― James Baldwin
I have a confession to make, because this is something that I don’t talk about much. You probably didn’t notice when I moved to Charlotte that I was broken. Broken, beaten, and so tired that I wasn’t sure what the next day would look like. You probably didn’t notice because extroversion is a type of weapon; because humor is as much a sword as it is a shield. You probably didn’t notice because I was so scared that my only way to survive was to make certain that all my cracks were filled, that what seemed like solid ground was mostly mirrors.
I left Alabama to come to Charlotte so that I could survive. I had spent 2 years working for a person whose mandate was to force me out. Whose every decision regarding me was a concentrated effort to belittle me, frighten me, and destroy (if possible) my reputation. I did all the things I was supposed to do to try and get out of that place. I filed the requisite complaints with the right people. I scheduled meetings and keep track of emails, I recorded everything and kept a paper trail. And then nothing happened. I was told “there is no evidence that we can find to support your claims,” and was politely shown the door. I didn’t know what to do and I knew for certain that my days would simply get worse, so I did what a lot of people do to cope, I made bad decisions. I drank too much, I slept with the wrong people, I didn’t take care of myself. I only wanted a distraction from what I knew would be another terrible day at a job that I actually really loved.
Then something happened to me. I got an offer for a job in Charlotte. A city still in the South, but perhaps one with enough distance to give me some peace of mind. I ran here, I ran away so that I wouldn’t fall apart completely. I sold the house that I loved, I left my friends that I love, I left my students & colleagues that I respected to come here alone. Coming here was the hardest thing I have ever done. I spent weeks not making a sound so that I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. I kept backing up emails and writing things down just in case it started all over. This lasted longer than it should because I had gotten so good at hiding.
Hiding was the first skill I learned. I hid myself for years from everyone. I hid other people along with me. In some ways my ability to hide was second nature. But Charlotte, you did something that I didn’t expect. You gave me hope again. You gave me a place where I could grow professionally and personally. You gave me amazing people and opportunities to shine. You reminded me of all the love that I have back home in Alabama. Of all the people who held me together when I was flying apart at the seams. I am no longer hiding, in fact I couldn’t be more visible.
I’m telling you this because I am not ashamed anymore. I’m telling you this because I know who I am I a way I didn’t think was possible and I have experienced so much joy these past 4 years. I am telling you this because my life is no longer broken, just mending. I have been torn apart and with the help of amazing parents, and friends, and family I have come back to myself. I am telling you this because I realize now that I was strong when I made the decision to leave. I didn’t run away so much as make the choice to find a way back to who I wanted to be. I am telling you this to say Thank You and that I love you and I am still growing.