On the Beaten Path

I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Rachel Griffin’s lecture on the politics of power in gender violence in Tyler Perry’s adaptation of For Colored Girls on Wednesday. Dr. Griffin, who is a critical race and black feminist scholar and professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, focused on how Perry distorted Ntozake Shange’s choreopoems by inserting male privilege and black women stereotypes into the film. She also touched on the purpose of the black feminist scholar and how we consume media in order to “talk back” or analyze it in a way that is both critical and appreciative. I was more engaged in the conversation than I have been since I began graduate school.

Something powerful happened while I was listening to Dr. Griffin. God spoke to me. He told me this was the moment He wanted me to experience. Southern Illinois University Carbondale is where I’m meant to be. I’ve been waiting months for that affirmation. The message was delivered at a time full of personal turmoil.

Graduate school is difficult. I’m often discouraged by theories I’m unfamiliar with. Essentialism and post-modernism both leave me befuddled and on the brink of tears. Engaging in critical convos with scholars leaves me in a state of disarray.

I am constantly Googling terms and eras in feminism and media to get a basic grasp of their main points and timelines. I’ve been challenged on an intellectual level I never expected. The workload isn’t difficult to manage. It’s the overarching need to critically think 24/7 that plagues me.

Destiny

To be honest, I’ve been walking around in a state of perpetual confusion.  Though I smile and converse with peers and professors, I’m cracking on the inside. My confidence wavers and I think about how others perceive my seeming lack of knowledge. Even after reading hundreds of pages and cramming these concepts, I’m still left behind.

I haven’t figured out how to encompass these critical analyses of pop culture, media and politics into my role as a content creator. I know that I want to use my skills to advocate positive images of minority women in print and broadcast, but I’m still trying to figure out how that will manifest.

I love dissecting the role of social media in politics, I have an interest in public policy reporting/pundit work (like my faves on MSNBC), and I enjoy analyzing the role of women in public policy discourse. But it doesn’t end there.

I adore fashion and critically absorbing magazines. I want to analyze stereotypes of black women in the reality TV-era, particularly as they relate to the evolution of hip-hop feminism. I’m a magazine editor and brand coordinator who loves breaking down the economics of fashion and connecting popular culture to issues in race and gender.

I want to be a media scholar, who teaches susceptible college students about the impact of journalism. I want to help women as a communicator/new media manager for NGO’s promoting our interests. But I’m torn between being Oprah or Michael Eric Dyson, Touré or Barbara Walters.

I’m 23 and attempting to mesh all of these ideas together into one formidable career. It’s been a baffling journey. I’ve been sad, frustrated and unmotivated.

The question of “who are you?” is bothering me because for the first time in a long time, I don’t know.

But finally, two months into my journey, some of the puzzle pieces are beginning to form a picture that I can comprehend. After the lecture, I reached out to Dr. Griffin for assistance in learning more about black feminist thought. She responded with love, encouragement and a list of books and articles that I can read to help me in this journey.

I am enrolling in her spring 2013 critical race theories course to enhance my understanding of how race and gender intersect for black women. I’ve also reached out to other scholars, like Dr. Mia Moody, to begin figuring out the full scope of my research interests.

And as I’m looking back at these two months, I’m realizing that I wouldn’t trade nothing for my journey now. What is most important about this voyage are the lessons I’ve learned about patience and destinies.’

Career

In other words, I wasn’t supposed to step into my scholar stilettos at SIUC. If you would have asked me 12 months ago, I would have told you that I would be soaking up the lights of the Big Apple at New York University or The New School or being challenged by the elite at Northwestern University. The snowy slopes of Syracuse University were also on my radar. I thought that it was my destiny to learn the ins-and-outs of the journalism business from the “elite.” For months, I plotted on where I would live, the professors I would cozy up to, and the amazing connections I would make at magazines and digital pubs in the city.

I stepped out on faith as I sent off those applications, recommendation letters and fees. At the last minute, I submitted an application to SIUC, in case I wasn’t accepted into the other programs that I applied to. I was thrilled when I received acceptance letters from all of my dream universities.

Then the big decision came: What school would offer me the most beneficial financial aid package? I had told friends and relatives that I wouldn’t attend a program that didn’t cover my full graduate costs. I earned a 4.0 in undergrad, so I deserved a graduate program that recognized and appreciated this achievement.

Immediately, SIUC offered me a full ride fellowship that included a monthly stipend and a chance to teach a course in media studies. I thought NYU and Northwestern would leverage their offer with a better one, but it didn’t happen. I debated and cried … a lot.

NYC was calling me, not Carbondale. I couldn’t even pinpoint where Carbondale is on a map. I’m in media, so what use is it to be trapped in the middle of nowhere? I had no idea that today would happen.

I never imagined being in a place where film Fridays are the most exciting thing on the agenda and deep water aerobics is the highlight of the week. But it in this place that the blessings have fallen.

I’ve found my independent stride. I’ve finally forwarded all of my mail to my gorgeous apartment and because I don’t have an avid social life, I have loads of leisure time to devote to writing, editing and traveling. I’ve been published in bigger publications e.g. Clutch, XO Jane and The Grio and I’m really gaining clarity in my personal life.

I’m taking classes on critical race theories and brand management, black exploitation films and the role of media in political elections. Though I struggle in balancing these courses with my own studying of the concepts, the experience isn’t negated by the challenge. It is a privilege to be among some of the brightest intellectual minds in the world.

This program is beginning to shape my interests as a scholar and practitioner, which is forcing my view of what a content creators’ purpose is. I don’t think I would have been given this intense level of one-on-one interaction and mentoring at Northwestern, NYU or any of those other great schools I gained acceptance into. Carbondale has proven to be a rough diamond, in serious need of buffering, but a precious jewel none-the-less.

Above all else, the lesson that I’m learning is that sometimes, our lives don’t happen as planned. But, we have to trust that there is a divine order in place. And if we allow our lives to unfold unscripted instead of forcing our will, there will be greater rewards.

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