Writing Catalog

Leilani Davis

Grade: 12

North Olmsted High School

Instructor: Jason Krucek

Gold Badge

Personal Essay & Memoir

Gold Badge

"Diversity" seemed to compile on top of me like a heavy sheet of gold my whole life. Every couple of years, a new diverse label would join the mass on top of me. While people told me it would bring me strength, I could never see its value because I was so distracted by its weight. It became impossible to look back and admire the beauty of the gold when I struggled so much. I was born biracial, African-American, Puerto Rican, and a woman. My father is an addict, and my mother raised me alone in Cleveland. Not one of these characteristics helped me— in fact, they put me at a disadvantage, and I and everyone with basic knowledge of social injustice knew it. The last thing I wanted to do was add to the list. In my eighth grade year, I confided in a friend about some of the feelings I had been having. Soon people were calling me lesbian slurs before I knew that I was. Though I have queer family members, and familial acceptance was not an issue, I understood from my classmates' reactions that the societal opinion was not so positive.

When people discuss diversity, they are almost always referring to a process called "diversification." Everyone has their abstract way of telling me this is where all my "identities" will become useful to me, that I can write about them in college essays and get into schools or jobs so they can be diverse. Now, I view this as me pushing that gold brick off my back, then nicely packaging it up and handing it over to be sold for others to profit. I have chosen instead to show others what I have discovered. Now that I am a senior, I find myself facing people carrying the same weight I did, and to tell them it is not heavy would be an invalidating lie. My identity is only mine, and I've helped others own theirs. It is a discovery that led me to community and taught me how to foster it.

I feel as if I wear a gold badge I have myself crafted through years of work. People immediately recognize what I am and that I am not ashamed. Visibilty puts my in danger, but I am a safe haven to those who face the same danger. I have been the first person people come out to, enabled parents to understand their children, and my family to understand my other family. Social justice happens in my life through conversation. It is helping people understand themselves and others by first understanding myself. Defining myself is easier said than done, I am ever-changing and often confuse myself. However, I can see myself reflected through shared indentities. Conversations with people with both similar and vastly different lives than me will only continue throught the exchanges I have already with people about my identity. I am greatful to have these experiences despite the pain they cause. I know I am capable of transforming them into a gem.