Dancing to My Own Drum: How Embracing My Authentic Self Set Me Free

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by Zakiya Brown of Jacki's Kitchen

Lately I have found myself running across Danielle LaPorte's "Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be" quote. This quote has been the lyrics to my song of freedom. As I sit and reflect on what these words mean to me, I cannot help but think about every moment I've spent in conversations with friends and family, or every message received by media, instructing me on who and what I should be.

A few weeks ago, a representative from Journey, a television show on the Afrotainment Network, reached out to me to discuss the possibility of being featured on their next episode. Of course, as an introvert, I was hesitant to accept the invitation. To speak publicly about my life, my journey, is something I have never done. All I could think about was saying something wrong or not representing myself like I am "suppose" to. Or what would the world think by seeing me open. Raw. Authentic. My story has only been shared in pieces and usually to the students that I work with, and primarily as a form of encouragement. After all the thoughts and the replaying of suggestive dialogues, I accepted their invitation.

After waiting two weeks for the episode to air on their website, the nervousness was back. Here it is, I've exposed myself to the world but was afraid to share it with my close friends, family, and colleagues. Mostly afraid for how they may see me. Open. Raw. Authentic. I had become proud of my ability to hide my emotions; women are already emotional unstable creatures, right? I have become very good at not showing" weakness" and allowing my strength to be my crown. I had become exceptionally good at allowing others to determine the beat of my drum.

Again, after sitting and playing back previous conversations, I went ahead and shared the interview with everyone. It was not long before one of my closest friends, colleagues, mentor, and sorority sister watched and responded to my journey. It was when I heard her words that I realized I had discovered my beat. I had begun dancing to my own drum.

For most of our lives, we live based on who the world wants us to be. As children we are told what to wear, how to wear it, what to say, how to say it, when to say it, how to speak, the messages around our style, and so forth. And for the first time, I could see my drum being created just to fit me.

The person that I am, I always try to speak from my experiences and identity; specifically my salient ones - African American and Female. I am very aware of the messages that are spoken to and by society regarding our actions, thoughts, and portrayals - the world told me who I should be. And for a while I danced to the drums of others. Happiness was not something I knew. I could not keep up with their rhythms, for their beats did not speak to the blueprint of my journey. I could not see past the dissatisfaction that others placed upon me.

But something then changed in my life. Something happened that I was not prepared for but knew that the day would come. My anchors of my life lost their battles with Cancer. In July 2010, eleven days apart, I lost my mother and grandmother. It was a hard transition and it was one that was not anticipated. My mother gave Breast Cancer a run for its money for 10 years. Through all of the treatments and surgeries, she was determined to live her life the way she wanted. On the other hand, my grandmother lived into her sixties before she was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. She was able to celebrate one more birthday before being called to rest three months later.

Little did I know, they began to march to their own drums. For the past three and a half years, I have found so much encouragement from the words and actions they left with us. My mother was lactose intolerant but she did not allow that to stop her from enjoying a bowl of ice cream. She always encouraged us to do what made us smile, I know she did. My grandmother always wore a smile. Never really knew what gave her this joy but seldom did I see her not smiling and enjoying people. She welcomed everyone with open arms. Showed limitless unconditional love, even to those that society had turned its back on.

When I left Ohio for Louisiana and now in Florida, I felt a weight being lifted from my shoulders. I began to dance to my own drum. I realized the amount of time I spent dancing to drums that were not designed for me. Time spent losing who I was to become for fear of being open. Raw. Authentic. Time spent dancing off beat and unhappy.

But now, I am moving to my own Neo Soul, Jazzed out, Groove. Growing up, I was told that growing locs was a sure way to keep me from obtaining my career goals. Well, now my honey and chocolate brown locs lay upon my shoulders like roots from the most sacred trees. I was told that being Pro-Black would turn people off. Well, my rhetoric has gained me a network that encourages me to fight for all people, especially those who feel silenced. And I was told that I must tread quietly for I do not want to be seen as the "Angry Black Woman". Well, I wear the "ABW" badge proudly. With so much violence, crime, hatred, and systemic injustice in our society, in our world, wouldn't you be upset? And me being African American and female is just a coincidence.

From all the drums that have tried to get me to dance to their beats never appealed to my spirit. My soul could not continue to dance to music that wasn't meant for me. And I am happy. Each day I awake, I "dance like there's nobody watching".

I'm telling the world who I am. Open. Raw. And Authentically.

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