Truth Is: I am a Brilliant Black Girl! by Raven Cokley

For as long as I can remember, I have been labeled as the smart Black girl. Over time, that has come to mean various things when uttered by different people. From elementary to high school, I was tracked for advanced placement, honors and IB courses. I distinctly remember the day that my elementary school principal told my 1st grade teacher that I needed to be in advanced classes the following year. I was even tested for the gifted program at my school but was denied entry because I hesitated when identifying a fire hydrant. 

Anyway, from that day to this one, I have been socialized to be the smart Black girl, by my family, teachers and community members. Attending predominantly White public institutions for my K-12 educational career only amplified this experience. Whenever the school needed a student representative to speak at the school board meetings or for any other “special” occasion, I was always tapped to be the student spokesperson. “Speaking like a White girl” gave me notoriety on campus (even in elementary school) for being the smart Black girl. With this notoriety, however, also came accusations of self-grandeur from my Black peers. However, the truth is that I was not “trying to be White”; I was just speaking how my mother taught me to speak. I did not think that I was better than anyone else; I just found grammar (and learning in general) to be extremely fun and I still do to this day. 

Being known as the smart Black girl isolated me from my Black peers. I sat alone, at the front of the school bus, right behind the bus driver (this was my mother’s rule since I was old enough to take the bus alone). After my best friend transferred schools, I ate alone in high school during lunchtime; in fact, I ate alone in the library. Being the only Black girl in IB courses was absolutely traumatizing, because I never saw any other Black girls that looked like me, spoke like me or dressed like me. I was all alone. I would literally get off the school bus in the morning and part ways with the other Black kids from the neighborhood as soon as we stepped foot on the campus—my high school was extremely segregated, but this was amplified given that the IB wing was intentionally isolated in its elitism from the rest of the school. 

Although my academic career has been in a majority White space, my mother was sure to surround me with Black women in my community who she trusted to be a part of the village that helped to raise me. I cheered, participated in mentoring programs and engaged in all of my community service endeavors with and for Black folks. I remember vividly being called an Oreo for being “Black on the outside and White on the inside”. I was also told that I was not Black enough to wear certain “urban gear” (my mom had just purchased some Apple Bottom jeans for me and I wore them to school; talk about a throwback!). Though I felt comfortable in being who I was and proud that I was a smart Black girl, I still did not fit in. I did not fit in at school amongst the sea of White students and teachers nor in my community activities in the neighborhood that I came home to every day. Again, I was all alone.

Thus, the biggest lie that I have been told about my Black womanhood was that I was too smart to be Black and too Black to be smart. In essence, I was the exception to both. My truth, however, is that I am a Brilliant Black Girl. I am smart, courageous and lovable because God created me in His image. I do not have to meet anyone else’s standards of brilliance, beauty or boldness. I am who God says that I am. I do not have to fit in anywhere because God created me to stand out. As a Brilliant Black Girl, I walk confidently in my purpose, find purpose in my passion and I am passionate about my People. I am not ashamed of my love for learning, for my Brilliance will help me to bring the first PhD into my family. My Brilliance will allow me to show other Black girls that like to “read for fun” or prefer to study on a Friday night that being a Brilliant Black Girl is AWESOME. The truth is, my Brilliance allows me to break barriers; my Brilliance allows me to be FREE.