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At Almost 30, I Risked It All For An Unpaid Internship - Here's Why

Workin' Girl

An almost 30-year-old, soon to be divorced mom of two, going on an unpaid internship would be laughable to most. And most of my peers did (and still do) laugh at me when I tell them about what I'm doing. I realized that what anyone else thought or deemed acceptable by society's standards did not concern me. It would only stand in the way of me walking confidently in my path. So I ignored the nagging voice telling me to "get real" and give up my dreams, like so many times before, and pushed ahead to pursue a social media internship for the Curly Girl Collective, more specifically, for CurlFest, the world's largest natural beauty festival!

I first heard about CurlFest in the summer of 2016. As a new natural hair blogger eagerly doing research, I found several photos that women were posting on the 'gram under the hashtag #CURLFEST. All I remember was seeing big curly hair and bold festival style outfits on gorgeous black women of all shades with a lush green backdrop that I later would discover was Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY. I was obsessed! I knew it was an event I wanted to attend, but I had no idea that two years later, I would be a part of it!

My original goal was to attend the festival in the summer of 2017, but life got in the way and I didn't even think to plan for it. Later in the year, life happened again but in a way that made me decide to take control and stop allowing life to keep happening to me and start allowing to happen for me. So when the Curly Girl Collective posted about needing social media interns, it felt like a no-brainer to put my name in the hat. I was not going to struggle or miss out on any more opportunities because of self-sabotage. I was going to bet on myself at every chance I got, and my first chance turned out to be a winner!

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When I found out I got selected to be an intern, I was elated, but then the financial reality set in. How the hell was I going to pay for this? Or justify taking a trip to NY when I was barely covering my bills each month? I would have to secure my plane ticket, housing, and anything else I would need in NY.

On the surface, it felt irrational. But I knew that I had to do it in order to push myself to the next level.

So, I coordinated things with a friend of mine who was also going to CurlFest and was able to get an amazing deal on a plane ticket. She also found an Airbnb for a reasonable price. I knew things would be tight, but I was going to make it! At this point on my journey to CurlFest, I was confident and felt unshakable. I was determined to suppress that little nagging voice in my head telling me all the reasons why this was not going to work out, and I kept pushing ahead towards Brooklyn.

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My entire CurlFest experience was a blur of excitement, stress, and lots and lots of walking. Our social media team jumped in and helped volunteers with preparing goodie bags and excitedly reflected on how our hard work was paying off! Our campaigns were creating buzz and one of the girls (shoutout to Amber) cracked the infamous IG algorithm, which played a huge part in us hitting goals we had to grow the social media presence of the Curly Girl Collective over the weekend.

The biggest hurdles I had to overcome in my time working with the CGC were self-doubt and a serious case of Impostor Syndrome. I've always questioned my abilities, despite countless examples of why I should not. As I've forced myself to reflect on this during meditation and writing, I realized that it wasn't so much that I am afraid of my abilities, but I am afraid of winning. I am afraid of walking in my greatness because it's so much easier to be small.

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I remember hanging out with a girlfriend and repeating how much I could not believe that I was selected to work for the CGC. She laughed the first time, but the next time I said it, she called me out. She told me to quit questioning the opportunity that I was given and focus on showing and proving that they made the right choice. In that moment, it was clear that I was the only thing preventing me from moving to the next level in my career, regardless of the industry.

From then on, I did self-checks every time I gushed about how much I could not believe that I had gotten an opportunity. I appreciated the fact that I worked hard for the opportunities that I landed, they were not handouts. When I did this, my ideas began to flow more freely. I submitted work to the rest of the team and the CGC founder we primarily correspond with, and consistently got positive feedback.

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I made the decision to embrace my gifts and blessings instead of questioning them and everything blossomed from there.

For years, I allowed negative self-talk and fear of failure to hold me back; so much so that self-doubt almost stopped me from pursuing the opportunity to work with CGC. This time though, I forced myself to focus on positive self-talk and anticipating success! It was scary, but I finally decided that I was going to start taking more chances on me. Period. I never saw myself actually making a living as a content creator, but now I do. Since returning from CurlFest, I have been sending out pitches, doing photoshoots, asking for help when I need it so that I can focus on my work, etc.

I finally started taking myself and my dreams seriously and in turn, I see God blessing my efforts. My road to Curlfest served as a catalyst to me walking in God's purpose for my life. It helped me to learn to trust myself, my decision-making process, and to quit doubting my gifts.

Most importantly, I finally gave myself permission to affirm my dopeness while still showing gratitude to the source.

After spending the last 28 years operating from a space of timidity, my decision to go to NY for the Curly Girl Collective/CurlFest internship was a bold move that provided the exact confidence boost I needed.

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I'm starting my life over as a single mother of two, pursuing a creative career, and killing it! Naysayers had me convinced that I couldn't hold things down on my own and that my dreams would have to be put on hold. But I know that motherhood gave me a reason to go harder for my dreams, not an excuse to forget them. CurlFest confirmed that for me and I was both humbled and emboldened by the experience.

Featured image by Shutterstock

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
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