We Gonna Be Alright /ˈwē ˈgə-nə ˈbē ˈȯl-ˌrīt/ phrase. – a song lyric from the “Alright” by Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning artist Kendrick Lamar.The song “Alright,” featured on Lamar’s 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly” focus on hope during racial and socio-economic tension. In the summer of 2015, several youth-led protests against police brutality across the country were heard chanting the chorus to “Alright”. See also. Black Lives Matter movement
Well, I feel like I’ve lived in a lot of different places across the United States…I’m originally from San Antonio, Texas. That’s where I was born and raised and lived there until I was 18. Life was interesting. You know, I was born during the war-on-drugs era, so this is the mid-80’s in 1986, and the war on drugs has been waged…and my father was on drugs and spent about half of my life in prison. So, it was a very interesting time to be alive and to grow up. My mother raised us by herself because of the way that these systems thought that the best way to deal with addiction was incarceration. And I think we suffered a great deal. We grew up in extreme poverty for a very long time and it was…it was difficult. Because, my father was in prison and he was still very much trying to be the best father that he could be, considering the conditions.
Then after that, I graduated from high school and tried to have a stint in college. Ended up moving to Colombia, Missouri for two years and I wasn’t that great in the classroom. I had a lot of experiences that really shaped my life — I got to study abroad and go to Japan. Because of my time at Missouri, I met a lot of amazing people. But, it was one of the first places where I’ve experienced real open racism…I think it had happened to me in a lot of ways that weren’t always loud…and that was the first place that it was really loud. And then, ended up moving back home, working at a newspaper for five years. Really, really trying to get Black people in the newspaper for reasons other than some of the mainstream narratives about Black people.
Eventually, moved to Nebraska — Omaha, Nebraska. And that was a great experience for me. I was there for six years, my husband was in the Air Force. Somewhere along this story I had three kids and our kids did a great deal of time there. , the difficult part there was that it was another time when being Black in America was really loud and clear to me. My oldest two sons, when they were three and four years old in Nebraska, they were suspended from preschool and it was a complete shift in my life and how I felt about education. And I’d had my own negative experience, but I think I had so much hope. And I wasn’t really aware of all of the implicit, and sometimes explicit, bias that lives in the education system. And when that happened to my kids, it took off the shades that I had on, the conflict that I had on.
And now I live in Los Angeles and here in Los Angeles, there’s much of the same work. I work in education a lot, constantly fighting for Black students and students of color. Especially for Black students, though. I feel like it’s been a very unfortunate experience where despite all of the years and all the things and all the progress, there’s still a fight. Now I am finishing up a PhD program in education at UCLA, with the emphasis on looking at school induced collective traa for Black families. So, I’m really looking at how are schools sites of traa for Black children? And how does that traa echo amongst their family? And now I’m running for school board for the Los Angeles Unified School District. For me, this was a decision that was deeply informed by my experience in this country as a student, as an educator, and especially as a parent.
I immediately think about my family. You know, I think that our shades, like our different skin tones…I was walking down the street yesterday and I saw this beautiful dark Brown woman and I was just like, Oh my gosh, she was so beautiful. I think…the different variation in our voice and in our tone, I love hearing Black people talk, right? I just think that there’s something unique and powerful when we use our voices. And especially when we’re using them in the fight for liberation. When I think about Black beauty I think about laughter. I think about my kids being able, especially in a society that we live in, being able to just be free enough to laugh, right?
I think about our food, which is so diverse to me. A lot of times we think about very stereotypical things around Black food, but I think about how my husband likes to eat — my husband has been a vegetarian for quite some time now — and I think about some of the foods that my family and I craft together and we eat and it still incurred in our souls and in our spirits. Black beauty to me is the face that we’ve always had and the fight that we’ve always had.
Yeah, that’s what I think about.
Yeah, you know, this has been hard. You know, a lot of my work is in education. So, I think about the ways in which our bodies have been policed. And I know this has been a big thing for me. It has been a very long journey. You know, now I have these virtue twists in my hair and I feel like the Black-est and free-est that I’ve ever felt in my life. But it took me so long to get to that point. Because I felt like when it came to the Black body, it started with the hair and the hair needs to be straight, it needs to be long, it needs to be flat, and it needs to be down. And on this journey that I’ve had of being able to be free and love myself, being able to do whatever I want with my hair has been an act of resistance and it’s also been a very freeing experience for me.
And in society I feel like there’s always something. I feel like the way that our bodies are shaped — and there’s so much variation amongst that — but I know for me being the person that always had what we would call a “Coke bottle” type of shape, that has always been used against me, especially as cool spaces. Dictating what I wear, what I don’t wear. How society sees me, whether they see me as fat or not thin enough, not fit enough, all of these different things. And so I think, for me this new journey of really allowing myself to love who I am and where I come from has been just really, really important. And I know that it’s been an act of resistance, but it’s been a long journey.
I think obviously one of the things that I think about a lot, because I do a lot of speaking in my life, I think one of those things is language — the words that we use, the way that we talk, and the way it’s perceived. And this idea of Black women being loud and Black women being angry — these are some of the things that I’ve had to fight against and fight for a lot of times in my life. And so when I think about most is that there’s natural ways that I speak when I’m at home with my family and with my friends and a lot of those ways have not been welcomed in professional spaces and educational spaces. And I really got to a point where I’ve just been like, you know, we deserve to be free.
I think there’s always been this pressure for me as a Black woman to not come off as loud or not come off as angry. And…I am loud, right? And I’m loud with a purpose. And think that that’s something that I don’t want to shift away from, or move away from, or suppress, and pretend that I’m not loud and messy. There’s a lot of greatness that comes when we realize that loud has a lane and loud has a place.
Again, I go back to hair, it’s been a really big thing for me. I feel like there’s been a lot of pressure on physical appearance and what that looks like and what “good” hair is compared to “everything else.” I think that’s one of them.
And of course there’s always gonna be some need to code switch, right? But that might be a way that I talk at home that might not work in a professional setting, but that absolutely should not be on the basis of being “othered”. That we feel like there is a standard way and that that standard way has been built up on whiteness and everything goes is “other”, right? And so I think that some of the pressures that I’ve had is really just trying to be bold enough to talk and express myself in ways that are not harmful to who I am.
I think one of the other big pressures I’ve had,one more that came up was thinking about parenting. And, you know, I feel like as a parent I felt a lot of pressure. Especially when we think about all the different statistics and things that await us. I’m a mother of three Black boys and I think that when it comes to raising Black boys in this country, being married to a Black man in this country, I’ve just really tried to fight some of the pressure that they experienced in this society that they may go through. And that’s been difficult.
I think that this is something that I do carry. And I think I carry it for multiple reasons. So, we know that there are lots of realities and multiple narratives about like, I’ll just say Black woman for example… So when it comes to Black women as single mothers, and you know, obviously I’m not one, I’ve been married for quite a while. I think about how my reality of being married is used almost as a weapon against mothers who are not married. I think about different dynamics about that.
And I’m always thinking about what message am I sending? I never want to become a standard. I feel like what we’ve always tried to do, especially in this American society, is create some sort of standard for groups of people. And then anything else is deviant, and anything else is not good, and I never want to be that. When I think about all the things that I’ve done, I hope what will come from that is that people will see that there’s not one way. There’s not one way to be Black. There’s not one way to be a female. There’s not one way to be a parent. There’s not one way to be married or unmarried, or any of these things. There’s not one way to excel or thrive. And I hope that I am giving opportunities for more freedom, rather than becoming a standard that polices and restricts people. I’m definitely always very cognizant of that because I feel like anytime that you do something great — and you can see this through like the Obamas for example — you may become a standard, right? A certain kind of Black person or a certain kind of person who has thrived. And I don’t want to be a standard. I want to just be someone who allows people to create their lane.
So there are two that really stood out. The first one was my first experience in college. And you know, for me, college just in and of itself was a really, really big deal. I had a very difficult K-12 experience, I was suspended at every grade level except 8th grade and 12th grade. So, the fact that I was in college and I was the first woman in my family on this voyage of trying to get a college degree, it was just a really big deal.
And my first experience in college, I had a white roommate , who was from Texas just like I was from Texas, and it was a very difficult experience. I would be getting dressed and she would have the door open, so her friends could see me dressing and things like that. And when I finally called it out, she said, You know, I’ve never had to share with a Black person and I don’t want to start now. And that, for me, was one of those things where you’re just like, Wow, where are we? Because that’s not where I came from, even though I didn’t grow up in the community with a lot of white people, I had never thought that was a thing…that you’d talked to somebody like that or you’d treat somebody like that. That was the first really loud and open experience.
The second one…I moved back home after my two years stint at my first college. And I was in the car with my cousin who was driving a white car with really dark tinted windows and we got pulled over by the police and the police say, Your car matches the description of a robbery and we need you to get out. So we get out. You know, we had just been playing basketball and not doing anything else. They checked the car, searched it,and they told us, You can get back in. And then the officer laughed and said, We were just joking. Your car did not match the description of any robbery. And they left. And I think about that a lot more so than just thinking about myself, I think about my cousin. You know, it was his car, he was driving… We didn’t talk about it.
Those are the two that really stick in my mind. There have been a lot of other more subtle experiences, especially being a parent and talking to educators — especially like administrators and principals — who will say things like, My African Americans… You know, I work with parents who come and “get it” compared to other African American parents in different parts of the city. You hear some of that language, you hear some of the words that they choose to use for certain groups of kids versus others… But those are some of the ones that stick out the most and some of the ones that I still carry and I can’t unhear them and can’t even unfeel the experience.
Well, I’m an author and I think having written two books is something that I feel like is a huge accomplishment. It was also a huge healing process for me. So that makes it something that I consider an accomplishment because my first two books are very intimate, memoir-ish type books about my life of growing up and experiencing a multitude of different things…primarily my father’s incarceration and drug addiction and the impact that it had on my life. And so I consider that a really big accomplishment. I think there was a lot of healing in my family, as well as just being able to be an author at the same time. And knowing that, that also allows space for other people to heal and to hear this story. I’m the first woman in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree and I’m going to be the first person in my family with a PhD. — these are huge. And I’ve done it in a way that I don’t feel that I had to become someone else.
You know, my dissertation for my PhD infuses hip hop all throughout and I’ve had a lot of pushback from that, in the academic space. And I have pushed against the desire to see me write in ways that are peculiar to the community that I’m writing for. And so, I would consider this to be an accomplishment not only for me but for my family and my community.
Motherhood has surely been an accomplishment for me. I’m someone who never babysat growing up, never imagined being married or having kids… You know, I was a tomboy who played basketball way too much… and imagined that at some point in my life I’d probably adopt a child… but maybe I’d be, you know, 45 before that happened. So now that I’m the mother of three kids and I think I’m doing an okay job, I would consider this to be something that’s been an accomplishment and one that I hadn’t always thought about as far as an accomplishment. I thought it was just something that people chose to do. But raising little humans who love themselves, who know where they come from, who care about other humans, and who would feel that their mere existence was purpose work… I think that that is an accomplishment. And you know, I’ve done lots of things in my little life and I’ve been proud of all of it, but I really think about accomplishments…If they were able to elevate someone else, make space for someone else…I think these things matter to me because I know that it wasn’t just about me, it wasn’t just a moment of, Oh, look at her. It was a moment of, look at us and continue to watch us rise.
Number one, we are just a dope people, right? Black women as a whole. I think that there’s so much variation in who we are, we’re not just one image that you may see on TV or that you read in a magazine. But I think that we have just been considered objectified for a very long time. If you could even go back to European 15th, 16th century and going over to Africa and writing accounts of what they saw, and telling these weird stories about Africans…A lot of that was told through the lens of Black women and how they conceptualized us and objectified us…and on and on again. You know, we have been othered in society for a very long time and because of the conditions that Black men had to go through, I feel like Black women had been so busy trying to be strong for Black men that we’ve also forgotten about ourselves at times.
And so I really feel like there’s still so much to learn and know about us. I feel like we are so busy being strong for everybody else that to be able to focus in on Black women would allow us to lift up some of that weight and be able to look inward at ourselves as well. And I do think that’s important and something I always try to stay very mindful of. Making time for myself. Because we have the weight of the world on our shoulders and we always have. So to be able to really get to know who we are….
And I think if you look through history, Black women have never been very selfish. And I think if we look at lots of other groups, you will see moments of very selfish moments. And I think for Black women we are rooted in the collective and in this idea of how do we all become better. And so I do think that prioritizing and recognizing and validating the lives and experiences of Black women are good for the collective. And I think history tells us so. That whenever you have Black women in spaces where you are validating them and they are operating in all of these different spaces, I think it is better for everybody. And I think at a very basic level. Like, we are human too. And I think that sometimes that gets lost. You know, we’re strong for everybody and we’ve always had to do so many different things, especially when we put it in the context of the United States. So just recognize that. Validate our humanity to meet our just basic human rights. We ought to be afforded that right because we are human. , but I think that there’s a lot to learn. You know, I’ve watched Black women do amazing things. They say make a way out of no way and that’s what we’ve always had to do. And so I feel like America has a lot to learn from Black women.
Every woman in my family before me, on my mother’s side, they were all pregnant at 19 and so they were either mothers at 19 or mother’s at 20…And I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I just knew that I didn’t want to be pregnant at 19. And so that was kind of the goal… How do I push forward to disrupt that in my family line? Not because I didn’t have amazing women in my family, but just because I was like…maybe I can break a chain…and really thinking about a chain of poverty and thinking about how we had all these amazing women in our lives who, because of their family dynamics and having kids a little bit earlier, didn’t get to pursue some of their freedom journey.
And so that was something that was important to me. I also didn’t want to be… You know, we have a lot of mothers and women in my family who were single mothers. And, I watched my mom raised us by herself all of our lives, you know, all of our lives outside of conceiving us. And that’s just not something that I wanted. I also thought a lot about how society saw single mothers….Right, you automatically make many assumptions about single mothers. And I thought my mother was amazing, but she was still talked about and racialized in a way that I just thought I didn’t want to have that. And I think just seeing that and…how traditional we are. How we thought about marriage and what it means to be married and what it means to be a parent. I didn’t think that I would be a good traditional wife. You know, for me, I want to live my life. I want to enjoy life. I don’t want to just be the person that’s in the kitchen cooking or the person that’s just caring for the kid. I just wanted something different. And everything that I saw about marriage…whether it was the shows that we were watching growing up or whether it was what they were teaching us in school or whether it was what I saw in the marriages that I did see…. it was like, That’s not what I want.
So I think…You know, I think about this as an accomplishment now because I think that I’m the person who always wanted to be free and thought marriage was a form of imprisonment and that being a mother as a form of that as well. The person that always wanted to be free, I’m able to be that person and be married and be a mother and that’s been an accomplishment.
I think, you know, it is different being a Black woman in America. I think my brother, my older brother who came first, and as I said we grew up impoverished for quite a bit of our lives…and our cousins, mostly male cousins who came before me….I think for Black men there is this… You’re gonna play sports, you’re gonna rap, and that’s gonna be your way out. And I think a lot of times, being a Black woman it was like, You’re going to get out from some man. You know, it was going to be some relationship that was going to take you out. And college was definitely the option for me as well. I always felt like it was one of those two things. And feeling that pressure of what that was like. You know, I would hear the stories, especially in our family, of…You get married because it makes sense to… You have kids because it makes sense to.
And so I think for me, growing up and thinking about what it meant to be a Black woman, everything just seemed like it was always about a man. You know, like that was your existence. it had nothing to do with you rapping your way out or playing ball or anything like that. It was just like, Someday you’ll get married and that will be your life and your legacy. And whether that was people actually saying those words or whether that was kind of what the overarching narrative was…in multiple ways… And so I think for me, that’s probably why I was resistant and didn’t really want to get married and didn’t really want to have kids…. Because, I didn’t like — and I’ve probably always been a little rebel in this way — I don’t like when people don’t give me options. And there’s no option for other, right? And so, you know, I ended up on this path of being married… But again, it was because there was another way to be married. There was another way to do it. And I didn’t feel that my options were just around being married.
At the same time, you see where the contradiction comes in with pressure of being a Black woman…While I feel like everything was kind of framed around the fact that your way out is through a relationship and through a marriage, also there was a lot of pressure in me as a Black woman if I wasn’t married… Because there’s a very racialized narrative about Black women as single mothers or as unmarried. And so I felt like he was always this push-and-pull, catch 22, of what it meant because it was like, You’re damned if that’s your only way out, but then you’re damned with a reality if you chose something else, because when people say about you? And so I felt like I’ve always thought about both ends of that and both sides of that and really have tried to make sense of what that has meant for me and how that shaped who I am and who I’ve become. You know, I don’t have any daughters but I have lots of nieces and cousins and I think about that a lot — What options are we given them? And are we giving them options to be able to dream outside of college or to be married?
I think one of the big things that we’ve talked about a lot, recently, as a people and as a country, is mental health. I still think that that’s an area where I’d like to see us go deeper. That’s something that’s extremely important to me. And I think not just mental health in some of the ways that we talk about it, you know, I’ll go see a therapist… that’s extremely important. But just being able to have everyday conversation about some of the ills of society that impact us. The pressures. How you think about community healing… In addition to going, you know, one on one to see a therapist it’s extremely important and mental health is something that we need to continue to prioritize and talk about, especially for groups where that has been something that has been denied. I think that’s important.
I think being able to talk to Black women about motherhood, I think that’s something we need to spend more time with. You know, when you have kids, everybody expects that to just be like a great thing all the time, you know? Oh yeah, your kids are so cute. And even related to mental health, it’s very difficult to be a parent. And to be a Black parent. And to be a Black parent in the United States of America. It is very difficult. And we celebrate when our kids make the honor roll…people love our pictures….and we post them… but we don’t really get to share the not so good moments. And most of that is because society has already said we’re not good parents, historically, right? And so some of that is that we don’t want to come off a certain way. And it’s not really a matter of bad parent / good parent. It’s hard being a parent. Especially when you compound that with race and socioeconomic status and all of these other things. I think that’s something we should be having more conversations about.
I also think that we should continue to talk about just women being friends. You know, I feel like systems and structures are designed to create division. And I’ve had amazing experiences with other Black women, but I know that there is a mainstream narrative of women being messy or not able to come together. And I just feel like we’ve got to tell the story with, like, more conversations about how dope women are and how important it is for us to come together and be connected and spend time together outside of all the different hats and roles that we wear.
I dream of a society where those stories that I told you know about experiencing racism don’t exist. I dream of a society where we are able to be transparent and not judged for our transparency. I dream of a society where everything is not a racialized experience. I feel like everything has been very racialized. You know, when I walked into the store it automatically is a racialized experience. When I show up with my Black child in the school setting, it’s a very racialized experience. When I get pulled over by the police, it’s a very racialized experience. And so my dreams are really centered around this idea that we would be able to disrupt these racialized experiences. And that may be a dream that doesn’t happen in my lifetime, but that’s definitely what I’m fighting for.
I believe that, you know, we ought to all have the freedom to be ourselves. That there is no standard and there is no other. And those are the things that I’m fighting for. And that doesn’t mean that, you know, just cause there is no standard and there is no other that we don’t have differences…We ought to have differences and ought to be different. You know, I love that my kids are not three robots. You know, we’re all the same. The difference is that them being different is not a problem, it’s celebrated. And how do we get there?
For my kids, I have tried to raise them in a way where they know that feelings matter and mental health matters. And this is why I brought up mental health earlier…because I feel like we tell, , boys – and Black boys especially – that they shouldn’t feel and they shouldn’t have emotions.. And when Black boys do show emotions and are sensitive, we automatically want to put them in a certain group or in a certain category and we’ve robbed them of their innocence at a very, very early age. And so one of the things that I kind of worry about is, as my kids continue to get older, will they have to suppress those feelings in order to survive? Or will they be able to be brilliant Black boys who are aware of who they are, who feel, and who feel for others? That they can be impacted and that they can be empathetic in their daily activities. And so that’s something that I worry about because you want your children to feel and to be able to be who they are. But then we worry…Like, when they run into law enforcement…Or when they’re in these different spaces, what’s waiting for them? So I think that that’s something that I worry about.
You know, colorism is a huge deal and I have three kids who have three different shades. And so, you know, I find myself worrying about my middle son who is darker than the other two sons. And I’ve seen in his little, young life of being eight years old, how he’s already been perceived differently in certain spaces. And so,I worry as he gets older, how will he be seen just because he has darker skin? This kid is beautiful and amazing to me and I love that we can be lots of different colors, but what does society see? And I think it’s this idea of when they see us…
You know, I watched Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us and I didn’t allow anybody in my house to watch it….my husband and my kids…I watched it in the middle of the night. I cried a lot watching it. And I think when you see how people could see young Black boys and in this case, , even the young Latino boy, and you could see these young boys of color and not see innocence and not seeing brilliance and not see beauty…you would see rapists and bad kids and troublemakers and all of these other things…that worried me.
You know, I think what gives me hope is that we have, my husband and I, have fought so hard to be able to give our kids the tools to advocate for themselves. I think that my kids are learning about the world in a way that I didn’t get to learn about until I was older. They go to some really good schools where they are being affirmed on and loved on, and they’re just learning lessons that really, really matter. And I think that’s where the hope comes. I feel like they are getting it much earlier than I did. And I think that we’re at a time in our country that even though there’s still a lot of turmoil and there are a lot of issues and racism is exposed and out, I feel like they’re also seeing so many radical and resistant people of color and that that is having an influence on them. And those people include my husband and I. And that’s something that my mom wasn’t able to be and my dad wasn’t able to be. They very much wanted to on the inside, they just didn’t know how to do that. And so now my hope is that because we were at a place where we can be like that and we can do that, that I know that we’re raising young Black boys that will become young Black men and continue to disrupt in the fight against the systems that try to oppress us. So I think that that’s the hope, more-so in who you’re raising….who they’re influenced by and just where we’re trying to go as a people, despite what’s happening in our nation.
We’ve got to elevate more Black women. Very unapologetically I’m rooting for Black women. I think that we have to be willing to reimagine. You know, we have gotten really lazy and continued to recycle the same old ideas and concepts that have never served as well. We see when we think about policing, the way schools are designed, the way the workday is designed, and so on, and so on. And so I feel like we’ve got to get back to those kid-like imaginations that were kind of pulled out of us at a young age, and begin to reimagine the world we want…what does that look like? I think we definitely have to have more people of color at the table and we have to be willing to start over to get rid of some of these systems. And it’s one thing to imagine… but in action to really be able to say…what does that look like in terms of undoing systems, remaking systems, redesigning and transforming systems? And you know there’s a lot of things that need to happen to get us there. I do also feel that as a nation we need to have a real conversation with ourselves about what was lost, what was stolen, and what to do in terms of the debt that society still owes to Black people and to native people in particular.
First I want to say, I love y’all. And I mean that so sincerely, it’s not just some words. Advice… You know, we have been conditioned to think a lot of things…to suppress a lot of things that we feel…And I would just say question everything. That’s been huge for me. You know, I grew up with, There’s a certain way that a boy acts. Certain ways that a girl’s supposed to act. And even though I defied some of those things, I was considered deviant for those things. But question, Why is there one way to be? You know, a lot of questioning.
I will also say trust your gut. I feel like even in this society we condition, We know, we feel, we see… We need to trust ourselves and we need to trust each other. And I would say don’t try to do this alone. You know, surviving in America takes a collective effort, and even then it’s still hard. So how do we come together when the systems are designed to divide us? And prioritize your mental health. And I know that’s not always easy, there’s not always space made for that when you’re trying to pay bills and you’re trying to fight against racism in America. It’s hard to do those things. But take five minutes a day and find your quiet time, talk to someone…cause we gain nothing by holding it in. My dad used to always tell me that a problem shared is a problem lessened and I really believe that.
You have a responsibility to dismantle these systems. I’m not saying that you individually created them, but as a collective in this nation, everyone who is living and breathing has an obligation to join this fight. And, I think that people who are in power, particularly those who are not Black, I think that you have an obligation to concede and to share power. And to always do the self-work of unpacking all of the biases that live within us, unpacking everything. And I also bring it back to the same advice that I gave to Black people is really this idea of questioning everything. I think a lot of times if you’re not a person of color and you haven’t been historically marginalized, it’s very easy for you to walk around with those shades I was talking about earlier. Right? And so, be willing to take off those shades. Be willing to be uncomfortable. To be pissed, to be angry, to be all of those things when you know the truth. And because of that, I hope that you’ll be willing to disrupt this mess.
Interview Date: November 7, 2019
Story posted on June 19, 2020
View Dr. Powell’s TedxOmaha talk
Dr. Powell’s website: tunettepowell.com/