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My House of Black Women

Voices | February 11, 2019

This is for Faramola, Kennedy, Nawal, Zuzu, Ewura, and Nathalie. May we pave the way for our baby sisters to stay children, forever.

Once I chased a frog and lost my two front teeth. I used to get into petty fights with my siblings over who got to watch TV. I used to join my momma in bed in the middle of the night after a scary dream, because scary dreams can’t happen in momma’s bed. I was a child. But like many others, I grew up fast. At a young age, my place in my family became caretaker, in friendships, mediator, and soon there was little room left for where or who I was myself. Too young, I can remember perfecting the process of washing a dish clean and making sure my younger siblings were fed after school. Too young, I remember the first, and then second, and then third video of police taking the lives of those who felt like family. Countless others followed. I remember my baby sister asking me why this kept happening. I saw my fear of police and authority passed down to my younger siblings first hand. By the time I entered my teenage years, I wasn’t a kid anymore and I wasn’t an adult; I was part mom, part sister, part caretaker; I was a hybrid of sorts, existing in limbo. When you grow up too fast, age isn’t an indicator of experience. When I left home at 17 to move away for college, I didn’t know I would find others like me.

 My freshman year of college wasn’t your ordinary gig. It wasn’t fully comprised of reckless stories and silly mistakes (although there were some). I vividly remember conversations about transferring schools and taking semesters off. The stresses of home life were overpowering. How selfish it felt, at first, to be my only responsibility in close proximity. How foreign it felt to come home to a dorm room with no younger siblings waiting to be fed, worrying instead about their well-being from miles away.

 When Black students at the University of Missouri sparked a nationwide wave of protests addressing racial inequality at our universities, I, along with others—mainly Black women in my freshman class, who would later become my family—organized #TheThreePercent protests at Tufts University. We planned a demonstration in a matter of days, worked with students at Harvard to march with them in solidarity, and fought for a list of demands to be met by the administration. I was missing classes, spending ample time in the back room of Capen house discussing what would be best for our community, yet again placing my needs behind the people I cared about most. Just two months into college, I had already found something to take care of. My community had quickly become another personal undertaking. But I wasn’t alone. The women around me, all 17 and 18 years old, took on this community as our baby, together.

Exhausted, I remember the devotion with which the women around me took care of each other, held each other. Amidst all of the chaos and burnout, we found it in ourselves to build each other back up. We were tired, together. We were doing the work we are used to doing—taking care of others for the greater good—and forgetting ourselves along the way. Who would have thought that choosing to live together in a 10-person Wren suite that following year would be my saving grace and the start of a beautiful legacy?

 From then on, I’ve been fortunate enough to share my living space with beautiful Black women every year. We took over Wren 530s our sophomore year, finessed two Hillsides 470s and 380s suites our junior year, and made the ultimate flex with a whole new home our senior year: CoHo, or as we call it, Coheaux. After a not-so-typical freshman year of heartbreak in many different forms, like falling for my first college crush or unpacking childhood traumas I didn’t know I had, I was given sisters as an offering in return for the sacrifices we made. The gag, though, was that these women grew up too fast, too. Some of us oldest sisters, some of us attending predominantly White boarding schools at age 13. Some of us immigrants, some of us always moving around. All of us too mature for our own good. All of us too aware and cautious.

In a way, I think we grew up too fast in an effort to save people. There is salvation weaved into the fabric of this skin. We later grew to become leaders in the Black community, hosting large-scale events as well as informal ones, like “TwerkShops” and brunches in our living spaces for the Black underclassmen. All while holding each other up, praying with each other, helping one another take out our booty-length braids. The way we loved each other felt like magic. Like something we weren’t used to receiving, but felt somehow natural to give. It felt like something only we could do for each other.

In truth, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into; we only knew we needed to survive, and for that, we needed each other. It was our shared instinct to do something, to act upon injustice, because if we don’t, who will? To be a Black woman is to do something or die waiting. But with each other, all else disappears. We don’t have to wait; we see each other when no one else does, learning to love each other because for too long we’ve been accustomed to giving love and not receiving it. Through each other, we learned to live again. That in order to become sisters, we must become children again. Or for the first time.

The day we received an email from the Office of Residential Life at Tufts informing us about Coheaux felt like the ultimate resurrection. We were going to be seniors living in a three-story yellow house with a backyard, together, a home. And now, I look forward to coming back here after long days at work and in meetings and classes. I come home ready to be myself—a feeling I didn’t know I longed for until I had it. In a way, I think being Black is an ongoing process of discovering the blessings buried in what feels like our burdens. It is learning sacrifice at a young age. My house of nine Black women is a testament to that sacrifice, and oh boy, was it worth it. Call it a rebirth, a reclamation of time, a youth reentered. And let it be glorious—because who doesn’t want to be a kid forever?

When I see my best friends play-fight with each other in the living room after a difficult conversation on the phone with family, I feel refreshed. When I walk into our living room and see everyone binge-watching “America’s Next Top Model” reruns in our bonnets on a Sunday afternoon, I feel young again, like when I was four years old and excited for Saturday morning cartoons. We all grew up too fast, yet here we are, getting a return on the years we may have lost: creating secret handshakes and nicknames, scaring each other through the corners of our living room.

In order to become sisters, we need to become children again. Or for the first time.