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The Weight Of Being The 'First' In Your Family To Break Generational Curses
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The Weight Of Being The 'First' In Your Family To Break Generational Curses

The journey to success for a lot of Black women oftentimes looks like breaking generational curses. Curses like poverty, a lack of resources, and a lack of opportunities to get out of the vicious cycle. This experience usually starts during our adolescence by way of elder family members telling us to keep books before boys and to stay focused on school. While the idea itself is digestible, it can sometimes result in Black women experiencing a disconnect within their own families.


I was a first-generation college graduate and my family was extremely proud of me and still is. But keeping my head in the books meant that my achievements didn’t stop there. I went on to accomplish a couple of other “firsts” like getting my master's, working in television, and traveling the world. Coming from nothing and being able to accomplish what I have so far, was a lot to adjust to for both my family and myself. I never took into account that I would have to change certain aspects of myself, in order to accomplish what I have.

I also didn’t consider how my accomplishments would affect the relationship I had with my family.

One thing about your family, they know how to humble you more than anybody. I attended college in Atlanta but was born and raised in Chicago. As a young adult, I slowly stopped living in survival mode and began to discover myself, including my likes and dislikes. South African artist and sociologist Khanyisile Mbongwa spoke on this perfectly during a Ted Talk. She talks about how getting out of the bondage of survival mode is another form of breaking generational curses. As for me, I developed a routine for how I take care of myself, my eating preferences changed, my wardrobe changed, etc.

On this journey, a lot about me changed. However, in the early days when I would come home to visit, it seemed that the person I had grown into, wasn’t welcome. I was instead, thrown back into my childhood routine; doing what I was told, eating what was provided, and not complaining about any of it. It became an issue of respect for me. I wasn’t a child anymore. I was a grown woman with grown thoughts, routines, and preferences. It left me feeling like a bougie outsider.

To me, I felt like I was being treated as the child I once was, instead of the woman I had become.

"I wasn’t a child anymore. I was a grown woman with grown thoughts, routines, and preferences. It left me feeling like a bougie outsider. To me, I felt like I was being treated as the child I once was, instead of the woman I had become."

Subsequently, I became anxious about not trying to do too much or say too much around my family because I didn’t want to come off as a know-it-all. Which led to me coming around less and less. For a number of years, I was angry and confused that the same people who told me to keep my head in the books were now criticizing me because I did just that. I did exactly what they told me to do and my life changed as a result of it. So why was I being picked on? Or at least, that’s what it felt like.

One thing successful people often talk about regarding their journey is that you sometimes have to “unlearn” certain aspects of yourself because the old you can’t go where the new you is taking you. Will Smith spoke on this in his autobiography Will. In talking about the early days of filming The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will says an executive got in his face one day and started yelling at him about a script change. Will and his friend immediately jumped into their old Philly ways and almost went toe to toe with the executive.

Benny Medina (esteemed manager and talent agent at the time) later explained to Will that the star overreacted. Benny clarified that the executive’s behavior is actually common in the industry and should’ve been handled with care. Will was really upset with himself afterward and realized then that he had to unlearn certain elements of himself that no longer served him, or he would miss out on some great opportunities. His initial reaction to defend himself served Will, back then, but that old Will was hurting the “new” Will’s career so he had to do some unlearning.

It is not easy breaking generational curses, especially when some of that battle is coming from those you love the most. However, I am here to tell you, Black women, there are ways to remedy this. Maybe your experience hasn’t been like mine. Maybe it was worse or maybe you’re in the thick of it right now. Being the first to accomplish anything means you don’t have a blueprint for how it's done and that you’re figuring it out along the way. My experience has taught me a few things that I think can be helpful to you and your journey.

"It is not easy breaking generational curses, especially when some of that battle is coming from those you love the most. However, I am here to tell you, Black women, there are ways to remedy this."

Black women know we carry enough burdens. However, it is important to learn to not only give yourself grace but to give that same grace to your family. Them experiencing this new version of you is new for them as well. Give them space to get it right and to get it wrong. It’s also important that you check in with your family as often as you can. Chasing the bag does sometimes mean you don’t have a lot of free time on your hands. But if it’s nothing, but a simple text, 5-minute call, or a quick email to let them know that you’re thinking about them, then do it. Don’t let months or years go by before checking in with your family. Find ways to “include” them in your journey. Please seek therapy. Therapy is an additional form of emotional and mental support that is so necessary for your journey to breaking generational curses.

Lastly, check your blind spots. Be sure you’re treating your family with love and respect as well. Your dreams, goals, and desires are all your own. That doesn’t mean that others share the same thoughts as you so it is important that you respect that as well. Don’t try to force-feed people information that worked for “you.” Be respectful of everyone’s journey.

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Feature image by Jasmin Merdan/ Getty Images

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