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This I Believe: My Black is Beautiful

Kenya Apongule - Southeast High School
Beatrice Bonner
NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS
Kenya Apongule - Southeast High School

The first few years of my life, I never knew the world could be so cruel. I was just a little girl, always smiling and happy, oblivious to the hatred surrounding me. Reality hit me hard when I first teased about my dark skin at seven years old. The phrases, ‘ugly gorilla’ and ‘burnt food’ were branded into my mind; I never thought I’d heal from the pain those words caused me. 

Unfortunately, I was also criticized about the way I spoke. Because I'd never spoken with strong Ebonics, I was referred to as an ‘Oreo’, meaning black on the outside, but white on the inside. When did speaking proper English equate to talking white? From that moment, for a very long, dreadful time, I was conflicted on how to love, accept, and embrace myself.  

2020 This I Believe Illinois author Kenya Apongule of Southeast High School discusses her journey to self love and appreciation.

At just 14 years old, I became obsessed with searching skin-lightening remedies. From my research, I learned that lemons prevented hyperpigmentation and I got into the routine of using lemon juice as an attempt to brighten my skin. Scrubbing my skin like it was a scorched pan, each attempt planted a deeper sense of hatred for myself. When that didn’t work, when  posting on social media, I resorted to using only filters that made my skin look brighter. Constantly worried about how others perceived me, I began to believe having brighter skin would make my life easier and maybe I could finally love myself. No matter how many times my mom tried to convince me I was beautiful, I couldn’t grasp the concept of self-love. 

Finally being content and appreciative of my dark skin, I have learned that no one in this world could have taught me how to love myself. I had to go through such a challenging experience to realize my worth and the need to accept myself before anyone else did. I may be dark as midnight, but I shine bright like the stars in that same midnight sky. The sun stimulates a radiance within my soul and shines perfectly on my deeply pigmented skin. I want to leave this world regretless, knowing that I have embraced who I truly am while living my life fully and unapologetically.  

Racism and colorism have plagued my community for centuries and I’m continuously aiming to combat it. I am striving to shatter the glass ceiling and achieve greatness, not only for myself, but for other young black girls who knew the emotions of hatred far too early, and couldn’t love themselves for far too long. I am proud to state that I have grown from a girl ashamed of her blackness into a young woman preparing to spend the next four years of her life at the No. 1 historically black institution in America, Spelman College, where I’ll be surrounded by an aura of black femininity of every shade.  My black is excellence. My black is the embodiment of strength and virtue. My black is beautiful. This I believe.

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Kenya Apongule