How growing up surrounded by my black girlfriends changed me.

Why black girls need black girlfriends.

“When are we gonna start the discussions?” Nichelle asks impatiently as the rest of us stuff our faces with chocolate-filled crescent rolls and blue Sour Patch kids.

All bras are off for the night, and all hair is securely fastened in bonnets. Everyone is talking at once, and even though our bedtime isn’t until the sun begins to rise, each of us has already claimed her sleeping territory.

We are at a sleepover. We are grown-ass women.


Looking back, I never minded being the token black kid at an elementary school filled with mostly white and Chinese students.

At times, I think I even preferred it — it was just one more thing that made me feel special. This isn’t to say that I was exempt from typical 9-year-old token black girl frustrations (like not being able to wet my hair at slumber parties and feeling uncomfortable when my peers would ask me if I was related to MLK), but overall, I was fine. I thrived both socially and academically.

In 1996 or 1997, I started dancing on a praise team at a small black Pentecostal church, and I made a new group of friends.

This began sleepovers every summer and winter with the other dancers in the group, a tradition that we continue to this day. During the early years of our sleepover tradition, since we saw each other four or five times during any given week, our sleepovers always felt like a capstone of sorts, celebrating another successful few months of being friends, of dancing, of going to middle school, to high school, to college.

All photos by Kenzie Kate Photography, used with permission.

These days, we’re lucky if we even see each other every other month. Our sleepovers have shifted into something equally fun but more intentional, weighted with a more tangible significance: a time to celebrate weddings, babies, and career moves. A time to cry about failures, losses, and relationship mishaps.

"Discussions" are inevitable these days, too — lengthy and usually heated conversations about everything from relationships and dating to politics and corporate America. These discussions have become a highlight of our adult sleepovers, second only to quoting "Mean Girls" in its entirety.

All of this is to say: Having black friends is important, y’all.

This may seem like a given, but it’s something I didn’t realize until fairly recently during our last sleepover, when we were time-traveling and laughing about stories from our almost two decades of knowing each other.

Growing up with a solid group of black women as friends has empowered me in ways that I am still discovering. Here are a few.

1. It is important that black women have a space where they can be angry black women without being labeled and written off as an angry black woman.

I am afraid of being a stereotype. In non-black circles, I overcompensate often: I speak of my love of country music and swimming, I enunciate well and emphasize my i-n-g’s. I limit saying anything that could be interpreted as me using the (non-existent) race card. I fear being labeled an angry black woman.

But at our sleepovers, the subject matter is always candid and nothing is off limits. We make our disapproval for someone’s significant other known, we debate the perks and downfalls of going to a historically black college, we talk about black men dating white women, we talk about why we should move to Atlanta, we talk about why we should not move to Atlanta. We don’t have sidebar conversations. If two people are arguing, we are all there. If someone is crying, we are all there. And we know that no amount of yelling or arguing or ranting or tears could ever make anyone else in the room doubt our intelligence. We know that we are all smart.

2. It is important to have a space where you don’t feel like you are speaking for the entire African-American population.

Whether in corporate America or in a university classroom, as a black woman voicing an opinion, you are speaking for all black women (and sometimes black people) everywhere. People will take your opinion as truth: as "the black perspective." I have been asked to give "the black perspective" on multiple occasions. That is a LOT of pressure. I do not know all of the black people in America. Yes, I have insight into a black perspective, but too often, people mistake it as the only black perspective.

On many past occasions, as a result of being the sole black perspective, I have failed black people. When given the mic, I have been quick to say the easiest thing, to make the people around me comfortable, to manipulate the truth, to not be the downer in the room. When I’m with my girls, I am only required to speak for myself. My opinion only belongs to me. There’s so much freedom that comes with that.

3. It is important to have a space where you don’t ever feel like you’re talking about race "too much." It is also important to be in a place where wearing a scarf to sleep is the norm and ain’t nobody wettin’ their hair.

Whether we like it or not, hair is a big part of young girls’ lives in America, no matter what race they are. Your hair feels like your beauty, and your hair feels like your identity. As a little girl with barrettes, as a preteen with cornrows, and as a high-schooler with braids, it was my truth. It was all of our truth.

On the playground, I remember the envy I felt watching all the little white girls put their hair up in ponytails to play soccer and then taking the ponytails back down and splashing some water in their hair to go back to class. It was magic. My hair had to stay in its four ponytails, hair balls hanging on ends, lest I receive a beating when I got home. My hair was not magic.

But on Saturdays, as we’d prepare to dance at church on Sunday morning, my mom ran a pressing comb through all of our heads, gelling down our kitchens, changing afro puffs into curly ponytails and loose edges into defined twists. Our hair was magic.

Even still, as adults, we revel in each other’s hairstyles: the bobs, the braids, the afros, the twists, the locks, the ongoing discovery of how our hair can shape shift into something else. Our hair is magic.

We are magic.

Growing up with black girlfriends meant growing up surrounded by mirrors: reflections that looked just like me and constantly showed me who I was and who I could be. They were mirrors that knew me for me and constantly reminded me that I was magic.

We don’t see each other four times a week like we used to, and our phone calls and text messages are sometimes far and few between, but we hold on tightly to our bi-annual sleepovers, because we know that we need each other to survive in this world.

Black women need each other in this world.

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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.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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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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via KGW-TV / YouTube

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"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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