When I was eight years old, I lived in Durban, South Africa. I had a large family with whom I was very close and friends living down the street. I was precocious and strong willed. I felt safe and loved in my bubble. I lived in an apartheid (legal segregation), my home, my school, my mall, my beaches where filled with people who looked like me. That was normal for me; I didn’t have the knowledge that it was illegal to shop or swim elsewhere.
My parents decided they wanted something different for my younger brother and I, and moved us to America! I was so exciting. I knew I would meet celebrities here, right?
We moved to Chattanooga, TN and I thought it was the coolest place (still do). I started school and my happy feelings left. I wasn’t used to being around people who were different from me; I was scared. I spoke like a South African. When asked to read out loud, I pronounced words differently and I got laughed at and made fun of for being so different.
My parents decided to move to a different area of Chattanooga and I was going to start a new school. My nine year old self decided I would try to assimilate completely so no one would think I was different, for the most part I did; I changed my accent and I was quiet. I thought about everything I said before I said it so it would be the “right answer.”
I kept this facade until it became me. I didn’t realize this until my late 20s. I changed to be likeable and I lost my voice. I think a lot of us go through things like this and opt for the safer path, the one where we don’t show the world who we are. Yes it’s safer, but in the end we are the ones who lose the most. We lose ourselves. I try everyday to come back to speak, to not be afraid, but after more than 20 years it’s ingrained.