7 Bits Of Advice For The #CareFreeBlackGirl Heading Off To College

Whether you're attending an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) or a PWI (Predominantly White Institution), a community college or a four-year, there are just some things every college student should be aware of to make the college journey smoother. Even more specifically, I've found that there are even more things that Black girls should know in order to keep their sanity, navigate sexism and racism, and ensure that they reach success in spite of all of the odds stacked against them. I want to share some tidbits of knowledge I wish I had been well-equipped with when I headed down the Jersey shore to a PWI, Catholic women's college in 2004.

Honestly? I have quite a few regrets about my college experience. Over the course of the past four years since I finished graduate school, I've had LOTS of time for reflection. There are so many tools that were not available when I was student. There are many others that were available but hidden to most of us for DECADES. Everything from safe spaces for survivors to scholarships for those of us who would rather not graduate with college loan debt to knowing how to manage friendships. I didn't always do as well I could have, didn't always make the best choices, didn't always have the right information. But looking back, I've learned so much because of those errors.

This is all the more reason I want to share my top tips with you.


1. Search for and apply for every doggone scholarship you can. THEY ARE OUT THERE BY THE THOUSANDS! FREE MONEY!

Full transparency: My college loan debt is upwards of $50,000. Did I need money in order to go to college? Duh! My parents had no college fund for me. My father was a blue collar worker and my mother was just settling into a career as a NJ teacher. Governor Christie has SCREWED NJ teachers financially, but I digress. Yes, I needed money. Did I need the government's loans? NO. There were plenty of scholarships available, I just didn't know where to look. I was one of many Black girls who came from a fairly financially illiterate family. We lived from check to check, just trying to keep our heads above water. We thought loans were the only way I would be able to go to college. We were wrong.

Luckily, today, all the information is at your fingertips, thanks to the internet, smartphones, all the awesome people creating apps to make our lives a little bit easier, and the good stuff a little more accessible. Doing the research has become 10 times easier in 2015! 

 Scholly  is one of - if not THE easiest way to access thousands of scholarships in every field, state, major, whatever! You plug in your information and it generates a list of scholarships that are compatible with you! So easy. Best of all, it was created by a Black college student. :-)

2. Ask your professor(s) for help AS SOON AS you know you're struggling.

One thing I failed to do in a few of my classes was to ask for help as soon as possible. I didn't want to be singled out for not knowing when it seemed that EVERYONE ELSE knew what was going on. Especially in Stats class. I had taken Stats in high school and only passed by the grace of God and mercy of my teacher. I had been the butt of quite a few jokes from white, male classmates at my mostly white private high school. I wanted to stay as far from the spotlight as possible, even if it meant struggling through a class I didn't have to struggle through. Funny thing is, more often than not, other people have the same question and are relieved when someone else asks the question.


Professors, for the most part, just want to know that their students are paying attention and being proactive with the material they are given. The instances when I immediately raised my hand to ask for clarification or emailed my professor to set up a time to discuss a homework problem, were the instances where even if I didn't pass with an 'A' my professors looked out for me because I put forth visible, REAL effort in TRYING to grasp the material. Stats won't going to come easily to everyone. Neither will AP English or Chemistry or whatever it is you may struggle with. But the effort? The desire to learn? That'll take you far. Ask the questions. Show your effort.

3. Don't let folks talk you out of your passion/purpose and into a lifetime of sacrifice. That doesn't have to be the Black woman's story anymore.

We are not our ancestors. We have the opportunities they prayed for. Kerry Washington said it best,

"We are the answer to a slave woman's prayers."

We don't have to abandon our dreams for the sake of "getting by."  Staying true to what is in our hearts, in our spirits, that thing we can't seem to shake no matter how much we try -THAT we cannot abandon. Too often, especially within the Black community, we discourage or shame one another out of our dreams and passions because we're fearful of any number of oppressive systems swallowing us whole in pursuit of those dreams; because we were shamed out of fear and so we subconsciously continue the cycle; because as Black women we have been fed the broth of "unworthiness" for so long that we start to believe it.

Get that out of your head. We are WORTHY of everything that has been divinely placed into us to desire and dream and hope for because it's BIGGER than us and we are DESTINED for greatness. Take that up and carry it with you. Block the naysayers. Make a plan. Carry it out. You already are great. So, just BE.

Which leads me to #4....

4. Affirming yourself is not silly, it is survival. Embrace it!

AFFIRM YOURSELF. Remind yourself of all of your best qualities. Encourage yourself to work on the areas where you need growth. Mary Jane your room with Post-It Notes full of inspiring quotes, Bible verses, and adjectives describing who you are and who you want to become. Look up what God says about you in the Bible and declare that to yourself. Reflect on the times that the most honest people in your life told you good things about yourself. Believe them.




College is hard enough, no need to make it harder by allowing society's constant message that we are inadequate to be the loudest voice in your ear. Make God's voice, your voice, and the voices of your supporters the loudest voices in your ear by daily affirming yourself in whatever way feels most natural and comfortable to you. There's no right way, per se.

5. Steer clear of the mean girls.

And there WILL be mean girls. Until we dismantle patriarchy, oppression, internalized racial oppression and all of the subsets, there will be mean girls and the "crabs-in-a-barrel" stereotype will play out again and again to some degree. But the most important thing to remember is that you have control over how/if it plays out with you.

I succumbed to my inferiority complex during my sophomore year of college and became friends with the mean girls. I don't know how the friendship materialized, exactly, but I do know it made me feel whole to some degree to be friends with the most liked (READ: hated) girls on campus. That is until they turned on me. I was humbled with the quickness and learned one of the most valuable lessons. Erykah Badu said it best:

"I pick my friends like I pick my fruit." 

You have the RIGHT to be selective. You're not "actin' brand new" or "sadiddy." You understand that friendships are not stagnant. They will either lift you on their tide or suck you into their undertow. Choose your friendships wisely. Choose those who will lift you to your highest self, not drag you toward the worst elements of human character.

6. Intern and/or work while you're in college as much as possible without burning yourself out.

Know the field you want to pursue? Volunteer, intern, or work in that field in some capacity as soon as you get the swing of things in school. I had my first internship as a college senior and nearly collapsed because  exhaustion and the flu not too long before graduation.

Spread out your experience over the course of the four years and don't forget your summers! Not only will this give you experience but it will also get you acclimated to how to craft your resume, cover letter, how to be your most productive, etc. Always be interested in getting experience, it will change your life and make you that much more marketable for a full-time position when you graduate.  Some great sites to check out for volunteer positions, internships, and PT/FT jobs: My Creative Connection, Her AGENDAThe Muse, Volunteer Match

7.  Master the art of delaying gratification.

You'll get the urge to slack off. Trust me. If I'm honest I skipped whole days of class for Special Victims' Unit marathons. I ditched study sessions for days at the beach (the Jersey Shore was a very distracting place to go to school). But where I slacked, I felt the sting of it later when friends were making the Dean's list and I was pleading with my professor to let me slide by with a C. 

There will ALWAYS be a party, a date, a movie, or nap that seems more urgent than putting in the work but it's always important to keep things in perspective. What's your end goal? What does it take to get there? Is a night out with the girls more important than studying for your Econ final? Is it worth it to create a daily schedule to keep yourself on task if your goal is to be more productive? Whether your goals, you've got to see them as an extension of yourself and learn the discipline of doing what you have to do now so you can do what you want to do later. Put your time in. It'll be so worth it. I promise.

In sisterhood.


Turning The World Upside Down Or What Black History Month Means To Me

DEOMI 2013 African American Black History Month Poster.jpg

I think that in a lot of ways we've gotten Black History Month completely wrong. We discuss slavery, Harriet Tubman, Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, and George Washington Carver (sometimes); give thanks for "how far we've come"; and settle into some short-lived sense of pride. But once the clock strikes 12:00 am on March 1st, we (generally) iron, fold, and gently place that pride and remembrance back in our cedar chests and resume lives of mediocrity at best. The general feeling apathy is killing us.  

And what a disservice we do to ourselves.

We reminisce about the past in wonder and rarely dare to believe we've got the same blood flowing through our veins as Harriet or Martin or Malcolm or Nat or Marcus or Ida or Mary. I don't know everything but one thing I do know is that Black History is as relevant to our everyday lives as it is during the 28 days of February.

There's a verse in the Bible that talks about the amazing feats and miracles that Jesus's disciples performed but then it says, "and greater works shall you do..."

Are we committed to greater works? Or just remembering those who were strong before us? Black History is a source of strength for what we are meant to accomplish in the Now time. The ancestors DID their part. They performed their miracles by the grace of God. They put their time in and they turned the world upside down.

So, yes, by all means remember them, recall their resilience and ability to make something out of nothing and their commitment to causes greater than themselves and their fight to right intrinsic wrongs in the fabric of society... but keep that remembrance ever before you. Don't lay it down once this month is over. Take it with you. Call upon it when you want to lay your armor down and remember what you are made of. The ancestors didn't die for one month of inspiration.


A Letter To The Dry Places

Dear Dry Places,

I haven't always been aware of your deserted space in my life. I wasn't always aware that you could be transformed into a promised land. Perhaps it was because I was busy trying to fill you with all of the things and people I thought would make me feel better instead of what would sustain and encourage life. I based my existence on fleeting emotions and not on what I needed. And here I am.

Silly me.

Perhaps I didn't recognize my emptiness at all. I was too focused on feeling to really analyze the intricate parts of me, the parts that were crying out for reunion with my Creator and Purpose. I was too obsessed with being 'loved'. I was too bent on being liked, appreciated, praised. I wanted to feel worthy of something...anything.

I'll admit, dry places, that little effort was needed on your part. It was all me - thirsting but denying myself the latter rain. I didn't want that. I wanted affection that I could see and touch. I wanted to hear it. I wanted to be able to embrace it at night. 

I wanted physical security. So I clung to a wilderness when He was offering me an oasis.

And I look around now, my lips broken with the heat of a thousand suns, my tongue swollen with thirst, and I think, "What was this all for?"

You see, dry places, I made myself beautiful for you. I swept my heart clean and prepared for you. I thought everything good would just come to me of its own free will.

I was wrong.

Making space without being intentional about what fills it is only ever a recipe for a natural disaster. A perfect and devastating storm. And so, here I am, near death, because I decided to try to cure my drought my own way. And I've only made things worse. I've only invited the sun and sent away the rain.

So, dry places, now that I recognize where I wandered off my path - I'm gathering what strength I can muster and asking heaven to meet me where I fell.

Because the truth is, I've always known my God's power. I just wasn't always sure He would release it for me. You feel that way when you think you've gone too far.

The best thing about Him is that as He approaches to lift me up, He is commanding the rain to fall. For me.

For me.

Dry places, you are being replaced. What was once dry and dead will now be fertile and fruitful. Where I once stumbled, I won't even break my stride. And am nothing but better for the experience.




#30Layers#30Days Challenge - Day 1: Start. Stop. Continue.

#30Layers#30Days Challenge - Day 1: Start. Stop. Continue.

I want to start believing I am capable. Period. I look around too much. I notice what and how other people are doing. I compare what I've accomplished to everyone else and then I internalize the difference...

Aunt Gigi, That Annoying Bible Verse And Other Things That Kept Me Alive

God Wants To Talk To You

  When I was about 12, my Aunt Gigi - a second mother and my pastor - told me that Psalm 47:4 was my personal Bible verse and that I should memorize it because if she asked me about it I better be ready to recite it.

Boy, was I annoyed. To say I had no interest in the Bible at that point would be an understatement. The verse was only one line, so I thanked heaven for that. Every now and then from the time I was 12 until she passed away in 2012 she would get next to me and say, "AJ, what's your scripture?" and I would recite it out of habit/duty.

 "He will choose our inheritance for us, the excellence of Jacob whom He loved."

I didn't get it. I didn't really care to. I just prayed that I didn't forget that one sentence no matter how confusing it was to my pre-teen brain so uninterested in anything church-related. Auntie didn't play. She would yoke me up.

It's funny how desperately you search for all the little precious things someone has given you when they pass away. You mourn the things you discarded. You turn your home upside down to find that photograph or letter or card. You struggle to remember the details of experiences you had with them that seemed insignificant then but are the only bits of glue holding you together now as you struggle to adjust to their absence.

Aunt Gigi passed away on December 29, 2011 around 11 pm. For the first few months I was in a daze. I didn't cry much. And then, one morning I was driving home from dropping my mother off at work and I imploded when I pulled into my driveway. I sobbed for what felt like hours but was only about ten minutes. I sobbed because she wasn't here anymore but more specifically because she wasn't here anymore to be a part of all the great things that were sure to happen in my life. I needed her to be around for when I got my first big job. I wanted her to see me walk down the aisle (whenever the Good Lord let *that* miracle happen). I needed her to just... be. I found every card she sent me while I was away at school that I hadn't misplaced and the turtle pin she had given me one Sunday morning before church. And I recited Psalm 47:4 like my life depended on it.

I had been battling an eating disorder for years. Aunt Gigi would call me periodically when I was still in grad school and tell me, "AJ, you gotta get up and go eat. Even if you don't feel like it. Even if it's just one mouthful at a time. No matter how long it takes." I hadn't told her I wasn't eating. In fact, I hadn't called to talk to her in weeks because I didn't want her to question me. I was ashamed and confused and depressed and and...

One day after I completed grad school and had come home, I drove over to her house and she and I were sitting, talking in her bedroom as we did on many early Saturday mornings. My college struggles came up and she said, "You didn't have to tell me. God showed me and I walked with you."

I wasn't prepared for that. All I could do was hang my head and nod. That was God. That had to be God. He had to be real because... Like. What?!

With that level of spiritual connection, I couldn't process her not being here anymore. On top of that, I was battling depression due to long-term unemployment, the funny (but not funny when you're in it) "quarter-life crisis" and just an overwhelming feeling of failure. I had gone to school for seven years. I had gotten decent grades and participated in this organization and that volunteer experience. I had come out of my shell and mastered public speaking. I had found my passion and calling. I did what everybody told me to do. Two degrees. I was "good" for the most part... and I graduated to no job when everyone told me surely I would have be employed within six months. I couldn't get a single interview and the people I looked to for help gave me the coldest of shoulders.

So, I quit trying. I woke up crying and spent the better part of every single day in bed, watching Netflix and only moving to get a little something to eat when I felt faint. Aunt Gigi wasn't here. I was a failure. And if I vanished from the face of the earth, it would be just as well.

"He will choose our inheritance for us, the excellence of Jacob, whom He loved."

The third week of September 2013, I walked into the classroom to teach a room of about 20 freshman how to write at college level. This was the path I had avoided at all costs. People always asked if I wanted to be a schoolteacher like my mother and my answer was always a vehement "No!" I couldn't possibly teach anybody's kids anything. What if I failed? What if they tried to walk all over me? I look like a high school junior my doggone self. And college students? AbsoLUtely not. But this was the job I applied for on a desperate/leap of faith whim and received a response THAT night. The day after I applied, I interviewed. Ten minutes after meeting my supervisor, I was headed to HR for paperwork. Two days later I was in the classroom.

As seamless as that.

For two semesters I had the privilege of helping some of the most promising college students to release their anxiety and just...write. I didn't choose that path willingly. I feared it most terribly. But it was chosen for me and it enlightened and built me. It breathed new life into me.

It seems like ever since my aunt passed, my life has been showing me how absolutely fluid I must be in order to walk in Purpose. When people ask me about my 5 year plan or my 10 year plan, I can only tell them what passion is in my heart but I can't give a road map.  I don't want to. It'll happen if I just stay connected and show up, ready to do the work and TRUST. To some, I get it - this all sounds like one gigantic cop-out from having to take any responsibility for my life. In reality, it's just the opposite.

The blessings that have consecutively found me me in just these past few months alone have given Psalm 47:4 every bit of meaning I couldn't find in it when I was a child and more besides. I've agonized over every tragedy, downfall, failure, sickness I've experienced and wondered, "Why is this happening to me?" quite a lot.

It wasn't until I decided to switch the frame that things started to change, that the road map of my life started to unfold. When I began asking, "What am I supposed to learn from this?" The picture itself wasn't going to change but how I framed it, how I chose to see it made all of the difference. That's when the inheritance that was chosen for me long before I ever cared about destiny or Purpose or God or a scripture my aunt told me to memorize began to reveal itself.

Sometimes we think we're just floating through life with no real value, worthless, just trying to make it when it reality God has already chosen to give us an inheritance beyond our wildest dreams. It doesn't happen the way we decided it should so we think it isn't possible. We limit God in ridiculous ways. Then, He turns around and shows us why little to nothing went according to our plans. He is obliterating obstacles and making miracles and designing a destiny for us that we couldn't have orchestrated any better if we tried. And He does it all, simply because He loves us.

My aunt isn't here physically to see my awakening but I feel her every now and then, getting me together from Paradise. And all I can say is, "Ok, Auntie, I hear you."

Aunt Gigi,

I didn't get it then but God knows I understand now. Thank you for letting God use you. Thank you for walking with me. Thank you for planting the seed.

Skinny Girls Have Problems Too

I’ve been tiny all my life, born something like a month and a half before I was supposed to be born. 4 lbs and a few ounces. Always sick when I was little. Irregular appetite well into adulthood. But I’m reasonably healthy for someone so small. And I have these moments -weeks at a time - when I can eat like a full-grown buxom man fresh out the pen. I’ve never met a moist chocolate cake that I didn’t like and I WILL eat an entire Entemann’s apple strudel in only ONE (yes ONE) sitting. I’ve heard it all before… “Die, you skinny b*tch. You make me sick.” coming from a larger “friend” who was ‘just joking.’ I’ve also heard, “Ewww, Ash you look anorexic.” I’ve heard, “Girl, please, you have no problems.”

But I do.

I get more than a little frustrated going into a store and not being able to find ANY skirts that fit because I have absolutely NO hips. I get the jealous looks and then I get the looks of pity like, “Poor girl. She must starve herself.” I’ve heard it all. I had a doctor ask if I was making myself throw up once. I had gone for a check up the summer before junior year of high school & had dropped from 123 lbs. (the year before) to 117 lbs. His conclusion was that I was anorexic. Absurd & I was annoyed.

I thought I had gotten over it because I have heard it all my life. Until, about two years ago I went home after being a slave to graduate school life for almost two months without seeing my family. I went to hug one of my family members and he stepped back with a look of disgust on his face. “Aww, AJ (my family nickname) girl you need to eat. You’re nothin’ but skin and bones.”

I know he didn’t mean to hurt me with his words because just as quickly as he made the statement, he engaged me in a totally unrelated conversation about some movie. But I was hurt. And it wasn’t even just because of him. It was because years of disgusted looks/misplaced jealousy and criticism kind of washed over me in that moment. And dag-on it, I need to say that just because I have a high metabolism does not mean that my life is easy. If I had a penny for every time I was on the receiving end of a envious/cold-hearted big girl stare I’d be paid.

I wanted to vent a bit but I also needed to share this particular post because I know there are so many young women who struggle with weight issues no matter which end of the spectrum it may be. We're always too this or too that, trying so desperately to stuff ourselves into a Barbie-sized box standard of acceptable beauty and 'womanness.' Sometimes, we forget that EVERYONE is human. We get so caught up in our own body image drama and problems that we assume someone who doesn’t have our particular problem is living so much better than we are, without a care in the world. And it’s funny because even now I know there will still be some people who’ll think “Girl, please I’d pay to have your problem of being skinny rather than being big.” And I can guarantee you, you’d pay to give that problem right on back. We often judge the ease of someone else's life by what they’re NOT going through or what may not seem ‘so bad’ by our standards. Yet we'd be surprised what some people brave just to get through a day, a week, a month, or a year. Calling someone 'skinny' isn't always a compliment. Sometimes it's a painful reminder. 

I have to feed myself positive messages DAILY. When someone mentions how 'tiny' I am. When nothing in the department store fits. When someone suggests I am anorexic. When I obsess about how to gain weight. It's a step-by-step process for some of us 'skinny' girls just as it is for the larger. Don't make it any harder with assumptions & negativity.

Be encouraged. Get lifted.

'Your Lips Are Too Big To Play The Flute' Insecure Tales of a Mediocre Sax Player

'Your Lips Are Too Big To Play The Flute' Insecure Tales of a Mediocre Sax Player

I don't remember the details but I remember letting my band teacher, Mrs. Russo, know that I would be picking up the flute. I remember she laughed a little bit and told me: "Your lips are too big to play the flute like your sister...but I do need clarinet players. So, you'll play the clarinet, ok?"