I started as a young seedling growing amongst a diverse field of familial and luminous tinted flowers. Unknowingly, I was abruptly ripped from deep soil that held my roots, tearing me away from my foundation and my home. The cold stern hands of the State transferred me multiple times into new environments with a black garbage bag of belongings in tow. Each new placement was unsuited for replanting my roots to ensure my full growth potential, and yet, I survived every uprooting. In fact, I adapted to these ever-changing gardens, which brought severe storms, droughts, and bleak chances of sunlight that I had yearned to nourish my soul. I persevered through physical assaults, jagged-edged words meant to cut me at my core, and the many unjust punishments for simply being a flower seeking compassion in my own advancements. My petals wilted from missing the rich soil of my home. I felt the immense fear that halted my sense of being and brought flashes of growing up where I didn’t feel safe. I grieved the loss of a childhood I wholeheartedly deserved and it was viciously stolen from me when the State tore my family apart and, ultimately, my cultural identity.
I was placed with a kinship caregiver, my paternal grandmother whom I called “Nana.” She was a stranger until my placement with her. Yet, I still felt a familiar connection. I was yearning to find my forever garden, like I had with my parents and siblings. I began to flourish with depth as she connected the histories of my diverse ethnic backgrounds. Nana began to water my roots with knowledge on my mother’s Unangan ancestry through gatherings and Indigenous events such as Powwows. My father’s side held Jamaican heritage and deep family ties to Louisiana. I learned everything from the history of living Black in America to the generational family recipes that could soothe a broken heart. It was the first time I could look beyond my own petals to see rows of flowers of my ancestors that grew since time immemorial. It was in this instance I could feel my ancestors smiling like the sun, and I knew I had a chance to move forward into a promising future. Each sliver of knowledge that had been collected throughout my family, like the bees gathering precious pollen, began to rejuvenate my sense of wholeness as a human being. I was no longer afraid to bloom fully once I reconnected the knowledge of my existence because I knew that I came from my ancestors’ strength and resiliency.
Alas, unforeseen circumstances cut my time short in the familial field, and I was moved to a new foster home. I took the self-empowerment I gained from rebuilding my cultural identity with me. But, I later lost grip on maintaining any further cultural enrichment, starving myself of my culture and family once again. With every new home I was placed in, another petal of my flower and a piece of me was gone. A majority of the families I lived with were white and had no understanding of the importance of providing opportunities for nutritional growth in my cultural identity. The foster families had no desire to ensure that my cultural roots remained strong. There weren’t any more bees to pollinate lessons of cultural knowledge about my family history. Just as plants need water, sun and nutrients to thrive — the proper paths for growth — I needed my white foster parents to provide opportunities of space where I can learn, grow, and discover my cultures for myself. This lack of cultural empowerment caused internal struggles that took years to overcome.
In my formative years I got caught up trying to be someone other than my authentic self. I felt a need to protect my inner self by assimilation into whichever family mold I was placed in. I whitewashed myself to feel some sort of belonging in the new family placement. I straightened the beautiful curls that shined my father’s heritage proudly and hid any indication that I was of my mother’s Alaskan Native Unangan/Aleut ancestry. I became perplexed about my identity as a mixed child amid white families and forgot what my cultures had meant to me. I lacked understanding on a deeper level of who I truly am as an Afro-Indigenous woman. I used to believe that I had to change myself to fit into whatever mold, planter or pot I was placed in so that I could feel a sense of belonging. But I still had my roots wanting a place to ground. As long as there are roots, there will always be a possibility to flourish.
Genuine willingness to help young people of color find a safe space to learn about their cultural identity is incredibly important. Safety to a person of color in the system is more complex than just being placed with people that look like you. That’s not what’s important. It’s making sure the young person’s roots are being nurtured in a healthy way with the right community support that is willing to learn about their cultural history with them. If there is no community, build one through knowledge. Find them a space to grow so that it will carry them through their adult years.
I am now a tall and fully grown flower, reunited with my biological family that continues to water my roots. My soil is so enriched from a well-developed sense in knowing who I am through my cultural identity. Whenever I see a flower that’s grown through concrete, I look at it as a reflection of myself and the strength I had to have to endure all my adversities. Let the roots of a child’s bud grow so strong that being uprooted won’t stop them from discovering the soil, water and sunlight that can revitalize their cultural connections. Become the bees that pollinate lessons of their history for a young person’s cultural link, progress and transformation.