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I Went From America's Next Top Model To Finding My Life's Purpose In Education

"My life is not about me, it's about what I can do in service of someone else."

As Told To

As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.

This is Bianca Golden's story, as told to Charmin Michelle.

Representation is so important. And it actually created the trajectory of my life. I grew up in a very traditional West Indian household. My mom is from Turks and Caicos and I spent a good amount of my early childhood actually in Turks and Caicos. Education was the most important thing, and hard work followed directly behind that to support your education. My mother never cared about beauty or any worldly stuff. All we knew was 'be a doctor' and 'make your family proud.'


Although I was a very shy child, as I got older I began to question society more, which completely went against the West Indian values I was raised in. But I was curious, and I wanted to know, "Why?" I pushed boundaries, and stressed my mom and family out a lot by simply asking, why.

Why is this taught this way?

Why did that happen?

Why?

Why?

I was always tall, and did things my way, which got me in trouble at home, and I didn't fit in anywhere. Home, school. It was a weird dynamic: "You're West Indian but you're in America, but you're not American, you're West Indian."

I just didn't fit in.

One day I saw Tyra (Banks) do an interview when she was younger where she expressed the same feelings, and I just gravitated towards her. She gave me something to aspire for instantly. So, I decided then and there that I was going to be a model.

And then, America's Next Top Model came along.

Much of it was a blur, in a good and bad way, of course. Keep in mind, this was a time before the Kardashians and before Instagram or most social media was even a thing. We worked hard, with no recognition for that hard work, and because of that, it's difficult for me to call ANTM a memory at all, simply because I didn't live in the moment. I just wanted to be a model, I wanted to be considered good enough. I was just happy to make it on the show to be honest. All I knew was I had a goal, and that goal was to win, simple as that. And honestly, with being so young (18), I don't even think I knew at that moment what that meant.

Even today, I'm asked about about ANTM: do I keep in contact with cast members or Tyra, or if I feel Tyra owes any of the girls apologies for how they were treated or any stereotypes that may have been perpetuated by the judges. Yes, I keep in contact with many of the ladies (Angelea, Isis, Laura, and Lisa, who will all be at my upcoming wedding) and, no, I don't feel Tyra owes anyone an apology. Were some moments insensitive? Possibly. But at the time, we were not where we are as a society today. We have evolved.

Why are we holding her accountable for something that was acceptable at the time? It's just now in our evolution in society that we're able to say, 'Hmmm, maybe you could have taken a different route about that.' I think it's unfair to hold people to a standard that was not even around.

The only time we should hold someone accountable, is if they don't evolve with society or with time. If another season of Top Model comes out, and the same happens, then we can have the conversation. Right? Right.

Ultimately, I’ve learned that everyone is experiencing life the best way they know how. Everyone is doing the best with what they have—including Tyra. I was deemed a bitch. I was called evil. Just, a lot of disgusting names. And to be honest, I was really hard on myself as well, like, I am being myself, why is everyone mad at me?

Towards the end of my career, I started feeling like modeling wasn't for me, my jobs started slowing down, I started missing my family. I went maybe a year without booking any modeling jobs. It was time to live out a new calling. I left my agency and moved back home, which was really hard for me. I felt like a failure.

I didn't know what I was going to do. I was 25 years old and I was retired. So, I did what all Black people do when you need answers: I talked to Jesus.

I started a ministry at my church for young girls and it really opened my eyes to a new life, a new purpose; it gave me purpose. And I loved it. I went back to school and entered education. Best decision I ever made.

My students know my background, they know I was on reality television. They just don't care. At the beginning of every school year, I introduce myself to my students and I think it's extremely important for me to do so; to stand in front of them and say, "I am a woman who is flawed, who comes from where you may come from, who makes a lot of mistakes." I tell them I was on the show and I was a hot mess and from here they typically Google me and return with questions or tell me I'm famous or something, but ultimately they're still kids. They still miss assignments, or roll their eyes when they're having a bad day or whatever the case may be. None of my previous career affects our relationship.

I love my students, I want them to question everything and not buy into everything society feeds them. Check on your teacher friends, though. We are drowning. We don't know where the state of education is going after what we've just experienced (pandemic remote learning), and it's taking its toll.

Ultimately, ladies, do I have any regrets? My immediate answer is 'no', I try to live as authentically as possible. But in reality, we all have them. Sometimes I wonder what could have happened had I taken modeling more seriously; I never worked out, I didn't care what I ate. I didn't really study my craft. I was just kind of tall and skinny and it worked in my favor.

Sometimes, I wonder, what if? What if I put that extra time in?

Fortunately, I can quickly cut that thought off and remind myself that everything happens for a reason and I wasn't supposed to be a supermodel, but it does cross my mind. In the end, I know I was only supposed to have those experiences so I could come back and pour into young kids who I teach. I want to leverage those moments and be remembered as someone who never gave up, instead. Someone who challenged the system and urged others to do the same.

The founder of Spiked Spin--her name is Bri--she has this saying: "Insult the standard." That's what I want my legacy to be. I want to be known as someone who did that. I want to be known as someone who encouraged others to do that.

Walk in purpose. Even if it isn’t pretty for everyone else.

xo,

Bianca

Bianca is currently in nuptial mode as she is marrying her partner of 13 years. She is an avid advocate for the culture and fulfilling her life's purpose, one student at a time. Follow her on Instagram @biancagolden to keep up with where her journey takes her next.

Feature image courtesy of Bianca Golden/Instagram

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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