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Columns

From Girlhood to Adulthood: Becoming a Black Woman

By Ogechukwu C. Ogbogu, Contributing Opinion Writer
Ogechukwu C. Ogbogu ’24 lives in Wigglesworth Hall. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

Dear younger self,

I remember you as clear as day. You had short twists, wearing your school uniform, and you would be playing soccer or sitting in the library during recess. You would wear your hair down, but Dad said to pack it up so people could see your face, but your head was always in some book, so it didn’t really matter anyway. I remember the feeling of childhood like it was yesterday, and yet it’s so far away. The feeling after leaving a movie theater, going on rides at the theme park, going on school field trips and getting lunchables. I cherish the small pockets of blissfulness in those moments so much, and I wish I could transport myself back to that simplicity.

But as you got older, you realized it was never simple. I am writing you this letter because I am at a turning point in my life, where it feels like those blissful moments are slipping away from me, and I need to look back to you for advice. The countless stories and news reports I continue to see, hear, and feel have brought a heaviness to my heart. You always saw these things despite being quieter than me. You witnessed things that I am only now discovering and learning how to navigate. But we also aren’t as different as I expected.

I’m having trouble distinguishing girlhood from adulthood. I thought it would be clear: Getting your driver's license, turning 18, attending college, getting a job, but none of these have been markers of my adulthood. None provided the answers that I remember you were pondering in those classrooms, in the library, and even on the field. None could explain those moments you had that confused you.

I remember when you first heard about Trayvon Martin. You were 13, but you couldn’t process the entirety of what was happening. You would see Mom and Dad watching the news when you would go to ask a question about your homework. You saw protests, and you saw Trayvon Martin’s face, but only small things stuck with you. His eyes when news reporters showed his face. I still remember it today, but I never reflected on what that moment meant to you, to me, only 13 years old. Only 13 years old. There is a blurred line between childhood and adulthood for Black children when we see events like this in the media and for some, in real life. What is your childhood when by age 13 your curiosity and blissfulness are taken from you?

Yet so many beautiful Black children were forced to encounter that type of senseless death and those fears all while going to class and seeing their classmates. You must strive to see beauty in your Blackness and your girlhood: your hair, your skin, your style, your passion, no matter the negativity others may want to paint your Black girlhood. Begin to learn how to embrace all aspects of yourself, and turn to the other Black girls and women in your life to guide you.

We as a society have normalized kids growing up having a “racist phase,” before realizing their wrongs. No Black girl is obligated to endure another child’s “racist phase.” No Black girl should be turned into a teacher in matters of race. We owe it to ourselves to grow beyond these roles. You are first obligated to yourself and to grow for yourself. No longer will Black girls be seen as stepping stones for others to cross the bridge from anti-Black to ally. Many experiences and events may threaten your childhood, but we still know how to preserve and create memories for us to cherish.

I remember your imaginary friend Violet that you made in first grade to read with you, and you drew her on a bookmark I still have; I remember when you met one of your first childhood friends because of your matching Wizards of Waverly Place shoes; I remember you painting the windows for the Halloween Window Painting Contest every year with your friends in middle school. Our childhoods are complex but seldom do Black girls get to celebrate and appreciate the times when we get to be ourselves.

You created bonds of meaningful friendship with others, and together we brought joy to ourselves and forged new paths together. Soon, you will learn of so many other Black women who have materialized these paths for you and created doors for other Black girls to achieve their dreams.

Adulthood and adulting as a Black woman feel like something entirely different … Wow, do I even see myself as a Black woman just yet?

Black girlhood to Black womanhood was never a set milestone, but it was when you began to see your world differently. It was when you became completely cognizant of your navigation of your world as a Black girl but embraced it. Those thoughts that sat silently in your mind, you slowly began to share with me. Then you shared it with your classmates, and soon enough you were attending conferences and began to express yourself in your writing. You wrote the world and created new ones that imagined different trajectories and, through your writing, you formed the bridge I am now crossing to become the Black woman I see myself as today.

I can’t guide you through adulthood since I am still figuring it all out. I still have to learn the basics: taxes, smog checks, groceries. I can only say, the first step to becoming a Black woman, is to nurture yourself and love yourself and all aspects of your Black womanhood in whichever form it takes. The strongest river, the longest path you could ever forge is with yourself, and I will continue to do so for our future self.

So, thank you for giving me the courage, the confidence, and the patience to cherish these moments that I have with you, with me. Until next time.

With love,

Ogechukwu Ogbogu

Ogechukwu C. Ogbogu ’24 lives in Wigglesworth Hall. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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