My name is Deidra Shores, a Corporate Communications intern and recent graduate of Clark Atlanta University.
Growing up in Memphis, TN during the rise of social media and smartphones made it very easy to be influenced. So much, that I found myself confused about what I did and didn’t like, and what I wanted to share with the world. It wasn’t until middle school that I found that digesting real stories, not just what I see on the internet, can help me to tell mine. Once I realized the power of storytelling, I had a much greater interest in those assigned readings I would dread in the past.
Here are just a few of the titles that helped me to understand how to navigate the challenges that come with being a young black girl in America.
The Skin I’m In by Sharron G Flake
I can still remember the day Ms. Robinson assigned what would eventually be my earliest memory of a novel I could genuinely relate to. Although the main character is a dark skin woman, who faces the societal challenges that come with darker skin, I found her insecurities strikingly similar to mine. I have a medium light skin tone, but my mother is a dark skin woman. Reading about Maleeka’s issues with abandonment and self-esteem showed me that women and girls all struggle with some of the same issues, on different levels. This novel also taught me what bad friends look like, and not to seek acceptance from the girls who judged me in choir rehearsal. Maleeka’s mentor Mrs.Saunder served as a reference to all the amazing woman in my life I took for granted at the time.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Much like the first title, this one had a lot to do with helping my struggling self-esteem. It seemed so edgy to me, as a child, because I’d never read anything that spoke so candidly about the effects of European beauty standards on young black girls. The main character, Pecola, represented the extremes that can come from self-hatred, and how it can be fostered by others. Her sexual abuse was frightening, but it displayed a harsh reality. The many stories within the main storyline showed me how sometimes the people you expect to lift you up can be the very people to tare you down. The emptiness that comes along with comparing yourself to friends or family members can lead to your own demise, or motivate you to love yourself harder.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
George and Lennie’s friendship was not only an epic display of caregiving, but it represented challenges that come when those around you can see the world much differently than you. George knew how people viewed Lennie versus how he viewed the world. His dedication to his friend outweighed his harsh personality, to me. This character specifically was an example of how it is important sometimes to adhere to certain standards, in order to get the best result. Lennie’s struggles with his mental illness showed me that being yourself doesn’t always mean you’re being appropriate. This novella was also an early reminder that life can be so very fragile, even when we think we are in control. Lennie’s death represented the harsh reality of what's best for you may not always be what you want.
A Modern Girl's Guide to Life by Jane Buckingham
While thrifting my freshman year of college, I came across a bright pink book with an interesting illustration, but I was sure I’d put back on the shelf. However, once I stopped judging the book by its cover, I saw that I was holding the answers to so many questions I hadn't known who to ask. This self-help book seemed to be written just for me, a struggling and confused college student. Topics like what to put on my resume, knowing how to order at nice restaurants, and the best ways to spend my limited amount of money where just a few of my concerns Jane seemed to have down packed. I felt like I’d found the secret playbook to womanhood. Jane mentions her family in many areas, which adds to the generational feel of it. I've started adding my own advice and decorations to what I call my “life encyclopedia”, which I plan to give to my future daughter one day.
We're Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union
From a very young age, full of spunk and personality, I always told people I’d be a star! So when a woman in the entertainment industry whom I’d spent years looking up to announced her 2017 autobiography, I knew I had to get it. Gabrielle Union, an established Hollywood actress, delivered what was the most vulnerable self-expression I’d ever read. She spoke in terms I understood and gave perspectives that commonly go unnoticed. Her stories of being a young black woman in Hollywood showed me that some of the stereotypes associated with race and gender are a life long battle. I was very impressed by her stance on co-raising a queer stepson, and how she plays her role as a stepmom. She ended the series of essays by bringing light to the importance of self-care, with the passing of her dearest childhood friend.