I am new to St. Joseph and though not an immigrant or refugee, I do come from a different culture…the South.
I was born in Mississippi, and until moving North at age 10, I never knew any White people. I did not know anything about being judged by one’s skin color because all of my friends and family are Black.
We lived with my mother’s parents on a large rural parcel of land owned by my grandparents. In one small house there resided my grandparents, mother, four aunts and six children.
We are a very tight-knit family, and when my grandparents moved to Milwaukee, we all followed! We lived in a very large house in a Black neighborhood, and I was bused to school. It was there I had my first experience of feeling different and less than.
My cousin and I were the only two Black children in the elementary school. I remember my mother telling me to always be respectful. Now I understand she was gently giving me fair warning: Because of your skin color, more will be expected of you than of your classmates. Be extra good!
All of my teachers were White. I remember an incident that confused me at the time. My classmate and I were going over some school work with the teacher. My classmate said, “I think I get the hang of it.” I piped in, “Well, I already have the hang of it!” My teacher got very upset, telling me I should never, ever say “the hang of it.” She was furious, and I was shaken and confused because she hadn’t corrected my White classmate. I didn’t know how to feel, and I never told my mom.
I now understand what bothered her was the word hang, which might trigger memories of lynching. Because my mom and grandmother were such strong role models, I never got blown away by these subtle examples of racism, but they still occur today, and they still sting.
Today, I live with my husband and three children and work at Serenity Place as a home-care assistant.
I am hard-working, kind and resourceful. I am a good spouse, good mother, good daughter and a great cook.
I am Black, and I am proud! Let’s see past my skin color. I am just your ordinary neighbor.
If you have any questions, contact Juliana Howard at 715-791-8976 or Jamal Elmi at 320-310-2351.