August 20

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FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME: We Belong In All Kinds of Stories by Mariama J. Lockington

When I was seven, my parents pulled me out of 2nd grade and decided to homeschool me and my siblings. Even though I was struggling to read and keep up in math, I liked school. I liked having a desk and my own pencil case. I liked eating lunch out of my My Little Pony lunch box and I liked a routine. Homeschooling proved a challenge, and while it’s shaped me into the adult I am today, I struggled as a child to adapt to the loose structure of my days. While I was a part of homeschool groups, had tutors, and curriculums by mail, I still craved the social aspects of traditional school. I craved interactions with kids my own age, and in some ways homeschooling isolated me even more as a Black, transracial adoptee. I already felt different walking around with my white parents, and homeschooling was just another way to feel like an outsider.

One place I found belonging as a young person was at the library. My mom would take us often, and we’d come home with big stacks of books. At first, my mom would read to us— Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, Amazing Grace, and A Chair for My Mother — were some of my favorites. I loved these picture books featuring characters with skin like mine. It was the early 90s, and my mom was trying her best to find literature that reflected some of my experiences. But as you might imagine, books about Black girls adopted into white families were nonexistent. As I started to read on my own, I was constantly searching for covers with Black girls on them. Black girls like me. What I found instead were series like The Boxcar Children, Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, Little House on the Prairie, and the Babysitters Club. Most of the middle grade and YA books I found with Black girls on the covers were historical in nature. I clung to the story of Addy Walker— the American Girl doll who was a slave that then escaped to freedom. I devoured Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, set in Mississippi during the great depression, and I also read every single Dear America book featuring a Black girl (A Picture of Freedom, Collette , Color Me Dark, Nellie, I Thought My Soul Would Rise & Fly, Mars.) And then when I was much too young, 12ish, I discovered Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I’ve since read and re-read every Toni Morrison novel, and I am grateful that my homeschooling days provided me with the freedom to read uncensored and widely at my own pace.

While the historical books I brought home from the library about Black girls were indeed important, they did not always provide me with a contemporary reflection of what Black girlhood could be. I wrote FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME because it is the book I needed to find as a young reader. It follows Keda, a Black, transracially adopted girl. When during her 6th grade year, Keda’s family moves across the country, she navigates a new school, deals with bullying, and begins to dream about what it might feel like to grow up in her biological family. When her she gets pulled out of school, and her summer turns from bad worse, Keda uses singing and letter writing to anchor herself in the world.

While FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME is fiction, it is based on some of my own emotional experiences. It’s my love letter to adoptees, and perhaps to my younger self. A version of Keda, who cobbled together a reflection of her Black identity on those frequent trips to the library. It was Toni Morrison who said: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” So I did. And I hope that it will provide a mirror where there once wasn’t one. That it will be a friend to adoptees, Black girls, and anyone who feels they belong in more than one place. But mostly, I hope it can add to a canon of literature dedicated to expanding what Black girlhood looks like. Black girlhood is not a monolith. It’s expansive, nuanced, beautiful and bold. And Black girls deserve to belong in all kinds of stories.

 

Mariama J. Lockington is an adoptee, writer, and nonprofit educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore short-alls and flower leggings every day to school. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including Buzzfeed News Reader, and she is the author of the poetry chapbook The Lucky Daughter. Mariama holds a Masters in Education from Lesley University and Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her partner and dapple haired dachshund, Henry.