic behaviors. Do we ever get on our own nerves? Block our own blessings? When we answer “no” to both of these questions, we’re probably lying to ourselves. In this season (and all the time, really), we should take some time to think about the things that we do to hinder ourselves. Do you struggle with doubting yourself? Perhaps you find yourself feeling jealous of those around you? Whatever you may do (knowingly or unknowingly) to make life harder on yourself can be worked on. My main toxic behavior is worrying. I worry so much, it often cripples me, robbing me of my joy and sometimes, my sanity. To put it simply: I often miss “the moment” because I’m too busy worrying about the what ifs of “what’s next.” Lately, I have been paying close attention to my bouts of worry in an attempt to identify when I’m doing too much, bringing myself back to the moment when I do. I’m also actively re-centering myself spiritually with scripture and quiet time to fend off the worrying. We need to think about what we need to do to help ourselves.

Self-love means being with ourselves sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with eating lunch alone or staying at home alone all day. The times we’re with ourselves should not make us feel sad or empty, for the most part. Alone time should feel like enough. I’ve just gotten to the point where I love being with myself. Before? I was always concerned about doing everything with friends and I looked at life as a group walk instead of an individual walk. I just could not stand the thought of being home alone for the day or even simply eating by myself. Now? I look forward to being with myself. I get excited about journaling in the quiet or simply laying on the bed with a good book. I even cherish the time I take getting dressed to go somewhere and my commute to work, where it’s just me, my thoughts and my music. If you don’t really know how to be with yourself, just throw yourself out there and do it. Spend some time at home alone doing something that relaxes you — and enjoy it. Go to your favorite store and shop (or window shop and plan for payday 😉 — and enjoy it.

Self-love means getting uncomfortable. There’s nothing wrong with stretching ourselves and getting a little uncomfortable. When we see new opportunities that require a departure from our comfort zones, maybe we should stick our neck out and at the very least, see what happens. Maybe there are things we want to try to better ourselves (healthier lifestyles, challenging intellectual work, etc.), but we don’t necessarily like big changes. I think this is the time when healthy changes should be considered, at the very least. What I’m trying to say is, we don’t know what we don’t know, and not knowing is uncomfortable. But, on the other side of discomfort could be an upgraded, leveled-up version of us, bigger, better and badder than ever. You don’t know until you try.

The one and only Toni Morrison said it best — “You are your best thing.”

We’re all busy with all kinds of work right about now, be it school, careers, starting families, healing from trauma, exploring our identities, trying to get healthy, fighting for social change — you name it. Amidst this work, let’s try to make more time for ourselves and more importantly, for the work we owe to ourselves. Our best thing.

 

Pearls for the Girls: Words of Wisdom for your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE

Uncategorized

 

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BY KIARA

Let’s face it. Life ain’t always easy when you’re in a constant balancing act — balancing school, work, a social life, planning for your future, taking care of your family, keeping your finances afloat, maintaining your relationships and more. All these things bring challenges, especially while on your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. Struggle, hard times, low points and times of doubt are all part of the journey. 

You’re about to hear from 8 women who are movers and shakers, doers and go-getters, hustlers and game changers with one thing in common: they’ve all tackled their challenges head on. Now, they’re offering you their pearls of wisdom — advice for the toughest days of your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE.



racheida

Racheida Lewis, M.E | Ph.D Student at Virginia Tech | BS in Electrical Engineering (VCU ’13); M.E. in Electrical Engineering (UVA ’15)

“The most meaningful advice I can give to a young woman in engineering (especially first generation) is that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I started out as 1 of 4 black people in my major and 1 of 4 girls. I come from a poor background with no exposure to engineering prior to attending college. Like me, I’m sure that there will be times when you feel like giving up. There will be times when you feel like “this isn’t for me” because you may be behind your peers. There may be times when you’re intimidated by the fact that you’re 1 of few, or the only one like you in your classes. You may feel like a different major is a better fit. And it’s ok to experience those feelings. You’re not a quitter for feeling like a failure sometimes. It’s how you get up and take your next steps that count. Make friends within your major and outside your major (because you need a sane place to escape to). GO TO OFFICE HOURS and DEMAND the assistance you seek. Some professors may be jerks and it’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day they are just as much responsible for your learning as you are – don’t give into the negativity of “this isn’t high school anymore”. Find something that brings you joy – an organization, a hobby, volunteering, etc. Lastly, find support that keeps you grounded – this can be your family, friends, church, the place and people you can feel most vulnerable with without feeling the pressure of judgment. College is difficult and being in a technical field doesn’t make it any easier – but there are strength in numbers and there are so many who have come before you that are rooting for your success. If you decided that this isn’t for you because you’ve found passions elsewhere then that’s perfectly acceptable – but whatever degree you decided to pursue, you make sure that by any means necessary you don’t leave that university without it!”


caitlin

Caitlin Eberhardt | Graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law | Law Clerk at the Supreme Court of Hawaii

“One proverb that I hold close to my heart is, “Be not afraid of going slowly. Be afraid of standing still.” Following that thought, my advice to women struggling in school is not to measure your progress against that of your peers. Everyone starts at a different level and learns in different ways. As long as you are better than you were yesterday, that is success.”


mariah

Mariah Williams | Virginia Commonwealth University Graduate Student | Founder, Black Girls Meet Up

“I remember being in middle school and listening to some girls say, ‘I don’t get along with females’ or ‘girls can’t be trusted so I don’t hang out with them.’ I never understood that because so many of my great friends were other girls and I loved being around them, especially because I learned so much from them. My advice for girls in schools would be to surround yourself with girls and people in general who uplift you. In the age of social media, it is so easy to be distracted from your purpose or to allow things like Facebook and Instagram to affect your friendships negatively. Don’t let it. There is so much you can learn from the women around you! Don’t see other women as a threat. Empower each other. Encourage each other, especially in the classroom.”


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Christine Marie Quilpa | School Counselor at Augusta County Schools | UVA Graduate (2012, B.A. Sociology with Asian Pacific American Studies minor; 2016, M.Ed Counselor Education)

“Some circumstances and some people, including yourself, will try to put you down, but don’t let your spirit to be crushed. You were born to be great, and in order to find your greatness, you will learn a lot of lessons and experience a lot of experiences along the way. There will be many times when you will feel disappointed, sad, angry, hurt, and other emotions, but instead of letting these challenges set you back, be open to them. Use your emotions and experiences to become a bolder, braver, better you. And if you ever feel uncertain about where your passions and purpose may be, think of a problem that has made you upset – and let yourself be the solution to it.”


“The best advice I could give would be don’t forget to live while you complete your

ashleybond

Ashley Bond | Teacher | Graduate of University of Richmond

education.  One of my biggest struggles in school was that between not
having the academic skills I needed to do my work quickly, and having to work on the side to pay expenses, it took up nearly all of my time.  I would put in 18 hour days between school and work, and spent little time doing things that I wanted to do.  After
a while, I became very burned out, depressed, and bitter with my situation.  I was angry at the whole world for making my life so hard when it was really me who wouldn’t allow myself to take a break.  I moved from Utah to Virginia to go to school largely because
I had always wanted to see Virginia and the East Coast in general.  I didn’t take nearly enough time to go see the sights and experience the culture.  Looking back, I wish I would have spent less time on studies, let my grades fall a little bit (Getting C’s and D’s isn’t the worst thing in the world.  You will still graduate and end up in the same place; I promise.), and taken the time to enjoy myself.  School would have been so much more meaningful if I had,  and I may have avoided some of the terrible choices
I made after I graduated from school in an attempt to escape the life I hated.  A broken nose from a fist fight, an unplanned pregnancy, and a long journey later, I am finally in a place where I can start feeling at peace.  I have a job that I’m happy with, a great kid, and the best family ever.  And I can finally let go, relax, and spend time doing things for myself as opposed to being consumed by my academic and career goals.  Life really is too short to not spend time living.”


tanya

Rev. Tanya Boucicaut | PhD Student at George Mason University | Adjunct Instructor and Research Affiliate, Virginia Union University | Founder and CEO, Perfect Love Community Theatre

“Dear Sister of Any Age:

First of all, you need to know that you matter.

The most meaningful advice I could ever give you in school is to celebrate small victories, advocate for yourself, and embrace the struggles. I share this analogy with my students all the time; one that I’ve heard many times, school is a marathon not a dash.

Celebrate your first test, your first paper of the semester. You deserve it! School is not easy or convenient for most of us, but that doesn’t mean isn’t worth it. School, at its best, in my opinion, is to help grow into our best selves. As you we celebrate, we also recognize that we are celebrating moments of growth. So please, even if it is just, having a meal (I’m foodie) or posting a status on social media, do it! Celebrate!”


anise

Anise Burkholder | University of Richmond Graduate | Active Duty Service Member, United States Navy

“The best advice I could give a young woman struggling in school is to keep your eye on the prize and realize this struggle is only preparing you for your purpose! It might seem hard right now but there’s something this stage in your life is teaching you. Don’t give up because you can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t compare your walk to someone else’s. Just focus on yourself, your future and your dreams.”


roseann

Rose Ann E. Gutierrez, M.A. Candidate, Seattle University | Research Associate, Center for Community Engagement | Project Manager for Community College and STEM Research | Resident Director, Cornish College of the Arts | Co-Editor-in-Chief of MAGIS: A Student Development Journal 

“Know who you are inside and out because when you have that sense of integrity and are honest with yourself, you can’t be false to anybody else. When school becomes challenging, remind yourself of your motivations whether those be intrinsic and/or extrinsic. I keep photos of my parents on my desk to remind me of why–why I continue to persist and remain resilient in the face of adversities. I am the first one in my family to receive a bachelor’s degree and on the pathway of attaining a master’s. I witnessed my parent’s arduous efforts, as they worked multiple jobs only receiving three to four hours of sleep for years to provide for my needs and wants. I have the educational privilege to not only give back to my parents, but also give forward to my community and others. We, women, need to leverage our education as a tool and see ourselves as social agents to truly impact society. Moreover, find strong mentors who are women, who share the same identities as you. My mentors have been pillars of support, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t guided and advised by some of the strongest and best.”

 


tiara

Just Another College Student Working Hard to Become Who I’ve Dreamed of 

 

“Hi Beautiful! Yes you! You know what your dreams are. You know what goals you’ve set. Now accomplish them. Pray to whoever you believe in, keep the faith, and WORK. Work hard to be that successful woman you’ve dreamed of becoming. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it. Don’t give up. You got this. “

 

 

 

 


 

 

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Kiara Lee, M.Ed | Founder, #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE | Editor, theblackertheberry.org |PhD Student, Virginia Commonwealth University 

“I think the most useful pearl of wisdom I could offer girls and women in the midst of their #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE is to never be afraid to think outside of the box. There is no one way to get from point A to point B, to earn a degree or even to achieve happiness and satisfaction in your life. If plan A doesn’t work, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of the less popular plan B, or C, or D or E. It’s your path and your path only. Own it, with all of its quirks, uniqueness, spins, turns and detours. At the end of it all, you WILL arrive at your destination, with gratitude and with grace.

College is Not a Team Sport

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Me, graduating from my undergrad alma mater, University of Richmond

BY KIARA
When you’re in elementary school, you’re with the same people for every subject. You don’t even leave your classroom.
When you’re in middle school, you eventually befriend kids that look and feel just as awkward as you do. And in your shared awkwardness, you may ride the same bus, eat in the same lunch period or even study in the same classes.
When you’re in high school, you may find a clique with people who are starting to find themselves at the same pace that you are. You may go out together, dream about your futures and at last, walk across the stage together with diplomas in hand.
But after high school, school is no team sport.
In college, your friends may be with you at the party on Saturday, but they probably won’t be with you studying for your midterm on Sunday. Or at your job with you bright and early Monday morning.

 

Life can’t always be done in groups, so you have to get used to being with yourself.
Too many of us miss being with the group so much, we sacrifice ourselves. We let our grades slip to party with the team. We ignore our goals and dreams and take on what the team wants to do. Our lives and our souls get lost and confused in the team.
Don’t do it.
Don’t get me wrong — college, young adulthood and adulthood in general all have their times for the team…for the party. But it ain’t all the time.
If you play school as a team sport, the fouls will add up. In college, these fouls may be in the form of low grades, missed opportunities and even a missed degree.
Play smart. Most of the time, you got to be your own team. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

meblacklipstick
KIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.

10 Things I wish someone would have told me before going to college

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AA women college

BY SHARRON

Think of college as a roller coaster: you stand in line with anticipation because you heard it would be fun, you get on kind of nervous for what’s to come and then you climb up the hill slowly preparing yourself to experience some of what you heard about and more. You reach the top and then suddenly you fall. You may fall feeling excited because it was everything you thought it would be or you may fall farther than you thought with a feeling of uneasiness.  With all the twists and turns you endure you will look back laughing at that fact that you were so nervous in the beginning and will be able to tell others that it honestly was not too bad. Well, I’m still on this roller coaster called college, but here are 10 things I wish someone would have told me while I was standing in line waiting to get on, so that I would be prepared for the big drop at the end.

  1. SAVE YO MONAAAY!

College is expensive. Don’t let people fool you into thinking that once you go off, everything will be dandy and your parents will always be there with a lil chunk of change to save you. No. You will need money for food, money for books, money to get your hair and nails did. You will need money. So, before you go off plan to look for a job or if you’re already in college take some time to make a financial plan. For me, I had to sit down and make a budget for myself. I had to downsize on my meal plan that was costing me thousands and decide to put money in my savings WITHOUT touching it. Budgeting is HARD (can I get a witness somebody?!) but it is a skill we all as women need to attempt to master.

 

  1. Friends will come, friends will go.

When I started college in my freshman year, I had so many friends. Some friends I knew from my hometown of Richmond, and others I gained while transitioning into college. As the years have gone by, I have lost a number of friends for a number of reasons, some I may understand and some I truly couldn’t even tell you. When I look back, I am grateful for the people I have lost, because it has taught me the value in true friendships. You soon realize that it’s about quality over quantity. Of course, you should be ok with mending broken friendships, but sometimes it’s best to move on to make room for positivity and prosperity for yourself.

 

  1. It’s ok to not be ok.

College is one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever encountered. You go from being surrounded by family, to having to decide who and what you want to be surrounded by for yourself. It can get very difficult and easy to feel alone, but in college you are NEVER alone. Most of everybody you may walk past is facing the same issues, if not more than you. If you are truly stressed out take some time out to destress. Listen to some inspirational music, hit the gym for a quick workout or even sit down have a talk with your home girl/homeboy that knows how to lift your spirits. Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help if it gets too tough. Almost every college/university has counseling services.

 

  1. Get involved

College is all about NETWORKING. I cannot stress that enough. Once you venture out and figure out your interests you will soon realize that there are a network of people who have the same interests as you and can help you do bigger and better things. Join the choir or become a member of the intramural basketball club. Once you engage yourself, you’ll have a support system of folks just like you.

 

  1. Find your balance

Balance is the major key to success when keeping your sanity in college. The workload will become overwhelming unless you make time to hang out with your girls, hang out with bae or just hang out with yourself. Being involved can also help you find balance as well. I am involved in a couple service organizations, and I also model and African dance as well. These all together help me to have some stress relief and keep myself focused on getting my schoolwork done.

 

  1. A’s over Baes

Do not, I repeat DO NOT let your Man Crush Monday become the reason why you miss class on Monday. Make sure that you put your schoolwork as your number one priority. Spending time with your boo should never become such a distraction that you fall behind in your schoolwork or start missing out on important events for your professional development. Make sure that your mate respects your hustle and encourages you to stay on track.

 

  1. Make time for family

One thing I truly have missed out on while being away at college, are the simple moments with family. You get busy, overwhelmed and let’s be honest sometimes being around family can add to that stress. Making time to just be with family can remind you of the good people you have standing behind you. There may be family members who appreciate that even though you are bus on the go that you take time to call them or even stop by. You never know they may slide you some money and you can also get you a good home cooked meal too. Don’t miss out on the cornbread and collard greens!

 

  1. Be you unapologetically!

You are you and that is your power. Often times, it can be very hard to stay true to yourself. College makes this especially true, because of all the stresses and changes you may go through. While going through all of this remember to be true to who you are and who you wish to become. Do not be swayed by what everyone else may be doing, because we all have our own unique pathways to take. If you want to change your hair every week do that! If you choose not to drink while all of your friends do, then stay true to that. If you want to change your wardrobe every single year then DO YOU BOO BOO.

 

  1. Raise your awareness

College has taught me so much about myself, but even more about others. As a black woman I have experienced discrimination and misogyny, but as a student I have learned that I have to be aware of my privilege. What is privilege? Privilege describes the different advantages we may have over others that we do not necessarily have to think about. For example, I am a Black Woman and that has many disadvantages BUT I am able bodied, healthy, and also a college student. Some people do not have the same opportunities and that is what college has taught me. Be humble and raise your awareness of the world around you. We are the leaders of the next generation and it is our duty to be the change.

 

  1. Step out your comfort zone

College will force you to change your perception. It will force you to work on group projects with people you may not know or you may dislike. You have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Most importantly, college will challenge you professionally. You will have to unlearn so much that you have learned in high school and you know what? YOU WILL SURVIVE.

(photo: ebony.com)


SharronSharron is a 19 year old Emerging Professional in the VCU School of Social Work, double majoring in African American Studies with a minor in Psychology. She is a Richmond, Virginia Native currently working through organizations at VCU to reach out to the community and help those in need. In 2015 She along with a few other students majoring in African American Studies formed a student organization called the African and African American Student Empowerment Project (AASE) where she serves as the Founding President. Today, the organization caters to fostering a safe space for students to have conversations about issues in the Black community as well as giving back and serving others. In the fall of 2015, she was initiated into the Eta Theta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta, Sorority Inc. where she serves as the 2nd Anti-Basileus on the Executive Board. Sharron wears many hats, but she is extremely passionate about being a part of the solution to the social issues surrounded around minorities. In her free time you can catch her vibing to Neo-Soul tunes to the likes of Erykah Badu, hanging out with her girls, or putting in work at the gym.

Don’t Ignore Your Student Loans

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BY FANTASIA

For many, bearing the expense of  student loans can be a hassle, especially if  you’re living on your own and can barely make ends meet. That  was the case for me. A year after I graduated high school, I decided to enroll at the nearest tech because it seemed like the right thing to do. Still, I wasn’t equipped for it and had no idea what I wanted my major to be,  but felt as though  I had to do something productive, something to make my family proud. I continued working full time all while helping my dad care for my younger brothers, so sadly school wasn’t a priority. In all honesty, I never took it seriously anyways because I didn’t care at the time  and I surrounded myself with people who couldn’t care less about me succeeding. Towards the end of the semester, those same “friends” encouraged me to take out student loans. I was told it would be help me catch up on bills and I’d have plenty of extra money to spend on whatever I wanted. Hearing that was music to my ears. When you grow up with nothing but struggles, falling into any amount of money you aren’t used to having  can seem like winning  the lottery.

Soon after the semester ended and all the money was spent, I started  receiving letters about paying off my loans, but always threw them away. Sometimes without opening them.  I knew I was completely broke, so I figured if I’d just ignore my problems, they’d go away. But nope, it didn’t work that way. Now that years have flown by and I’ve matured, I decided I was ready to pay off my loans and go back to school. I knew  what it was I wanted to do and I was ready to take  steps toward achieving my goals. I contacted the school I previously attended to get everything in order and was slapped in the face with bad news. I found out that I was in default and wouldn’t be able to get any financial help until after I finished paying off ALL of my loans. That meant I could pay off my debts, but school was out of the picture unless I was able to pay for everything out of pocket, and I wasn’t. That news was definitely devastating, but I had no one to blame but myself. This was a learning experience for me and I hope I encourage those of you reading to take school and paying off any debts you owe seriously so you don’t end up in the same situation.

(photo: heathervogelfrederick.com)


FantasiaFantasia Alston is a 22 year old free spirit  and visionary who spends most of her time  writing poetry, reading (preferably mystery books), and doing whatever she can to help better the community. Whether it be volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter or picking up any litter found on the solid surface of the Earth. She also enjoys painting whatever comes to mind, cooking, meditating,  and taking long walks to nowhere.  She currently resides in Columbia, SC, but grew up 3 hours away in a beautiful, yet small, city named Murrells Inlet. She is the second oldest of 8 children, and the eldest daughter. Being the matriarch of the family was tough on her, but she managed to stay strong for her younger siblings and remained focused  to complete school. Although she graduated high school with an outstanding  GPA, and  always had a passion for attaining knowledge, Fantasia continuously put college on the back burner. She was lost and didn’t want to push herself into a mainstream culture where you have to graduate from high school by 18, graduate from college by 22, start working full-time in the corporate world immediately, and then get married, buy the proverbial house with the white picket fence and have kids. That might’ve been  a great idea for her fellow classmates, but not her. After years of soul searching and finding out what career would bring  her the most joy in life, she has decided that earning her degree would be best. She now has plans  to attend a university and work towards becoming a child psychotherapist.

Becoming U at the University

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BY AYONNA

Going to college will be one of your most life changing experiences. Not only is it frightening to be far from home, surrounded by so many different people, but what’s even worse is you probably haven’t even figured out who you are yet. That’s perfectly fine. Use that as fuel to figure out. Following the crowd and mimicking everyone else is so much less fulfilling than building yourself up to be the individual you were born to be. You have so much to offer and your potential is endless. Your own beauty, creativity, and intelligence is much more powerful and significant than a duplicate of someone else’s could ever be.

How do you make this happen you ask? How do you find that amazing, fierce woman hiding deep down inside of you? That’s easy. You relentlessly search for her. This involves a little soul searching and a lot of just living your life. Of course learning and making good grades are both vital to be successful in school. However, don’t be that girl who spent her entire college career in the library studying. Get out there, meet new people, get involved on campus, and find your passion. Not only because it will help you develop your own personal character, but also because a well-rounded woman will be much more prepared for life after college than the girl who studied her life away. Don’t get me wrong, do study your butt off; but reward yourself for your hard work and also put work into other parts of your life. As you will soon find out, college is just a big balancing act. You’ll have to learn how to balance your school work, social life, and your extracurricular duties. At times it will be stressful, but as long as you’re doing things that you’re truly passionate about, you’ll find the time. But if you’re doing entirely too much for illegitimate reasons, let a few things go.

As I reflect on the past two and a half years I’ve spent at Hampton University, there are a lot of things I’m glad that I did but there are many other things I wish I had tried to do. But I went outside of my comfort zone many, many times and it helped me discover things about myself that I never would have. Help yourself become the most awesome version of yourself possible by getting out there and leaving your mark. You’ll never know what that could lead to unless you take the leap.

(photo: campuslately.com)


AyonnaAyonna Thornton is a first year professional Doctor of Pharmacy candidate at the Hampton University School of Pharmacy. She is originally from Oxford, North Carolina where she founded the mentoring program Cheering Girls On in 2015. Her program caters primarily to the cheerleaders at her alma mater high school but she plans to majorly expand in 2016. Ayonna also enjoys volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club in Hampton, VA. She loves playing with the young girls and helping them with their resident step team. She spends any other free time she has cooking, painting, reading, and writing for her blog, Solstice. She is also involved with several organizations on campus at her Home by the Sea such as the NAACP and her class’s executive counsel. She hopes that her involvement in all of her projects reflects her care for the black youth in the community and her desire to reach and teach them.

Never Give Up

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girl and butterfly EDIT

BY STEPHANIE

I was almost brought to tears when I heard a story about a young lady that I work with. She was deprived of an opportunity to continue her education after her freshman year of college. A man, who stalked and violated her physically, made her afraid to go back to school. The summer after her first year, she told her mother that she was too afraid to go back to campus. So, she decided to quit school, with the intention of going back. A few years later, because of the fear that he instilled in her, she has yet to go back to school. I could not believe it when she told this to me.

Putting myself in her position, I can’t help but think about how differently my life would have turned out if I had an experience like that. I never felt unsafe walking around campus during my undergraduate years at the University of Richmond. It was an incredible experience for me, and I don’t know what I would have done if I was in her shoes. It makes me so angry to know that there are people that will harm someone physically and emotionally, especially without any legitimate reason.

I have a younger sister who will be going to college next year, and it saddens me to feel a need to talk to her about how to prevent these circumstances. I understand the tears of excitement and anxiety that parents feel when they send their kids to college (especially their little girls who are becoming young women). When I think about all of the horrible things happening around the world, I cannot help but feel nervous at the thought of going back to school myself, but I will not let it stop me. I encourage any and everyone to not have their lives hindered and deprived out of fear. We must, unfortunately, take safety precautions as much as possible, but we must not let someone scare us into having our lives deprived of opportunities to live our lives to the fullest.

In the words of Whitney Houston, in her song, Never Give Up, “Hold your head to the sky, look them right in the eyes, Tell ’em you will never quit until the day you get it right….Even though some days you’ll have to cry, Shake it off and know that everything will be alright as long as you never ever give up.”


StephStephanie Granderson is a community advocate driven by her passion for education. Though she was raised in Richmond, Virginia, much of her cultural background comes from Trinidad and Tobago, where most of her family was born. As a first generation citizen and college graduate, she aspires to motivate her students to be successful just as others have done for her. While attending the University of Richmond, she was able to connect what she was learning in her classes about social inequalities with her experience volunteering in various schools and non-profits. Part of her experience was at Higher Achievement, where she had the opportunity to teach math and mentor students in under-resourced communities.  After graduation, she continued to serve Richmond through VCU’s AmeriCorps program where she tutored first and second graders to establish a stronger foundation in reading. She continues to tutor students in math, from kindergarten all the way up to calculus,
part-time after working at a middle school with students who have special needs in the City of Richmond. Stephanie loves to knit, dance, eat sushi, and practice speaking Spanish whenever she has the opportunity.