Category Archives: Ravynn

Week 13: Gratitude

I will be the first to admit that as the semester draws to a close, I spend less time writing my weekly Black Girl Does Grad School posts, and more time pouring over books and articles to sustain one of the multiple arguments for my final papers. I have spent much of the last couple of weeks stressing and wondering how it’s all going to get done.

This is my fifth semester as a graduate student, so you’d think I would know by now that it always gets done. Some way, somehow, I always manage to pull through to the end of the semester.

As it stands currently, I have three more class sessions in which I have to be present. 8.5 hours of class time standing between me and the end of the semester– me and the last time I ever have to be in classes as a student (Unless, of course, I decide to pursue a MFA in creative writing after I finish this whole enterprise, but that, my friends, is a beast of an entirely different nature).

As I approach the end of this stage of my doctoral program, I think it would be a great moment to practice some gratitude for everybody and everything that has gotten me through the past two and a half years.

Thank you:

  • First, to my parents. Thanks Mom, for always listening patiently when I called home with some story about miscegenation law from the 19th century. Thanks Dad, for throwing in your two cents when I read off some of my Critical Race Theory texts to you, confirming or denying these very abstract theoretical claims from your personal perspective.
  • To my family generally, for supporting my education however you could– from all the Barnes and Noble gift cards to showing up at my graduations (But like shout out to TJ in particular for never missing a single important occasion even after you moved away).
  • To my best friends, Micah, Kelsey, Alexis, Leah and Kaili. Y’all are the sisters I always wanted. The best friends I could ever ask for. Thank you for all the texts, the phone calls, the FaceTimes, the meet ups, the coffee dates. Thank you for your time and support.
  • To my favorite professors– Dr. Weiss, Dr. Ely, Dr. Losh, Dr. McGovern, Dr. Donnor– for always pushing me; for challenging me to think deeper and harder; for knowing that I am capable of more and always encouraging me to show that; and for believing in me as I am, and me as I will be.
  • To my Master’s committee: Dr. Knight, Dr. Weiss, and Dr. McGovern
  • To my Comps committee: Dr. Weiss, Dr. Losh, Dr. Pinson and Dr. Ely
  • To James Padilioni, Jr. Thank you for being a role model for me. Always trying to get like you.
  • To Chris Slaby (and Cameron Slaby) for all of the stimulating conversations and for always welcoming me into your home.
  • To those in the digital humanities/twitter community who have welcomed me, valued me and my contributions and encouraged me: Nathan Dize, Dr. Parr, Dr. Wernimont, Dr. Phillips, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Foreman, Dr. Steele, Dr. Lothian
  • To the many Black graduate student digital networks that I remain on the fringes of, but whose work I admire.
  • The Lemon Project Team, particularly Dr. Allen, Dr. Sarah Thomas, and Dr. Vineeta Singh, for caring for me so diligently.
  • Dr. Wulf for being supportive of me and my endeavors.
  • Thanks, as always, to Dean Gregory and Ms. Cathy for always happily responding to my (sporadic) calls and emails.
  • To Professor Harold. I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for several conversations with you on the Corner, in your office and around Grounds.
  • To everyone involved in any way with Black Girl Does Grad School. I LOVE Y’ALL. Y’all are making my dreams come true every day.

But also, thank you:

  • My lovebug, Genghis. You’re getting an honorary degree when I get this PhD, bud.
  • To the staff of Aromas on North Boundary. The caffeine fix keeps me sane.
  • To Charles Benbow and the staff of The Coffeehouse. When I do go, I stay all afternoon and work, drinking cup after cup of delicious coffee. Thanks for the good drinks and ambience.
  • To Lorelai and Rory, for keeping me company so many difficult evenings.
  • The Library, ILL and the librarians. Y’all are the real MVPs.

…Did I already thank my parents? Eric and Faye, seriously, thanks for giving me the world.

Week 12: A Quick Love Letter to Myself, Past, Present and Future

Dear little Ravynn,

I hope I’m making you proud. I’m not the engineer you envisioned, nor the diplomat you came to dream about as you aged. I’m sorry to disappoint you but you outgrew almost all of your friends (except Jared, he’s still around so be extra nice to him next time you see him.) You didn’t get to go to Governor’s School, you stopped playing piano when you got to college and you didn’t go to Princeton.

But you did get to go to your dream college: The University of Virginia. You cry almost every time you think about the look on your Dad’s face when you met up with your family after the big graduation ceremony on the Lawn. You’re working towards becoming a professor, which means you’re getting a Ph.D. I know you’ve always wanted to be a Dr. It’s taken you a while, but you finally found friends I think you’ll manage to hold onto. Oh, and you did, at one point, cut off all your hair, just like you wanted. (Granted, parts of your hair did fall out from stress first so you had to cut it–but that’s not what matters most.)

You’re not as far away from home as you’d always hoped, but you do have your own apartment, your own car, and a dog that you named Genghis. And even though you may not want to admit it, you do like going home almost every weekend to see your Mom and Dad while you’re in grad school.

Keep dreaming big. Your accomplishments will exceed your wildest dreams.

Love,

Ravynn


Dear Ravynn,

I promise, you’re going to be alright.

Love,

Ravynn


Dear Future Ravynn,

I hope you published those novels you’ve been sitting on since June of 2015. I hope you got that Ph.D. I hope you’ve got tenure. I hope you started that magazine. I hope you write your heart out all the time. I hope people are reading and engaging with your words the way you’ve always dreamed.

But most of all I hope you’re happy.

I hope you got to see Chicago and San Francisco, Senegal and Italy. I hope you teach with kindness and compassion. I hope you changed a few lives or spoke to a few hearts along the way.

I hope you find your voice– not your writing voice, but your actual voice. I hope you remember that only fighting with a pen as your sword and paper as your shield has never been enough for you.

I hope you have a family that loves you and that you love more than you could ever imagine.

I hope you never stop reading. I hope you never stop dreaming. I hope you never stop striving.

I wish you peace, love and mental and emotional fortitude.

Love,

Ravynn

 

 

Week 11: A Critical Self-Reflection on my Fighting Spirit

It’s time for some critical self-reflection.

I’ve always been a self-starter, and a little loud, probably to the chagrin of my mom, who had to work at the school where I was always doing something. I distinctly remember mobilizing the entire third grade to sign a petition against soggy cafeteria trays, which in my eight-year-old mind, ruined the sanctity of the chicken nugget. That same school year, I remember coming home determined to write my Black History Month report on the first Black woman involved in civil rights who wasn’t Rosa Parks that I could find: Angela Yvonne Davis. Then, at age ten, I decided that my fourth grade class needed a school magazine. So, naturally, some friends and I organized a bake sale, the proceeds of which went to the annual fair when the plans for the magazine proved too difficult.

By high school I had only gotten louder; spending a great deal of time fighting against the initial structure of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program in Suffolk, Virginia. As my class would be the first through, we dubbed ourselves “The Guinea Pigs.” I wanted more flexibility (at the time I wanted to do the Governor’s School of the Arts, which I was waitlisted for classical piano, and IB); more class offerings, including an IB music class; and I wanted to keep our IB director, but budget cuts, budget cuts, budget cuts. I spent a great deal of time ranting in our IB director’s office, to my friends, my teachers, at school board meetings, to anyone who would listen. We lost student after student during the pre-IB years (freshman and sophomore year) until we were down to the sixteen that crossed the stage together in 2012.

I used to be loud, I used to demand change, I used to fight hard.

My fighting spirit came and went as I ran the gauntlet that was the University of Virginia (UVA). I spent a year on the Black Student Alliance executive board, and, disenchanted with the bureaucracy and male domination despite the female majority, promptly resigned the summer before my third year. The often hours long meetings in which I had to take ruthless comments, being talked over or ignored had finally taken its toll on me. So I left, determined to find another way to make a difference. To be sure I found ways: I became a leader in the language house community, eventually making my way up to RA of the French House; I took point in helping organizing my scholarship weekend in the spring of 2015 and 2016; I took on more responsibility in my position as an intern in the Outreach Office of Admission; and I became stage manager of a show that was more of a movement, the Black Monologues.

I’ll be brutally honest, UVA beat a lot of the fight out of me. Between the constant pressure to perform, the isolation that came with being the only Black person in many of the classes and spaces I inhabited, and the severe depression that I fought most of my four years there, it was nothing short of a miracle that I made it out of Charlottesville alive. Living there was rough. My class lived through the disappearance of Hannah Graham, the Rolling Stone article, and the Martese Johnson incident. It felt like I spent most of my upperclassmen years at rallies and vigils, condemning racially motivated brutality and sexual assault, then alternatively mourning the loss of classmates. In addition to all of these horrifying events, I, the golden child of Suffolk, Virginia, was learning for the first time what it meant to fail spectacularly at UVA. I will never forget the string of rejections I got my first year there, one after another, until I finally got a rejection in January 2013, which prompted a panic attack so severe I ended up calling the counseling center for an appointment that day.

It’s my third year out of UVA, and I think I’m still undoing some of the damage to my thought processes that happened while I was there. I don’t think I could pinpoint the moment that undid the fight in me, but I know when I recognized how broken I was: when I did Black Monologues. Black Monologues was a salve to my soul, my chance to simply be. To make art, and to be moved by it. To be in a community with Black people who understood me and loved me. Pouring myself into words for the first time in years, building something, saved me. It healed the wound I didn’t even know I had. Black Monologues gave me back my voice, and even amplified it.

Black Monologues built me up just enough to send me into the world armed with at least part of the confidence which UVA had stolen from me. But I’m realizing now, even with part of my confidence restored, I am still not the girl who demanded change from her school board. I’m not even the girl who mobilized the third grade.

Somewhere in that journey, I decided my moves would be in silence; that my calling was teaching and writing, and those would be my contributions. I decided to use my “self-care card” to self-preserve rather than fight back, but this week in particular has me questioning how I feel about that. I don’t know if I like that I’ve become a silent, but engaged observer; intervening only when particularly provoked or when I “have the time.” I consider myself to be strategic with my energy, picking and choosing my battles with care. Mental health wise, it’s been the right decision, but I do have to ask myself, am I being true to myself– am I feeding my spirit?

My tactics have changed and so have I. William & Mary has brought me to the Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation, where I do a lot of work educating people on enslaved labor and Jim Crow segregation at William & Mary. I work with and teach students; help put on programming; run our social media; but most importantly, I learn and share. And when I realized the Academy might not make room for me, I decided to write my way in on this very blog; working countless hours to make sure that BGDGS became a space where Black women could share and fellowship together. I may not be making statements at school board meetings anymore, but I’m still working, moving slowly and intentionally.

Sometimes I wonder if my sixteen year old self would be proud of the person I’ve become.

I think she would be. I’ve taken my fight to paper, armed with a pen. I think she would be glad to see that I transformed my fighting energy into building.