College Essay: A Beautiful Girl

Listen to the digital audio version of “A Beautiful Girl.”

 

Juma Waganda
Juma Waganda

It was the first day of the third grade. I walked reluctantly into my new classroom. A tall, Caucasian woman stood at the head of the room writing the date on the board. As I entered the new setting, my body began to nervously shake. I scanned the room to find at least one familiar face. As I did this, an abrupt realization hit me that none of the other kids looked like me. Everyone surrounding me had straight hair and privilege. As a young girl, I always knew that I was different: I didn’t look like anyone else in my school. Thankfully, I had my parents’ guidance in the beginning stages of my life to teach me how to embrace myself. 

At a very young age I was aware of the color of my skin. Growing up, my family showered me with positivity and support. Many people of color tend to be ashamed of their skin. In my case, I slowly began to accept myself and thrive because of the color of my skin. I would have never been able to accomplish such confidence without the encouragement from my parents.  

My mother was adopted by a white family of farmers in the 1960’s, living in northern Minnesota. My mother’s family is full of open-minded people. But many times they received a lot of criticism for having a black child amongst them. As a mixed girl in northern Minnesota, she was the darkest shade of black the townspeople ever saw. She was the only black kid in her entire school. The color of her skin resulted in her being bullied as a young girl. As she grew up, she continued to not fit in. She was either too white or too black. Because of her struggles she wanted to instill confidence and courage in her children. I look up to her because she persevered through adversity. 

My father immigrated to Minnesota from Kenya in the 1980s. He worked hard to immigrate because he wanted the brightest future for himself and his future family. He is a proud African Rastafarian. However, it took time for him to accept his blackness after coming to America. Before he came to America he never knew he was black, meaning the color of his skin never mattered. In Africa prejudice is not based off of race or gender, but rather the tribe that one is a part of.  

My parents faced hardships throughout their lives, which they eventually overcame. Since they persevered through their struggles, both my mother and father became great role models for me. They taught me to accept myself and fight for what I believe in. 

As a young kid, I wanted to look like my white friends. I wanted straight hair and a smaller nose. I didn’t want to seem different than everyone else. I wanted to be “beautiful.” Some kids at my school judged me for my black skin or having big, curly hair. Insecurities began to form at a young age. It was difficult to address, but with my parents’ help, and my discovery of a nonprofit organization called Girls Inc., I am now a strong, confident and proud African-American young woman. Girls Inc. is a program with the mission to give girls, of all backgrounds, the opportunity to learn about S.T.E.M. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded with girls who look like me. Excitement rushed through my body. I wasn’t the odd one out. Girls Inc. allowed me to see exactly what my parents instilled in me my whole life. Now I’ve created relationships with people in and out of school who accept me for who I am, as a person not based on my appearance. 

My parents raised me to believe I could accomplish anything I put my mind to and rise above adversity. I plan to successfully complete college with the intention of becoming a role model to others. I want to exemplify to young girls what my mother and father instilled in me. Despite many emotional hardships I went through, I will not let these obstacles prevent me from succeeding. 

Your father was rushed to the hospital. He has pneumonia, we’re not sure if and when he’s coming home, were my mother’s words over the speakerphone in early May 2016. The news changed everything for my family. My heart was broken, at the age of 12 I thought I would lose my father — the playful, vibrant and cheerful father of mine. We have a one-of-a-kind relationship: He is my hero. He takes me to stores constantly, buys me my favorite foods and never lets me be upset.