Last year, I met two amazing women at a conference, Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold and Dr. Peggy Brooks-Bertram. They are the co-founders of the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women at the University of Buffalo. Together, they compiled and edited a book of letters to Michelle Obama called Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady. As they talked about the book and the different women who contributed (young, veteran, teenaged, African-American, Latina, and Caucasian), those of us sitting in the room cried. We cried because the experiences of these women resonated in our spirits. They wrote letters to Michelle that expressed pride, not just in Michelle as the new First Lady, but as Michelle the mother, the intellectual, the lawyer, the administrator, the wife, and the daughter. Through their letters, these women showed us that we all had a little bit of Michelle Obama in each of us.
I was so touched by Drs. Seals Nevergold and Brooks-Bertram that I decided to do an activity with my women's leadership group shortly after the conference. I read some of the letters in the book and asked the women what they heard, saw, and felt as they listened to some of the women's experiences. Then I asked them to write a letter to themselves - either their past self or their future self. The experience of writing a letter to yourself is something everyone should do. The young women who participated in this activity shared their fears, their doubts, and their hopes and dreams in their letters. Those who read them aloud found that giving voice to what they had written gave them power. There were a lot of tears that day; the activity had a cleansing impact on all who were present.
I was able to write a letter as well. My letter was to my past self. Tonight, on the eve of the biggest event for the women's leadership group I advise, I found my letter. It is no coincidence that Drs. Seals Nevergold and Brooks-Bertram will be at this event tomorrow; I was so touched by them that I talked with our Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs, who happens to know Dr. Seals Nevergold, and she arranged for them to speak during our Women's Expo. Even as I reread my letter, I'm reliving the experience of writing that letter last year. My letter reads as follows:
If you only knew what the future would hold, you would have enjoyed your childhood so much more. You would have stopped worrying, stopped crying, stopped beating yourself up. You would have noticed that you were beautiful. You would have realized that you really were loved. You would have taken pleasure in the care you received. You would have appreciated those who appreciated you. You would have kept those close friends closer. You would not have let some of them go. You would have told your 'friends', those who smiled in your face but talked behind your back, that their actions only served to push you forward into a brighter future, filled with hope and promise. You would have told yourself that you love yourself. And you would have let yourself be loved more.
If you only knew what the future would hold, you could have relaxed, and allowed God to bless you with all that He desired for you.
Remember how carefree these days really are. Remember how close your family is to you. Remember all those times your father walked you to and from school, and even during high school, he walked you to the bus stop. That was love. Remember your mother playing with your hair. That was love. Remember your sisters dressing you, brushing your hair, and buying you cute clothes. That was love. Remember your brothers teaching you how to dance the hustle, play football, and buying you Zingers and Scooter Pies. That was love.
Remember, you were loved. That was all you needed. That is all you'll ever need.
I wrote that letter to my past, younger self, but even as I read it tonight, it is a letter to myself last year, last month, and last week. And I hope that it will serve to remind all of the young women in my life that you are loved. I love you, I thank God for giving me all of you as a gift and a blessing. I thank you for loving me. You all remind me everyday that God exists, because God is love.