As I sat down to write this piece, an inspirational song began to play from a favorite playlist in Apple Music. As the chorus began, my voice seamlessly chimed in with that of Beyonce Carter Knowles:

Brown skin girl, ya skin just like pearls
Your back against the world
I never trade you for anybody else, say
Brown skin girl, ya skin just like pearls
The best thing inna di (about the) world
I never trade you for anybody else, say

I have not always felt empowered as a black woman.

As a young girl growing up in southern Louisiana, I often felt like I was living within two worlds. By day, I assimilated into a predominantly White gifted and talented program within the public school system. By night, I returned to a low-income, single-parent household in a predominantly black neighborhood. In class, I felt like I was too black because I was a minority. At home, I felt like I wasn’t black enough because my experiences were not normative of my cultural heritage.

In both environments, I identified as a brown skin girl with her back against the world.

Every young girl’s journey into womanhood is fraught with difficulty; but, the coming of age of black girls is held up against not only gender but also cultural bias. As we blossom into womanhood, others deem whether our individual journeys are applicable to black American youth growing up in this country. When stuck in the middle of the struggle, we often cannot see to the end. I definitely could not move past the narratives I was being sold by others in order to find value in the stories and lessons of black girls and women like me.

Looking back upon my adolescence, I now understand how confused I was about my identity. Then, I did not have a resource pool from which to draw lessons about how to navigate through an ever-changing, increasingly global world as a young black woman. Now, I have access to hands-on teachers whose paths greatly differ but whose experiences mirror each other.

The inspirational women of color in my life, who are achieving success against all odds, exemplify that there is no standard rite of passage within the black diaspora.

As many shades as there are of melanated skin, there are even more black and brown women whose skin was broken but be the same skin taking over.

Over the course of this school year, I have had the privilege of befriending several phenomenal women. They are daughters, wives, and mothers firmly rooted within strong families yet they are lifelong learners successfully pursuing personal and professional dreams.

These women inspire me more than any famous or hidden figure of Black History ever could.

When Sojourner Truth said, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again,” she had to have foreseen the glory that would be these sister-friends of mine.

As a month of recognition and reflection comes to a close, I want them to realize the impact that they have on so many within and beyond our circle. While I furiously type to submit my thoughts before this month of observance draws to a close, I increase the volume of my Bluetooth speaker and (in my Beyonce voice) I sing,

Oh, have you looked in the mirror lately? (lately)
Wish you could trade eyes with me (’cause)
There’s complexities in complexion
But your skin, it glow like diamonds
Dig me like the earth, you be giving birth
Took everything in life, baby, know your worth
I love everything about you, from your nappy curls
To every single curve, your body natural
Same skin that was broken be the same skin takin’ over
Most things out of focus, view
But when you’re in the room, they notice you (notice you)
‘Cause you’re beautiful
Yeah, you’re beautiful

Tomorrow, as we break bread with colleagues of differing ethnicities, genders, and religions in honor of the lessons taught and learned this month, we brown skin girls will continue to influence the world–realizing our ancestors’ wildest dreams (wearing the shirts to prove it) and carrying the weight of the world on our backs with humility and pride.

Photography: Amy McLaughlin Photography

Amy is the Baylor trophy wife to Dan and mommy to their 4 kids: Norah, Beckett, Rory and Eden. After moving cities every 2 years for 10 years, Amy’s family settled in Austin in 2015. She started Amy McLaughlin Photography with a passion for documenting the beauty of real life and stories that matter for families and non-profits. Her photography style is intentional and meaningful. She also part-time homeschools her kids and volunteers with a local organization that seeks to help fill the gap in parental services for families whose kids are in state custody. She enjoys small-group gatherings, espresso, good books, and yoga. And she is not one to turn down dessert.

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Dana Thompson, M.Ed. has been a fine arts educator in Greater Austin Area secondary public schools for over a decade. After years spent working in theatrical wardrobe and commercial makeup artistry, she found her calling in the classroom guiding young people to become innovative, well-rounded thinkers prepared for a future in the global economy. Never-married, Dana had an unconventional journey into motherhood. Although the births of her two sons flipped, turned her life upside down, she is proud to include the title of “boy mom” to her many accolades. When she is not surrounded by her children, at school or at home, Dana enjoys getting into good trouble with the diverse women who complete her tribe.

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