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Letter to a Younger Me – Kaiya McCullough

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2020 / 06 / 04

Dear Kaiya, 

I remember when you were a little girl, you used to call yourself “peach-brown”. Peach represented your mother, brown represented your father, and together they made peach-brown, a perfect articulation at the time for what you were. The colors came from the crayons you matched to the skin of your parents, and although they were separate and didn’t mix together very well on paper, they were the best you had at the time. This silly little phrase represented what would become a lifelong struggle of coming into your own identity.

I remember when you were a little girl, you struggled with your hair. You couldn’t quite figure out why yours was curly, and why it wasn’t long and straight like your mom’s. You also couldn’t quite figure out why your skin was darker than your mom’s, because all your life you wanted to be just like her. Even your cousin Mckenna, the person who most strangers thought was your twin based solely on the light-brown color of your skin, looked different from you. She will be your rock in a lot of this.

I remember when you were a little girl, you were so excited when you got your first Bratz doll. Not only was she fun to play with, but she actually looked like you. None of your other toys had the earthy tone you carried as a badge on your skin, marking you for a life of longing to understand who you were. You were happy to be represented in a way that went beyond the whiteness of your Polly Pockets or Barbie dolls. You finally felt seen, and you finally felt represented. I promise you will feel that visibility again many times in your life.

I remember when you were a little girl, your parents got divorced. No one ever questioned whether you were your father’s daughter: You had hints of his skin, the shape of his eyes, and pieces of his curly hair. You didn’t understand why you got funny looks when you were with your mom, with whom you shared only a smile and a mischievous look in your eye. You’ll later find out just how many times she got asked what it was like to nanny such a beautiful little Black girl.

I remember when you were a little girl, you didn’t know that you were living in a bubble. You grew up in a suburban, and mostly white, affluent community where people who looked like you were few and far in between. It wasn’t that you didn’t care about others’ stories, you just didn’t have any framework for understanding them. You didn’t realize just how different your life was compared to millions of your brothers and sisters who were victimized and traumatized at the same age, simply for being Black.

You would soon learn, and as a consequence you would develop an understanding of empathy.

I remember when you were a little older, Jasmine, your step-mom, told you a story, one that would scare you to your core for years to come. She recounted an instance long before you were born where a woman was pushed off of a local bridge by a highway patrol officer. You didn’t understand why or how that could happen, because the police were supposed to protect people. Jasmine continued, as she told you the woman was only pulled over for a make-believe traffic violation. Though Cara Knott was not Black, this story began a conversation where you were told about police brutality against your community. From that day forward, you developed a deep mistrust for the very people that were supposed to protect you, because being Black meant they often found reasons to instead hurt you. 

I remember when you were a little older, you fell in love with soccer. It gave you a thrill you’d never felt before, and you knew it would change your life. You made friends that looked like you, and friends that didn’t, and friends that fell somewhere in between. It gave you a safe space to express yourself that went beyond just how you looked, because on the field, you could be anybody you wanted to as long as you worked hard. You didn’t know it then, but soccer would transform you into a person who was strong enough to deal with the road ahead. It will be bumpy.

I remember when you were a little older, you heard more stories that scared you and scarred you. You learned about a time your dad was visiting a friend that was babysitting in a predominately-white neighborhood; by the end of the story, there was a gun to his head because the neighbors reported him as “suspicious”. You learned about how your uncles, the men who were so gentle in raising you, were repeatedly the targets of racial profiling and discrimination in all aspects of their lives. You learned about the struggles of your Granny, the strongest woman you know, and the racism and struggles that caused her to create an entirely new life for her growing family.

I remember when you were a little older, you met your brothers. K was born when you were ten, a spitting image of your father and your step-mother. J was born when you were fourteen, an exact combination of your mother and step-father. They filled your heart with so much love, and you realized you would do anything you could to protect them from the world. You cried when you realized their realities would be so different, simply because of the color of their skin. Two kids with hearts of gold, yet K is three times more likely to be shot by police and four times more likely to be suspended from school than J. Think about that, and let it guide you as you grow up as their protector.

You will begin to develop a deep sense of justice and empathy. You won’t know it then, but they would become a driving factor for the rest of your life.

I remember when you were a teenager, you experienced your first bad encounter with a cop. There would be more to come. You were hammocking with your friends at night, at a little overlook watching the stars. It was less than a mile away from your home, and it was dark outside. The cop cornered you and your best friend Ki when he realized you two were away from the rest of your friends. You two were the only Black kids in the group, and the cop didn’t back down until one of your white friends came and talked him down. You would pretend it didn’t bother you, but you and Ki went home and talked about it all night. 

I remember when you were a teenager, you saw the horrors of colorism around you. You heard the stories of your best friend, and how differently you were treated amongst your peers. Though the same blood ran through your veins, and your souls sang the same songs, people saw her differently from you. You would begin to realize the extent of your privilege, and you would vow to start educating yourself on everything you could relating to equality.

I remember when you were a teenager, you got told to “Go back to Africa”. After the Ferguson riots, you saw on video just how differently Black Americans across the country were treated. You refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance in class because of them, and because you didn’t think the “liberty and justice for all” part was reflective of the world we actually live in. One of your white male classmates would get so angry, he screamed at you as soon as it finished. You retaliated, cursing him out in front of everybody. Only one of you would be reprimanded by the teacher that day, and it wasn’t him. 

I remember when you were a teenager, you did a report on Loving v. Virginia. You had to write about a court case in your class, learning about the way the justice system worked. You didn’t understand the extent of it then, but you would one day realize just how flawed it truly is. This case made you cry as you researched it, because you learned that only 53 years ago, your parents wouldn’t have been able to marry. You would’ve been the product of an interracial marriage, which was against the law. Your existence would have been considered despicable to millions of Americans. This assignment put in perspective for you how little time had passed since de jure racism ran rampant in America, and how much more progress was to be made.

I remember when you were a teenager, you realized the true extent of the ignorance in the world. Donald Trump was running for the presidency, and kids at school made sure you knew it. You argued until your throat was raw from yelling, your eyes were red from crying, and your fingers cramped from typing. Rant after rant, with plenty of facts and plenty of research, could not seem to suppress the waves of trolls whose sole aim was to see you crumble. You would NOT.

You began to feel the guilt that came with privilege, and became inspired to do something with it.

I know you’re a curious girl, so I’ll let you in on a few secrets:

One day you’ll go to college, and you’ll feel like the world is falling apart. Trump wins the election. You’ll be sitting in your friend Ethan’s room, crying in his arms. Things will seem hopeless, but they are not. You will discover a community of people just like you, fighting the same fight, and battling the same monsters. You will become stronger together.

One day you’ll go to college, and you’ll have a fear of joining the Black Student Union. You will feel like you don’t belong there, like your story doesn’t matter, like it is not your space to invade because your skin is lighter and your experiences are not as bad (and therefore not as valid). You don’t end up joining officially, but will stay on the periphery, always following and trying to stay involved in the ways you felt comfortable enough to do so. It will be your biggest regret during this time of your life. It’s okay though, because life is full of mistakes. It will remind you that coming to terms with your own identity is a long, arduous process, and doesn’t need to follow a specific timeline. It will remind you there is still room for growth.

One day you’ll go to college, and you’ll meet people who make you question your own morality. You’ll fall in love with a boy who makes you question your beliefs, and what you can tolerate in the people you form any sort of relationship with. You will be trialed with thinly veiled racism from his friends, juxtaposing political beliefs from his family, and a questioning of your own sanity. You will learn tolerance, but also what shouldn’t ever be tolerated. You won’t stay with him, but you’ll take a lot of life lessons from it. 

One day you’ll go to college, and you’ll educate those who don’t (but should) know better. You’ll explain why white girls can’t say the N-word, even in songs, and why wearing box braids as a non-Black POC is problematic. You’ll write papers on the sexualization of Black women in the media, redlining and how it’s affected Black communities to this day, and many other topics that fill you with immeasurable passion. You’ll stand for hours in solidarity listening to your peers defend your shared values to far-right protesters. You’ll also learn from others, whether that be professors, coaches, teammates, or classmates, and together, you’ll all move forward.

One day you’ll go to college, and you’ll kneel in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. I know you don’t know who that is yet, but he’s a talented Black athlete, much like yourself. You’ll kneel because you are tired. Tired of seeing Black people killed on Twitter for simply being Black. Tired of feeling like there is nothing you can do. Tired of having a platform and not using it. And especially tired of fearing for the lives of your community. You will be interviewed, and applauded, and booed. You will feel the support of people you never knew existed, and feel disappointment from people you’ve known what feels like your entire life. You will not falter, but you will hope that a small act like yours can spark a conversation that needs to be had.

One day you won’t be so scared anymore.

You’ll use the platform you have to help others. You’ll be inspired. You’ll work to end things that upset you. You will feel empathy, an empathy so deep it makes you cry often. You’ll talk, and educate, and inspire people of all ages. You’ll share your story, and hope others can read it and hear it and feel seen. You’ll doubt yourself, but you shouldn’t, because your entire life has led you to your beliefs, convictions, and goals.

I guess I’m what I’m trying to say is, hang in there. My hope for us is that one day we’ll embrace every aspect of ourself, because there are many more crayons in the box for us now. No longer do we have to be peach-brown, and fall into the expectations set for us by the world. We can be KAIYA, a strong, intelligent, empathetic and proud Black woman, ready to take on whatever comes her way.

Love Always, Kaiya


A WORD

FROM THE EDITOR


Getting the opportunity to help share Kaiya’s story to the world was such an amazing experience for me. As a bi-racial PAC-12 women’s soccer player myself, I found myself relating to many of her experiences and struggles. Seeing and listening to somewhat that you have looked up to within the soccer world use her platform to share her trials and tribulations within self-identity made me feel that I was not alone. Kaiya has an amazing soul and spirit but an even more amazing story. I thank her for allowing me to work with her. I hope all the little girls out there that are trying to understand their skin complexion or their place on this world are able to see this story. 

14 Comments on “Letter to a Younger Me – Kaiya McCullough”

Ann-Marie Desiano

4 June, 2020
Reply

Thank you for sharing! Kaiya’s story is inspirational❤️

Nina S

17 June, 2020
Reply

This is a beautifully and poignant story of a young lady who clearly has passion, smarts and empathy. Keep showing us the way. I bet your parents are so proud of you! Be proud of yourself! Xx

Gabriela E

4 June, 2020
Reply

An inspiration story, and perspective that needs to be shared and heard by every little girl, but for sure very little girl of color because we try so hard to understand how we fit in and can contribute in a world that doesn’t get us.

Yvonne

4 June, 2020
Reply

So proud of you Kaiya – what a wonderfully written piece – keep educating the world – miss you Yvonne 😘❤️

Aunt P

4 June, 2020
Reply

I am proud to know you.

Caleb Smothers

5 June, 2020
Reply

Omg this is amazing I love you cousin💕💕✊🏾

Tara Figgins

5 June, 2020
Reply

Wow! What an incredible life story. More people need to share their life experiences and perspectives in hope that we can all just love and encourage one another despite our race. We only get one life…why not live it in love and peace. Thank you for sharing! ❤️🙏🏻❤️

Dee

4 June, 2020
Reply

Kaiya, that was eloquent and thought- provoking! Thank you for sharing your insight! I know you will impact many, whether it’s through educating or being someone with whom many can relate. Awesome!

angel

5 June, 2020
Reply

Beautifully written, Kai. Keep fighting the fight. I pray someday we will not be judged by the color of our skin, by our gender, by our sexual preference….. one day, there will only be live and respect for all.

Karin Bellinghausen

6 June, 2020
Reply

Your writing is so great. Thank you for sharing your heart and letting us understand more.

Edwin Nelson

7 June, 2020
Reply

Awesome! Story. I got so engrossed by your words that I could not put it down. Sure open my eyes to their plight in this complex world. Thank you so much.

Salim khan

10 June, 2020
Reply

Amazing and inspirational story kaiya..More power to you and strength to you..We have to fight all our life froim the evil in order to become a better version of ourself and create a better society for our loved ones and our people.

TEstabrooks

11 June, 2020
Reply

Dear Kaiya,
Your story touched, saddened, angered and inspired me. Our daughters are “peach” and “apricot” shades of a “brown” Mum and “pink” Dad. “Same ingredients, different recipe” is the wry, pithy retort I use when asked the inane question, “Your daughters are so beautiful, do they have the same dad?”. A contorted commentary, humorous in its banality, yet hurtful in its subversive ignorance. As a young mother I often cringed at being called the dreaded N-word every mother, inconsequential of race, dreads and that is, “NANNY”. Your mother’s and my experiences are different, yet similar. Distorted reflections of a broken mirror whose common denominator is our fierce maternal protective instinct. My Dear Kaiya, should you wish to have children, you will love them with this same fierce protective love that you have for your brothers. Your children may be scrutinized by both ends of a spectrum as they navigate their lives perhaps searching for their exact shade of crayon, wondering if it even exists. You will rise above well-intended remarks said in passing, but as you so eloquently wrote, can leave indelible scars. You will teach them to be strong and independent, but you will secretly feel weak because no amount of preparation can spare them from the abject hatred that can sometimes exist in this world. But, you will not be complicit nor silent. Because you knelt proudly, you will stand up for and stand out for your beliefs. You will have hope for their generation because their intelligence and integrity will trump all boarders and destroy all walls. Thank you for your authentic and inspiring words. Your story is a testament of the brilliant and empathetic person that you are. Your parents must be so so very proud!

Tasneem Khan

12 June, 2020
Reply

Finest writing.

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