If you think I’m outspoken now, I always have been! There was a day in 2nd grade I marched into the principal’s office at school and told them I was going to start spelling my name “Jessica”. No one questioned me. No one said I couldn’t do it. No one said have your mom fill out this form. No one stopped me at all. That was the way the white Jessica’s in my school spelled it, so mine must’ve been wrong. And just like that, ever since that day, I spelled it like theirs.

     My family were immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago. I spoke with an accent and had ‘different’ food for lunch (never the hot lunch from the cafeteria). On top of that, I was the only Black student in the entire K-8 Catholic school and I was so desperate to fit into.

     Kids in my class used to hold up the black marker next to my face and call me black. I didn’t know what to do or how to respond – I was 8! 

     The only thing I could think of as a comeback was, “I’m not Black, I’m brown.” 

     There was a Cuban boy in my class (Alan) with skin darker than mine, but everyone still knew he was not Black, and that I was. 

     There were no Black teachers, no Black staff, no other Black kids, no one else that I could identify with, except barely Alan and his older brother, Ian.

     This is why representation matters. All I wanted was to fit in. And because no one stopped me to say I was imperfectly perfect the way I was with my beautiful name spelled JESIKA, I made up my mind and changed it. And no one tried to change my mind. 

     As an adult now, I wish someone had stopped me.

     No one deserves to feel as though they don’t belong, that they’re at a disadvantage, or that their life or presence is not worthy. 

     BLACK LIVES MATTER. Tell Black children they are beautiful. Tell them their skin and hair is perfect (don’t touch it, though!). Tell them it’s okay to stand out. Tell them to be proud of who they are. Tell them their names are God-given and worth more than a hashtag. Tell them their lives matter!