Nappy-Headed with “Limited” Potential? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

August 10, 2011
I am not the valedictorian, nor the salutatorian, and personally I’m glad. When people notice you are academically successful, they expect you to maintain that success. I don’t like proving myself worthy or qualified in others’ eyes. When a person competes to prove him or herself over and over in life that only creates two things – ulcers and gray hairs. I share this perspective with others: live up to your own standards, not the Jones’s.

In elementary school, I felt compelled to read the really thick books without pictures before everyone else. By the time I came to high school, the people in my classes were concerned with grade points and entering the top ten. I watched others for four years slowly become immersed in the pressures and strains of magna cum laude. To me, they were missing out on what high school is supposedly all about – football games, first loves, movies and the carefree attitude that gets on parents’ nerves. I came to the point in my junior year when I just wanted to have fun. If I don’t make the top ten, it’s okay, I still plan to be successful and happy.

At the age of two, members of my family had already decided I was a goofy-looking thing with nappy hair and limited potential. My aunts (who are teachers and registered nurses) never thought I would excel at anything. But I started reading at three and my grandmother taught me arithmetic with flashcards. At four, I could read well. My grandmother made me memorize the order of the books of the Bible and spell their names until I saw them in my sleep. No one in my family ever read bedtime stories to me because I never needed them to. I read to myself.

In my childhood, certain incidents made their way into my memory. I tried hard to not to let them influence me, but they did affect me, both positively and negatively. The positive effects made me want to try harder and prove everyone wrong. My aunts always talk as if my parents not having college degrees and living in a rundown neighborhood are handicaps. They refer to where I live as the “reservation;” I’m the wild Indian, and my family, savages. I never thought of myself as savage, just average.

One day in my sophomore year, I went to a football game at the university my cousin attends and my aunt asked me where I planned to attend college. I listed my top three choices, all of which happened to be prestigious private institutions.

“Your parents don’t make enough money to get you through one year, let alone four,” she smirked. The only thing I thought was, I’ll show you.

Everything I ever did was to prove something to my family – until now. I joined the National Honor Society and National Art Honor Society. I worked at versatility so I could do, or know, everything about anything. I joined the workforce so I could be called independent and jumped into community efforts so I wouldn’t be labeled lazy and selfish.

Now, I’ve stopped proving things to family and started working on being fulfilled. I realized I couldn’t keep putting what I wanted to do on hold because my family criticized it or never encouraged me. Ever since I was little, I wanted to own my own beauty salon and “do some good hair.” Whenever I told someone this, they would just look at me, noticing I was half-way intelligent, and ask, “Why?” I usually could see in their eyes, “What a waste of potential.”

I was confused. To my aunts I have limited potential, to strangers and instructors I have ample. To me, just knowing I have enough potential to succeed is enough. When I came to terms with this, obstacles in day-to-day life became easier to climb over. Life itself became livable, and I knew I would be okay as long as I was happy.

These are my aspirations for college and life: to succeed for my family, those who thought I have unlimited potential, those who thought I had limited potential and nappy hair, and those who think living in the ghetto is a handicap.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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