Strength and Brokenness in #BlackGirlMagic

Part of my personality profile as a strong woman has been my ability to tap into innate gifts. I am intelligent, loving, nurturing, effortlessly optimistic and spiritually centered. As the second eldest of four children and the eldest daughter and granddaughter (on my maternal side), I have always held positions of power within the family structure. Both my leadership abilities and my future career as a teacher were predestined and honed early on in life, as my older brother (a true saint) and our mutual friends-all older boys, allowed me to lead them in occasional sandbox school lessons and boss them around as the teacher and/or the mother (smile). Despite the physically demanding sports or rustle and bustle games the boys preferred to engage in, because my brother and our friends humored me in my youthful delusions of grandeur, later in life, when everything was effortlessly charmed (save a broken ankle and my parents’ separation in my early teens), I thoroughly expected that life overall, would be a dream. Suffice it to say, when my rose colored dream was shattered by the grayish-blue reality that is: broken promises, a broken heart, a broken marriage, seemingly lifelong struggles with weight management, overcompensating for a non-existent personal life by engaging in dangerous patterns of over-working and tackling each of these extremes with grace, charm, a ready smile, a willingness to people-please and an impressive portfolio of being the strong, go-to woman . . . who knew that I was setting myself up for an inevitable fall? But fall I have, and more than once, but with each hard lesson comes some revealing truths. I am the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic, yet I am strong in my brokenness.

Even with all of my strengths and admitted flaws, I am not unique. I am that well pulled together sister that is easily recognizable. Trust me, if you are not a strong woman/man yourself, you have certainly encountered one. We are known by our outer beauty and charm, unmistakable confidence and fierce independence. We are characterized by our successful careers (and often ascend to positions of leadership in a wide variety of fields). We are noted by: our active civic engagement or service, perpetual goal-setting and an articulate ability to express ourselves with ease. We are either happily married with a family and seamlessly juggling the dual demands of nurturing both home and work, with relative ease. Or, as referenced in my case, we are adept at overcompensating for the lapses in our personal lives by exerting great energies towards being sanctimoniously other centered and/or professionally driven (often to a fault). Friends, family and colleagues gravitate to us for advice, support and wisdom and we fulfill the voids of others as best as we humanly can. Other observable characteristics of those with a strong personality type which also appear to be unique to the strong women in our midst include, recognizing and nurturing the growth and development of others while mindlessly neglecting our own needs until met with a personal crisis. Whether referred to as superwoman with a classic type ‘A’ personality or as a self-titled Queen – we wear our titles of: wife, mother, sister, executive, academic, leader, teacher, pastor, coach, athlete, scholar, mentor and guide with pride. Until it all falls apart that is. And when things inevitably fall down and our dreams are irrevocably shattered by the harsh realities of life, it’s what we do with the brokenness that remains, which truly matters.

You see, in spite of giving off the distinct impression that we’ve got it going on (because quite honestly, in many ways we do), there’s an inner core of vulnerability crying out to be affirmed in even the strongest woman/man among us. The harsh truth is that not one of us has lived without having been hurt. Now in my 40s, I have experienced more disappointments than can easily be shared in a single blog post, however an all-encompassing book meant to share my lessons learned thus far, is a forthcoming work in progress. Ultimately, it is what we do with that hurt, the broken pieces, that makes all the difference. The key is not to ignore our own inner needs as a means to maintain our pristine image(s) of strength – but to reveal our personality flaws, our gaps in character development and our mistakes; so that our very lives can be an example of our countless blessings, in spite of the inevitable storms of life. When our hurts multiply and are compounded by the pressures of daily life, we are reduced to each walking through life as broken vessels, unable to pour out of a full cup. So when we wonder, aloud, what is wrong with the world today – we must look inwardly and conclude, perhaps it is me/us too?! I, for one, have learned the hard way that I cannot maintain the unrealistic image of perpetual strength, joy, having it all together and am even more hard pressed to heal the hurts of others when I have not nurtured my own broken pieces. In many ways, we are a collective of hurt people trying to serve others. But, if we are unable to ease our own suffering, there’s little hope that we can live out our true potential, much less serve the needs of others. So yes, while I am admittedly a strong woman, with soooo many virtues and an inherited skill set of #BlackGirlMagic born of generations of strong women – I have learned to be strong in my brokenness. With age comes wisdom and my strength is now evident in my ability to say no, prioritize self-care and to increasingly shatter the facade of having it all together.

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Published by Nefertari Nkenge

Nefertari Nkenge, Ed.D. is a well respected transformative leader in pedagogy. The unique combination of over two decades of classroom instruction, curriculum/professional development innovation, urban school administrative leadership and a lifelong commitment to grassroots activism and social justice - informs the empowering Educate to Liberate model.

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