It ain’t college, it’s the real world!

It’s that time of the year… the glimmer and glam pave the way from prom to the pomp and circumstance of graduation as girls are marching beyond high school, off to realize dreams. And as a great number of our girls continue to march their way on to college campuses, far too often they do so guided by the philosophy that a college degree will be their passport to the real world. It’s true, a college degree does afford entry into greater opportunities. However, we have got to halt the perpetuating send off that says personal control over their livelihood is on hold until they return home from a 4 year stint of academic and social revelry.

The truth is,  without getting too deep into the metaphysical, the moment they leave home and have to make choices independent of parental direction or adult dictation, girls (or more appropriately young women) have stepped into their real world.

When I made my transition to college, I remember clinging desperately to lessons from the closest ideal of college life I had, the television hit show, A Different World. That show dealt with almost every possible issue a Black girl could experience on college campus.

Just like then, we should equip girls with a few key beliefs as they make their way in the real world. While A Different World is still a media resource full of lessons for our girls heading off to college campus, they also need a dose of reality. Here is a vital list of mind sets our girls must adopt when heading to college real world:

Be enterprising: tap into an innate gift and skill set to earn supplemental income while away at college. From fashion design, hair and nails, blogging, makeup, tutoring, photography there are tons of ideas for dorm room enterprise. This income can be used at their discretion to fund clothing and personal hygiene expenses; spring/summer break excursions; or general expenses. Furthermore, this is money that can be saved for major investments right after college. Think first home, relocation, car, stocks.

Be a conscious consumer: Never too early to learn this! But college is definitely an opportune time to harness power over the dollars young women spend. Take a critical lens to brands which attempt to influence loyalty without much accountability nor personal return. Look at the brands that support causes and community initiatives that are relevant to you as a consumer. And take special note of brands that offer paid interns to college students like you.

Have an open mind: There are millions of perspectives and viewpoints beyond what you were raised around. Be open to gaining new experiences and getting to know people from various backgrounds whose beliefs and perspectives may be completely different than what you are familiar with. Expand your perception.

Be intentional: There will be plenty competing for your time and attention. Everything from classes to social clubs to campus involvement. Be sure whatever you devote your time to is intentional and aligned with the goals you have set for yourself. Joining organizations, like a sorority, should be given careful consideration so that it is not about popularity or hanging out, but connected to your future career and community service goals. Even your travels and breaks should be intentional. Yes, it would be fun to party in Miami for Spring break, but remember you can gain some international exposure as well. Many universities offer study abroad courses; perfect for those looking to secure a career in foreign relations, global diversity, government, teaching, etc.

Be healthy! Your health is real from the moment you take your first breath, and it becomes all the more important with every new plateau you reach. The “freshman 15” is real…mentally and physically your body must adjust to its new environment. Weight gain, stress, new sleeping patterns all have an impact. Stay fit. Take advantage of your campus recreation and health care facilities.

Be protective…and selective! Take precautions to become familiar with your campus  AND surrounding areas. Being on college campus does not mean young women will be immune to real world risks. From natural disasters to sexual relations, young women MUST be prepared. Become familiar with emergency plan on school’s website. Know safe routes when walking alone or at night. Be aware of areas off campus that may pose risks such as robberies, rape, etc. Observe new acquaintances to see who is trustworthy, as well as to see who exhibits self love. Be wary of those who have destructive tendencies (drinking, drugs, bad study habits). Also, be proactive in your intimate relationships. Protect yourself. Remember STI’s and unplanned pregnancy are most high on college campuses. Dating violence is also a factor, so again be keenly aware of acquaintances and their behaviors. Have your safe stash with emergency money, condoms, up to date prescriptions for medications, emergency contacts and numbers.

A few websites to check out for safety:

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)

The SIWE Project

Planned Parenthood

Black Youth Project

Federal Emergency Management Agency

This list is just a start. What else should be included? What words of wisdom should our girls pack in their luggage heading to their “real world?” Share in the comments below.

Oh and just for fun, here are a few of my favorite “life-lesson” Different World episodes:

 

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No Shame: Recovering

I have a story to tell. But it hasn’t always been easy to share. I’ve never quite felt comfortable enough to see the discomfort, the fidgeting, fleeting “let me out” look that inevitably crosses Black folks’ face whenever the subject of mental health comes up. Don’t get me wrong, we love to laugh at “crazy” people and pay nice money to hear comedians poke fun at the pain (often their own) mental health carries with it.

See if we venture into an intimate or serious conversation about a personal experience with mental health, you’d swear you just opened up about a secret sexual fetish. Then folks start avoiding you, or treating you with kid gloves. I know it because I’m guilty of this behavior myself.

So… yeah. I’ve been hesitant about letting folks in on my story. But today I am so very grateful for The Siwe Project for providing a safe and empowering platform to project, exchange, and ultimately gather some virtual hugs and resources. Kicking off National Minority Mental Health Month, No Shame Day with all its outcomes is imperative to healing and whole ness of our entire community.

Not many people know that I suffered from post-partum depression. That was 12 years ago before there was so much “supportive” articles and testimonials. Still from what was out, almost none of it was reflective of my experience as a young African-American woman in the ghetto. That’s just real. Post-partum depression was seemingly reserved for white, middle to upper-class, stay-at-home, new mommies. Culturally, and reinforced in mainstream media, I got the message that I was not privileged enough to claim this as my mental health status.

But there I was, 23 years old, a mother to a 16 month old son and a newborn baby girl. I’d completed under grad while 6 months pregnant with my oldest. The plan was to nurture and dedicate my life to him for two years then head back to grad school. Well, obviously my plan didn’t mean a thing to the Universe. I had other lessons to learn outside of classrooms and lecture halls.

Without taking you the long way, let’s just say dealing with shame of being an unwed Black mother (hubby and I hadn’t taken our 5 year college romance to the matrimony stage yet); on public assistance; notwithstanding having a useless degree and grad school pushed out of my immediate sight left me feeling defeated. Add to that all my friends were finishing college; pursuing Masters or ambitious careers; partying and doing what young,vibrant, attractive twenty-somethings do. Me, I was changing diapers and rocking out to Elmo’s World. I found myself clinging to my sanity, feeling guilt and self-loathing for selfishly wanting my old life back. I had two very beautiful babies and their awesome father. Why was I feeling so down and deflated?

I didn’t even recognize that I was sinking deeper into a depression that only allowed me to nurse, change diapers, bathe, read bedtime books and do well-baby check ups. I neglected myself, did not style my hair, only hopped up to shower right before their father was scheduled to come home, then cooked. Except through very brief and reserved phone conversations, I removed myself from socializing with my friends and family. No one seemed to notice.

My one saving grace was my granny. Funny I didn’t realize it at the time, but she knew. She’d call me everyday to check in. Her sage wisdom let me know she’d been there before…with seven children I’m sure she had.

Not to mention, around this time it seemed as if more women’s magazines began dealing with depression in Black women. I recognized my symptoms and the fighter in me jumped back into the ring. I began writing feverishly; poetry and short stories, life mapping, and planning out my career steps. Soon I was teaching, subbing at first and then a full-fledged classroom instructor. My first students, the 6th grad class at Oakdale Christian Academy and the kitchen staff gave me life, “fattening me up” for my wedding gown, praying with/for me…just watching and counseling.

Magically music also helped me recover: Brandy, Faith Evans, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Billie Holiday, Anita Baker, Nina Simone, Angie Stone… No exaggeration that their music saved my life.

Later on, maybe a year or so ago, my father said something to me that prompted me to embrace the fact that, outside of post-partum, other factors make me susceptible to other forms of depression. He told me to take note and reflect on the behaviors of other family members, both paternal and maternal. Sure enough, I see “crazy” people. Now, ease up and don’t take offense I only use the term “crazy” because that is the one word our community seems to use to categorize anyone who displays ANY mental illness, no matter how big or small the issue. We lump all of our loved ones in the crazy pile, or come up with zany conclusions like, ” you know somebody slipped her/him a Mickey,” or “you know how those (fill in the zodiac sign) get.” What about the famous, “everybody’s got one in the family.”

The point of the matter is that living in this society, especially for girls like me who face an exhausting, often debilitating amount of tragedy and hopelessness, depression is a very real occurrence. So many, like me, go undiagnosed and self-treat. The danger in that is our self-treatment or self-medicating leads to alcohol and drug use or other destructive behavior including violence and the extreme, suicide.

So here I stand proudly sharing my story in support of The SIWE project, proclaiming No Shame.

You can also check out all the #NoShame Day posts, vlogs, podcasts, etc. here

Follow this brilliant movement on Twitter

Like the Siwe Project on Facebook

Let’s also remember our literary genius, BeBe Moore Campbell, who authored 72 Hour Hold after learning her daughter, Maia Campbell battles a vicious form of mental illness.

Do you know anyone who has dealt with depression or other forms of mental illness?