I am a lot of things. I am both a daughter and a sister, a roommate, a teammate, a friend, an athlete, a student and a Black woman. How I see the world in the present is directly correlated to the manner in which it saw me, in the past. The past before I was a Black woman, but still a Black girl, journeying into a society that I soon learned would not always be kind to me. Kindness was something I discovered was not like karma; it didn’t always come back when I gave it out. At times, I felt as if I was on a boundless pursuit for the only thing I so desperately needed. Someone to eulogize the part of me that was ever so often the origin of ridicule. And I found that. Or rather, it found me. In different people at different times. And almost always, in the Black teachers, coaches and mentors that had a hand in helping me become all the things I am in the present. 

My first Black teacher was my sixth grade algebra teacher. He wore up-to-date sneakers and didn’t let anyone come into his classroom with chipped nail polish. I was never particularly good at math, and so I often struggled in his class. And though I can say I’ve mastered middle school algebra now, I could not tell you one piece of mathematical material that I learned that year. What I can tell you is that Mr. Riley was welcoming. He was funny, understanding and thrived off the success of his students. In his classroom, I felt safe from everything except a pop quiz. I didn’t know it then, but I would not have another Black teacher until college.

In my junior year of high school, I began training with my first Black coach. He was previously a sprinter from France, and in his thick accent he would call me “Miss McCord,” a nickname some of my teammates also adopted later on. He was the first person who made me truly believe that I was good enough to continue running after high school. Coach Yapo gave me a new sense of confidence that can only really come from having been where I was. Aside from the practical track knowledge he gave me, Coach Yapo was compassionate when I made mistakes, and taught me that I deserve to give myself grace, to not be too hard on a body and mind that were trying their best. 

But before sixth grade math and varsity track, there was home. My parents and older brothers, my earliest teachers. They were the first to ever tell me that “Black is beautiful.” They were also the first to warn me that in addition to its beauty, Black is feared, suppressed, overlooked and underappreciated. I’d have to work twice as hard to get half as far. Growing up in a place where you’re the other, it was easy to become jaded and hardened to the people around you. And regardless of whether you were kind and good, there would still be those around who would not respect you, and see you as nothing more than someone who did not belong. Evenso, I cannot remember a time when my Black mentors were anything but kind and good. Not only to me, but to everyone around me, as well. 

I was lucky enough to have a lot of excellent teachers and coaches over the years, not all of them Black, actually the majority of them not. But there is something about learning from and standing in the light of a Black mentor. The feeling that I could do anything, because they did. The feeling of reveling in the type of kindness that has been where I’ve been and is better for it. A type of kindness that gives its entire self, wholly for someone else. To be Black and kind is to be a lesson in the nevertheless, the regardless, the despite. Nevertheless, I will be gracious. Regardless of your feelings towards me, I will respect you. Despite everything, I will be good. And without those who raised me, that is one lesson I would not have learned.