5 things my dad taught me about being a black woman in America.

On my first day of preschool, my dad tied my shoes.

He gave me an Arthur lunch box and held my hand as we walked across the parking lot to the St. Nicholas preschool. Just before we got to the entrance, he got down on one knee, placed his huge fan-sized hand on my pint-sized face, looked into my eyes, and said:

“Your skin is beautiful, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”


Honest dads rock. Image via iStock.

At 4 years old, I just stared at him. I waited for the next part of the sentence, which I assumed would be an offering of a toy, a juice box, or playtime. But it didn’t come. This was my introduction into the real world.

This world is a world where I'm often the only black person in the room. It's a world where blackness, especially my extremely dark black skin, might be mocked by people from all backgrounds.

My dad was born and raised in the Deep South. He was raised at a time when lynchings were the norm and when calling black employees the n-word was just part of being in the boys club.

He did an amazing job raising his four black kids, parenting that spanned three decades. And I, his last child, ended up morphing into a young adult during the Black Lives Matter movement.

From my dad, I've learned five lessons about what it means to be a Black American.

On Father's Day this year, I wanted to thank my dad for these lessons, and I also wanted to share them with you:

1. My blackness is my pride and glory.

My parents used to play Stevie Wonder after they were done listening to NPR on the way to school or the store. My dad, a fan of gardening, talk radio, and collards on a Sunday, boasted his black manhood as a point of pride, setting a resounding example on how I should view my black womanhood. We went to a Southern Baptist church on Sundays, and I spent part of my summers with my grandmother in Baton Rouge, visiting my dad's siblings during the week, progressively understanding the journey it took my parents to get our family to where it is.

Many of those experiences shaped me into who I am today. My parents made sure I understood my history and culture, and in turn, I dove deeper into what black identity meant for me at a young age.

Image via iStock.

I found that my blackness, the physical and mental aspects of it, are what makes me who I am. For that, I’m thankful.

2. Hard work is the only way to move forward in this world.

My dad grew up as a young boy in Mississippi during the Jim Crow South. As the oldest of eight children without an active father, he was responsible for getting himself to a better, less dangerous life and carrying his siblings with him. He ended up becoming a CPA and working as a community college professor because he had to put four kids through school. I never saw him complain, I never saw him be late to work, and I never saw him in a wrinkled work shirt (or gardening shirt, for that matter). The man has some serious pride.

He valued his work, and he valued the lives of the kids he was responsible for raising. Because of his example, I got my first job the summer after junior year, and I haven’t stopped working since. I'd like to think some of his work ethic has carried over to me.

3. Love yourself.

My dad is a Vietnam veteran. During the time of isolation and imminent danger in a country far different from his own, he learned how to cherish the things he loved — like the Four Tops and his alone time — and to cherish himself. This lesson, loving yourself at times of strength and weakness, is something he wanted his kids to know as well.

Love your weirdness. Love your Americanness. Love your blackness. Love your flaws. Love the possibilities.

According to my dad, you’d better love yourself before anyone else does. He is right.

4. Family is key.

My family members are very different. Our personalities and beliefs vary, but from my dad, I've learned that it's important to never forget and always acknowledge the people you love, however you are able to do so.

Whether your family consists of blood relatives or good friends, respect them, love them, and care for them. Chances are, they’ll probably do the same for you.

Image via iStock.

5. You are beautiful, whether the world acknowledges you or not.

As a dark-skinned black woman, I was mercilessly taunted during middle and high school. Discussing the complexities of colorism was never a thing in our household until the teasing began, so my parents had to do some intense work to keep me grounded when all I wanted to do was yell.

My dad, with whom I share the same skin tone, was particularly encouraging. He knew what it was like to be dark in a world that values lighter skin, and he shared his ways of getting through it with me. He's not the most emotional nor most affectionate guy on the block, but he made it very clear that either I could understand my beauty or I could let the world make the decision for me. I chose the former.

Photo used with permission from the author.

For all these things and more, I thank you. I love you, Dad.

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Fathers Everywhere

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

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