If there’s one thing you need to know about me its that, as a kid, I always insisted on being Galleria when playing Cheetah Girls. Always. Of the four Cheetah Girls Galleria was (arguably) the most talented and (inarguably) the bossiest—two descriptors that were often used to describe my younger self.
My mother was in the church choir when she was pregnant with me, which has always been my explanation as to why I was drawn to the spotlight at such a young age. Like Galleria in the Cheetah Girls, I had a big head full of big dreams. I was always making up choreography and writing skits, and delegating roles amongst my little sister and cousins for our post-Thanksgiving dinner performances in my grandmother’s living room.
Throughout middle school and high school, I was heavily involved in theater, dance and even dabbled in spoken word poetry. Though I was talented and bossy, I was also introspective and quite shy. As a result of moving schools a lot, I was perpetually the New Girl, which gave my classmates free rein to decide who I was without my say. To them I was the quiet one, the smart one, the Black one, the not-Black-enough one.
I loved being on stage during those years, because for the duration of a dance number or a one-act play, nobody else’s opinion of me mattered. On stage, I got to showcase what felt like a secret version of myself—a version that wasn’t cripplingly shy or too concerned about what everyone else might be thinking of her. The stage was where I could shed all pretense, and be, to everyone else, who I actually felt like on the inside.
When I went to college at a predominantly white, super conservative university, I stopped performing altogether. In this space, I noticed an underlying pressure to perform as a result of tokenization. More often than not, this came in the form of being asked (read: begged) to demonstrate the latest dance craze, or on one occasion to do my best “Beyonce dance” as people gathered around and watched. The very outlet that I’d once used to express my true self, was now being used as a way to tokenize me and push me further into a role my white peers had already carved out for me.
Over the next four years, I leaned more into my introspective self. Writing had always been a passion of mine, but it was during college that I began to use the written word as my primary creative outlet. In my junior year, I landed a monthly spread in an online magazine where I wrote personal essays about race and feminism and intersecting identities. This helped me process the tokenization I felt so strongly in my university setting, as well as the political conversation that was happening at large as a result of Trump’s election. While being on stage had offered me an outlet to express what felt like my secret self, writing allowed me to articulate the complicated inner workings of my mind in a way that made me feel wholly understood.
While I’m thankful for this period of time that allowed me to develop myself as a writer (it’s what led to my job here at The Good Trade!), I recognize that limiting myself to the title of “writer” fails to honor the full scope of my talents.
It wasn’t until recently that I began to consider my younger self who was so comfortable in the spotlight. The tokenization I experienced in college completely turned me off to any type of performance; yet, performing played such a huge role in my early development. As much as I’ve shied away from the spotlight in the past couple of years, I think I was always meant to perform in some capacity. Even in my writing, I find myself itching to use a similar kind of confident wittiness and quirky sense of humor that was so evident in my stage presence.
This past summer, I joined a sketch comedy group with Emily, my fellow team member here at The Good Trade. I was hesitant at first. I hadn’t been on a stage since I was a senior in high school. And yet, simply going to the rehearsals for our first show took me right back to my high school self. Running lines and blocking for our sketches gave me a strange, yet familiar feeling—I felt boisterous and larger than life. It was the feeling of that secret self that I hadn’t accessed in so long.
Performing in front of a crowd only further pushed me into that self. I’d forgotten just how much I loved the entire process that goes into a performance—the anticipation of waiting backstage for my cue, the exhilaration of being on stage, and the relief of seeing my family and friends in the audience. To have the opportunity to do it all over again, now as an adult, has been one of the most rewarding experiences.
I have since performed in another sketch comedy show with the same group, and even wrote my own sketch for the show! I plan on continuing to write and perform in the shows as way of channeling some of that energy of my younger self. Accessing my more extroverted and performance-oriented side has been empowering, after having been discouraged from doing so for so many years.
I think sometimes, when we’re feeling stuck it’s more helpful to look back than it is to look forward. To remember who we used to be as a means of reminding ourselves who we are. It feels incredibly special to remind myself that I am still the talented, (hopefully less) bossy self I was as a kid. By re-channeling this younger version of me, I hope to develop a more grounded and confident sense of my present self.