So I am shy, but I like being social too. Is that strange? Maybe it’s because I grew up as my mom’s only child. Naturally quiet as a kid, many of my classmates thought I was stuck-up. But if you really knew me, I wasn’t always so quiet. And so is true today. I’ve always been a big thinker and observer, but when you get to know me — look out! I’m a talker. The single-parent home I came from didn’t always prepare me for socializing. And I grew up Catholic. Unlike a lot of black kids, I didn’t go to a Baptist, Pentecostal, COGIC, or Apostolic church. We didn’t hug or dance during mass. Are you kidding me? Between crossing ourselves and sitting up and down and sitting up and down again, there was no room for fraternization of that type. The most we had in physical contact was a handshake and a “Peace be with you.”
I’ve come a long way from the 80s and 90s. So now fast-forward and I usually have no problem starting a conversation with a complete stranger. All my friends know I speak my mind on a lot of issues and they appreciate my off-the-wall humor, usually at some point saying, “You are crazy.” But every once in a while the shy girl comes out at the oddest moments. I may walk down the hall of my church or the office of my job and someone else is walking toward me. Should I say hi? Will they pass me before I can say hello? Will they think I am snob? But I have come a long way and for the most part I am pretty comfortable around people. Going to college and working in corporate America helped me become more social and my love of travel and culture makes me a straight-up extrovert at times. Hopping on a subway with a bunch of strangers to an unknown destination is thrilling to me. Having friends of all shades and backgrounds has broadened my heart and horizons. Flirting suddenly becomes a lot easier. Go figure! I expect as I get older I will get better in this area. It’s been pretty cool becoming a butterfly.
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Ever since I was young girl, I embraced other cultures. Even growing up a black girl in a predominantly black school system, I found myself not only being friends with people that looked like me but befriending people with different racial backgrounds. My friend Renee was shy like me, but we liked to laugh and had an easy friendship. She was also Eskimo and French. My other friend Kamonh was from Laos and sometimes she would put a French braid in my hair. You see at the age of eleven I wasn’t aware of the infamous street called 8 Mile, known as a dividing line between black and whites. It’s the line of demarcation in so many people’s minds–even today–that keeps them from fully living and engaging with the world around them. One of my best friends in high school was a white guy with a mullet. Don and I talked on the phone for hours and asserted our autonomy through intelligent dialogue and trips to the mall. He had a love for rock and heavy metal that eventually rubbed off on me. I remember one day in class jamming with my Walkman to Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” Another high school friend named Faith was black like me and loved wearing African clothes. We shared a love of books and writing, but we also understood the pain of not having our fathers in our lives. Both of these people are still my friends and hold a special place in my heart.
As I entered corporate America, I began working alongside working mothers, single men and divorcés. All of these faces carry different hues with a myriad of experiences and because I am not afraid or resistant to saying more than “Good morning,” I’ve met a lot of great people. On occasion I’ve been reminded that frenemies come in all shades and some of my fiercest defenders resemble Jennifer Lopez or Reese Witherspoon.
Traveling allows me to embrace diversity on its own terms. I am not the type to just go to touristy locations. I want to go where the natives live, work and play. My goal is to soak in the culture of the land I visit and carry a remnant with me in my soul. I fully expect to go on an African safari and eat authentic Thai food in Thailand. I want to taste what the world offers, whether it is around the corner or the other side of the globe. Don’t be afraid to encounter a new part of town. Take a drive downtown or take a flight to Johannesburg. You never know what doors will open by taking a step outside of your world to embrace the one next door.