You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody - Maya Angelou
I was born in Toronto; the most multicultural city in the world. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I read it somewhere so I’m rolling with it.
For my first two years of school, Junior and Senior Kindergarten, I had classmates who were African, Chinese, Arabic, Muslim, etc. A cornucopia of races and cultures. Everyone was different. Different in race and gender. Different in values and beliefs. We all accepted each other, that’s just the way that it was.
The only problem in school was that boys had cooties.
(And yet I still wanted to runaway with my first childhood crush)
When I was 5, my mother, sister, soon to be brother and I moved to the town of Errington, just outside of Parksville, on Vancouver Island, with a population of 3500. My classmates were all white. And for the very first time in my life I began to feel out of place. Change is not always welcome. I was different - the new kid, and an easy target because I visibly stood out.
It was a defining moment in realizing my differences which led to some confusion in my belief that I was good enough for others, and good enough for myself.
On the first day of school my sister and I tried to take the bus home, when I was punched in the stomach by another student before even finding a seat. A swift jab to the gut that would leave me in tears as I struggled to get off the bus and struggled to comprehend what had happened. I was met with a warm embrace by both my mother and sister. But, nobody came to the rescue to rectify the situation. The driver just sat back and watched dumbfounded by what had occurred right in front of him - an adult bystander to childhood discrimination.
What a welcome to a new school.
I will never know how things were for my mother, or what it was like raising 3 bi-racial babies in a city where there weren't really any people of colour. Damn she is super woman and I will never be able to thank her enough for raising us with love, and teaching us to approach our lives by respecting others, supporting one another, and never letting us believe that our differences made us any less than we were. For her we have always been and always will be enough.
I’m also so proud to have a big sister, who was so strong from a young age, protect me from the hurt of the other children. The disrespectful comments would cut deep. But she was proud, and she would never let racially explicit comments be acceptable towards us. Ever. She stood up for us, who we were, and that the colour of our skin didn’t make us any different from the rest of the students in the school. I wanted to be just like her. Heck, sometimes I still do, she's always had this sense of staying true to who she is.
You know why your skin is darker?
“Because God burnt you in the oven”
“Because God took a crap on you”
“You look like medusa”
“why is your hair like that”
“you look like a puffball princess”
I’ll never understand why kids can be so cruel, or how they could say such horribly hurtful things. But they did. Like I said before, change is not always welcome.
Two years later we moved to Victoria, and though our scenery changed, the sometimes lack of acceptance didn’t necessarily change as well.
"you look like a boy"
"you throw like a girl"
"you need to smile more"
"you're so black"
"you're so white"
the N word.
Now, I'm not saying that we experienced that on a daily basis. I know that we were lucky. But, there have been times throughout my youth and adult life where I have been made to feel scared, and less than for the colour of my skin. Times where I have been belittled for being an intelligent young woman. And times where I have questioned if I would ever be enough.
From an early age sports saved me. When people teased me about my looks and my hair I didn’t care because I was a part of something where the only thing that mattered was your physical ability. It was a place for me to just be me, and I’m so thankful that I had sport to connect me to myself. And slowly, over time, those feelings of not belonging started to fade away.
At a volleyball camp I was a guest coach of last year one of the girls came up to me and said, “do you like your hair?” I thought that was such a weird question to ask during the middle of a volleyball drill, but she was just like me, brown eyes, curly hair, and tanned skin living in a small town.
I remembered back to when I was her age.
Kids would always tease me. Told me my hair was frizzy, or messy, or ugly. Let’s not forget, I was the “puffball princess” which luckily didn’t catch on for too long.
I absolutely hated everything about my curls. I wanted to be just like the other girls in my school with straight hair, it wasn’t fair. I would straighten it for picture day and special events because I wanted to look normal like everyone else. I wanted to be able to have my hair french braided like the other girls on my volleyball team during tournaments.
I just wanted to fit in.
During my grade 7 graduation, for the first time in my youth, I decided to wear my hair in it's natural form. Hair products weren’t what they are now and my hair exploded (lols) and I remember all of the strange looks I got that night, and some teasing comments. But, I thank all my friends and family who stood by me to tell me how much they loved it, and how beautiful it was. How beautiful I was. And on that day, I started to believe that I was enough.
So, I told her that when I was young I hated mine. But, now that I’m older and more mature I love everything about my hair. I told her to be proud of her curls because they make her unique and beautiful. I told her to be proud because her curls tell a story. I told her to be proud because her curly hair is a reflection of where she comes from, and that in itself is a beautiful thing.
A few days after we received an email from her mother, being so appreciative of the words I spoke to her daughter, and her deep gratitude for having someone who looks like her daughter in a position to teach and inspire her.
It was the first time I felt like a role model not just for what I do on the court, but for who I am, and what I stand for as an individual. That I could be a voice for those unsure of where they fit in. And that volleyball aside I could be a beacon of hope for young women going through their own struggles.
I consider myself very lucky that I was able to take pride in who I was, and where I came from when I realized my own worth through athletics. I may not have been the most feminine growing up, but I was powerful and strong on the court. I may not have looked like everyone else on my teams, but I was a source of inspiration for other girls that looked like me. I may have been shy and reserved then, but I have found confidence and clarity.
When others or sometimes when I myself question why I am still trying to get back to competing in this sport the reason has mostly been to see this through until the end. To go until it’s no longer physically possible, or until I am forced out. But I think the real reason that I haven’t quit yet is because this sport has enabled me to become a woman I am proud of - one who is still growing, changing, and learning to accept who she really is.
This sport taught me how to love and value myself, not to find that validation in others, for I am my own woman, and on my own I am enough.
This sport has taught me to embrace, and be proud of my heritage, because representation matters, and I want girls who look like me to realize that they can do it too, they can do it better than me, and that they too are enough.
This sport has helped me to find my voice. To always find perspective and meaning. And given me a platform to show others that they too will always be enough.
Our most profound power, utmost strength and inner magic lies not in what we do, but in the content of our character. It is up to us to recognize, acknowledge and nourish the power within ourselves. It is up to us to acknowledge and recognize the worth of others. If you read this far and you don't know by now - you are enough already.
Over the last month I've been trying to unpack some heavy issues and what they mean to me. What it means to be bi-racial. What it means to be a woman. Equality in sports. What it means to stand up for what you believe in. How I can live by those values everyday. What I can do to help others realize that they have always been and always will be enough. What it means to have a platform, and how to use that platform for the betterment of yourself and others.
Do I have answers? Heck no.
But I hope to start some conversations. Get people thinking and talking about their own heavy issues. And hopefully help others gain some clarity in realizing their own worth.