November 29, 2020

Lessons I learned from two moms and a best friend

I am beyond grateful to have gotten to experience everything that my friendship with Jazz and my inclusion in her family offered me.

For the first year and a half of my life, my fresh set of eyes saw a sea of white faces. I was birthed into the path of the typical white-washed person raised in a suburb with a complete absence of diversity in friends, family, school, work and all other aspects of life. Thankfully, before I could even form memories, life sent me the family who changed that aspect of my childhood and added so much abundance to my existence.

They moved three houses down from us and were the only Black family in the neighborhood. Trina and Devin are married with two children, Darrien and Jasmine. Trina worked as an elementary school teacher and Devin worked as an architect, musician and pastor.

They loved their church community to their very core. Their children were the same age as my brother, Jake, and me. My mom and Trina quickly formed a “Motherhood Alliance” which meant spending about half my time with them and our newfound friends spending half their time at our house. This gave both moms time to themselves, if not the entire day sometimes. 

Just like that, before I even knew it was an odd experience for a white girl to be spending half her time with a Black family, spending many Sundays being one of the only white people in their church community and going to every birthday, holiday and special occasion her family hosted; that was my normal.

Although my relationship with them started with a babysitting deal between two overworked moms, I bonded with their daughter Jazz in remarkable ways. She became my very best friend and we were each other’s whole world before we reached preschool. At this point, my time with them turned more voluntary because Jazz and I wanted to spend all our time together. 

By the time Jazz and I grew fond of each other, Trina and my mom had formed a powerful friendship as well. They were two overworked and isolated young moms who found comfort in the reliability, companionship and similarities of their situations. Jazz and I likely bonded because of the time our mothers spent just sitting us down together and talking for hours on end. Our mothers set an example for us because, as we formed the notion of friendship with each other, we saw the beauty of our mother’s love for one another and modeled our friendship after theirs.

The best way to explain Jazz and I’s feelings for each other was obsession.

We formed awareness together and knew no world without each other. Before we became aware of our differences, we would work very hard to convince people we were twins. People often laughed it off and jokingly played along. 

As we became aware of each other’s differences in physicality, we became enamored with each other’s beauty. We admired each other and wanted to be as similar as possible. Hair was the thing we wanted to have in common, but never quite could. She loved brushing and playing with my hair and I loved styling hers. It was easier to get my hair close to her style, a 10 braid hairstyle with colorful butterfly clips holding her hair together at the ends. Of course, we had to braid pipe cleaners into my hair to get it just right, but the end result was two very happy matching best friends.

As we reached middle school, the world of beauty and makeup videos caught our attention.

This is the first time in life that our differences became glaringly obvious. When I typed in the search engine “beauty videos” hundreds of white women glamorizing themselves came up, but for Jazz to find videos for herself, she had to add the word ‘black’ to the end of any search to see any videos about Black beauty come up in the first place. My beauty videos taught me how to “enhance” my beauty with simple makeup and hairstyles, while Jazz’s videos taught her that to fit the standard of beauty, she would have to use products to alter her natural self.  

Photo contributed by Jess Carolan.

I watched tutorials with her about how to relax hair, how to heavily contour a nose, how to do makeup to lighten the face, how to straighten hair and how to stay light during the summer.

All of these things are perfectly fine for women to do if that is what makes them feel confident and happy, but as two little girls getting a glimpse of the eurocentric beauty standards in America, we were taught two vastly different lessons about ourselves, and I watched it consume Jazz. 

My experience being part of the Jazz’s family gave me exposure to racism that most people in my area were seemingly unaware of.

As children, we are oblivious sponges and reflecting has allowed me to better understand the overt and covert racism they experienced living in a majority white community. Reflecting back, I also now realize many of the ways they adamantly avoided the negative stereotypes their neighbors wanted to put on them and re-enforced that in their children as well. 

It’s difficult to determine how something affects you when it’s all you’ve ever known. This piece gave me a reason to look deep into that part of my childhood and examine the takeaways I have from my unique experience.

As a child, I was taught by both of my moms (Jazz’s and my own) how to respect Black people while playing with them. If we were playing with water, sand, Play-Doh or anything sticky or messy, we needed to be extra careful with our hair. I knew how important this was because I would sit with jazzy for up to 10 hours every few weeks while her mom and aunt styled her hair. I knew even with how long it took and the hard work that goes into it, I could mess it up with one careless action. Jazz and I were also by design taught how to be inclusive with all people, a skill that most children just don’t subconsciously have. 

My experience around their family nurtured my sense of music as the entire family is bursting at the seams with talent. Jazz’s basement was converted into a music studio and to not hear sound coming from that direction was an odd phenomenon in their household. It was fun to go mess around with the instruments, but my favorite thing was listening to their creativity flow from that space. That creativity extended into church where I got to experience the power of music on a mass scale. 

Church and family gatherings with them also gave me the rare experience of being the only white person in a room. If I’m being honest, I barely noticed because, again, it was my normal. I was too busy enjoying my time and they accepted me with open hearts.

Nevertheless, I am beyond grateful to have gotten to experience everything that my friendship with Jazz and my inclusion in her family offered me.

A life experience that all of humankind should have from a young age, but sadly often do not get the opportunity to experience due to racial and social injustices and exclusion instead of the inclusion that our friendship gave me.

I can’t begin to explain how remarkable every member of this family is. Darrien is a musician, published author, collegiate runner, activist and always has a passion project in the works. Jazz is trilingual, an amazing artist, is a tropical tour guide, has the voice of an angel, is a track legend and creates videos of her amazing life in the Dominican Republic. Not to mention, she is one of the kindest and most loving people you could have the honor of knowing. Trina and Devin are the most giving, loving, charitable, heaven-sent people I could ask for to be a part of raising me. Through raising their children (and me) in Kansas City, they impacted hundreds of churchgoers, students, friends, colleagues and families. 

Now, they found their God-given purpose by taking their combined time and talent to the Dominican Republic to build schools, teach, love and impact a new community.

Because I grew up consistently spending time with Black people, I never took the time to recognize the lack of diversity in my town. My life was diverse due to circumstance, close proximity and special connections but I realize looking back that when I wasn’t around them, it was again a sea of white people. They were my only exposure to people of color. I didn’t make the connection in my brain that the majority of my classmates were not given the opportunity I was given to be loved, cherished and raised by Black people. For many of them, the idea of Black people was constructed in a Eurocentric, insufficient and inaccurate historical representation and education of Black history.

The love this family gave me let me form my own narrative of diversity and the one I formed gave me an abundance of admiration and appreciation. Most importantly, it gave Jazz and me the opportunity to fall in love with each other before society had the chance to tell us we shouldn’t.

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