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

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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less