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Celebrating My Black Identity




By the time I was born in 1990, one could say that I came along just in time to reap the benefits of the march for Civil Rights, equal voting, desegregation, and the sort, to have a good life.

I was raised in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, in a single parent household with my mom, a registered nurse, my sister, and brother. I was the oldest.

Young Andrea smiles, wearing denim overalls and hat.
Andrea at five years old.

I attended predominantly Black public schools within the Halifax County School District and maintained high honors throughout my education.

In 2013, I attended East Carolina University, where I graduated with a bachelor’s in communication. In 2019, I pursued a master’s in information technology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Two years later, I landed a role at one of the companies of my dreams: Cisco.

Involved in every academic club or society throughout grade school, I considered myself ranked at a higher standard than those students who were just seat fillers in the classrooms.

However, during competitions against other ethnicities in neighboring districts, it became evident that we were academically behind due to limited resources and exposure.

This gap continued into undergrad. Parts of the curriculum that should have been covered during high school were new to me.

Meanwhile, other students from more prominent backgrounds easily comprehended the material. Despite diligent studying and good grades, a sense of defeat often lingered.

There were other things I knew I had perfected and, still, my abilities were racially questioned.

I was a skilled phlebotomist during undergrad. On countless occasions, I experienced feelings of unworthiness and racial discrimination more than I would like to recall.

When my patient realized that a Black girl was about to draw their blood, from the moment they sat in my chair until the second I finished, doubt was evident from their body language to verbal expressions.

Andrea faces a series of statues on campus, wearing her graduation cap.
Graduation Day 2019 at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

Once finished, I may have received commendation. But usually, it was, “Humph… not too bad,” or something to that extent. Nothing to really feel good about.

I do not have many stories of phenomenal Black family members who were the “firsts” of anything, nor who may have marched for equality and justice.

Of course, they were still affected by racial prejudices, but many of them chose to navigate life as peacefully as possible under such conditions. My family were willing to stand up against public disrespect, but were more hesitant to respond in settings — like when on the job — for fear of risking their livelihoods.

Many in my family believed that diligent work and waiting their turn would lead to career advancement, often under management who were not of the same race.

What I saw were my relatives working in decades-long careers, who could not advocate for their career progression or themselves.

Determined to beat the odds, I strived to rise above my family’s underprivileged background.

All the feelings of inadequacy that I dealt with growing up proved to be the motivating factors I needed to be the success I am today.

At Cisco, I experience an acceptance I have never felt before, allowing me to be the best Black woman I can be, given the opportunities and open doors. I am frequently praised for my achievements, people I have helped, and the difference I have made.

Yet, I sometimes still feel inadequate and unprepared. Is it truly imposter syndrome? Or is it the fear of “failing while Black”?

I am still deciding.

Andrea smiles in an entrance to a Cisco office wearing a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt.
Andrea at her favorite Cisco office so far: Chicago.

Being Black is tough. If a Black kid secures an Ivy League admission, eyebrows are raised. If too many Black children enter the public swimming pool, those same eyebrows are raised.

No matter what, good or bad, we are always noticed and hardly ever given a chance or credit for our worth.

Despite these injustices, there is still a sense of reward and pride in being Black, especially when the impossible is achieved and the stereotype is conquered.

I am forever thankful to those who have come before me, placed their mark on history, and paved the way for my achievements.

The world may wait for February to amplify Black voices, but we who live this reality daily use every moment to reflect on our purpose and journey. Our historical liberators, proud of their Black identity, inspire us with their courage and fight for equality.

I strive to evolve into my authentic self and encourage others to do the same. Each day presents an opportunity for self-improvement and a renewed pride in being Black.

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