Why I’m Proud to be Black and Living in the Burbs

I am from Kennesaw, GA, where 22.3% of the population is African American. I went to a Magnet School for Math, Science, and Technology, where I graduated with only ten other African Americans in my program.

My mother is from Tifton, GA and my father is from Ashburn, GA. Both are first generation college students. My dad being the first of his family to successfully attend college, while my mother, who was child number 6 of 9, was also the first to retain a degree outside of her high school diploma.

They grew up in a much different environment than the one I was raised in. My father often tells stories of his childhood, from continuing on to the next grade while his cousins stayed behind, playing basketball in fake converses because that was all he could afford, or working with his Uncle in the hot, Georgia fields to make some cash. Cash that went towards his family and not his own spending money of course. My mother describes her childhood more joyously, growing up in a full house, where her and her four sisters all shared one bedroom. They would go out and visit their cousins farms where they would grow all sorts of food and prepare it for dinner.

The lives of my parents were that of so many African Americans living in the deep, rural south, filled with dirt roads, outlandish poverty and sometimes overwhelming racial hostility.

My parents would often send me down to South Georgia during the summer, where I would experience just a piece of the life they lived growing up. Praises to the most high, it was never more than a week, so I could always make my way back to burbs, where I was born and raised.

Now growing up in the white suburbs was definitely an experience within itself. I didn’t worry too much about shootings, robberies, or where my next meal was coming from. But instead, I was expected to teach all my classmates how to do the Cupid shuffle, told that maybe this class was too advanced for my skill set, and I had the honor of listening to people refer to me as their “nigga” as if that was okay.

Now Georgia IS still Georgia, so knowing to not make any sudden movements when you’re pulled over was still learned by me as a suburban, but overall my life was pretty good.

When I arrived at Howard University, the first thing I learned was how to properly introduce myself. We call it the “Howard Intro,” and it goes as follows: First and Last Name, Classification, Major, Where you’re from. So here I am, excited to finally be a college student ready to introduce myself: “Hello, my name is Imani Sanders, I’m a Freshman, Media, TV, Film Production Major, from ATLANTA, Georgia.” And here we go.

Student: “OH MY GOSH, you’re from Atlanta?! So am I! What part you from?”

Me: “Kennesaw!”

The face of every Howard student who was actually from Atlanta, when I stated I lived in Kennesaw.

And just that quick, I learned: Kennesaw was not Atlanta. Nor was Marietta, Roswell, or Stone Mountain.

But I listened to T.I., ate Waffle House at 2am, craved CFA on Sunday’s, knew all the words to ATL, and experienced Atlanta traffic. I too wanted Gucci to be free. Just because I listened to Coldplay and owned some Vera Bradley didn’t mean I didn’t grow up watching Roots, buying greens from Auburn Avenue, singing Kirk Franklin on the way to church and blasting Hot 107.9 on the way back. I was still BLACK!

Turns out, my experience growing up in the white suburbs was not that of many students at Howard. I’ve met people born and raised in Compton, who lived in Chicago, struggled in Detroit or even made it out Bankhead. The lives they lived were no where near that of which I did and for a minute I felt some guilt towards that. I knew the different zones, but I couldn’t claim one over the other. I could recite Migos “Bando” but I had to rap genius the lyrics. I went to birthday bash, but needed directions to Phillips Arena. But here I was yelling “ATL HOE” in the club as if I was really about that life.

But do you know what my amazing university taught me: Those people from Compton, Chicago, Detroit and Bankhead were this generations version of my parents. They made it out of their environment, and were now aspiring to provide better for their children. They were looking forward to being in the white suburbs where all they had to worry about was their child being asked to lead the electric slide.

I was blessed to have parents that had progressed to an entirely new standard of living. There was a time, back in 1986 where my father was on his own, studying, working two jobs, eating Vienna sausages, struggling to survive. But here they are now, with advanced degrees, stable enough to take yearly vacations, buy Christmas gifts for one another and afford name brand clothes, let alone name brand groceries. My dad’s high school had their first integrated prom not even ten years ago. I was glad, let alone PROUD that my parents had come up.

So rather than trying to relate to Future, I started focusing on making mine even better for my children and there’s to come.

Please Note: I will still whip, walk it out, hit the quan, nae nae, hit dem folks, lean with it rock with it, swag surf, crank that, beef it up and dab unapologetically. “March Madness” & “ATLiens” will forever be the anthem, and “ATL HOE” will still be yelled at any and every Howard function. #RiseUp

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