On Friday I did a Black history month speech at my third-to-eighth grade alma mater, The Baldwin School. Back in the ’80s when I, my bigsis and a smattering of our Philly homies with high test scores and education-focused parents attended this all-girls, hoity toity institution, it was about 98 percent white. In 2009, I’m not sure of the breakdown but it’s pretty safe to say that it’s still very vanilla.
For all of its educational prowess and good intentions, Baldwin was not a safe space for me. The race and class wounds are deep and sometimes unspeakable. They’re also old, tired. So I returned to the scene of the crime to talk to the Black girls mentoring organization about body image. Honestly, I was expecting a tiny, prematurely solemn group of youngsters burdened by Barbie dreams. Instead I witnessed what felt like a village wide dance in the rain after a multiyear drought.
Imagine 15 little Black girls with hair popping out of ponytails and plaits, romping and squealing and spontaneously holding hands. Watch as a fellow presenter drapes the girls in headwraps and dashikis and they happily perform a scene from a play set in wartime Sierra Leone with adlibs and plenty of giggling. It’s so rare to see girls–or anyone for that matter–act totally unselfconscious about thier bodies and beings. When you do, it’s a blessing unparalleled.