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By: Lynette A. Shaw

I have always heard people discuss the different things they have learned throughout the course of their twenties. Some of these lessons entailed the ins and outs of navigating relationships, career goals, or an existential crisis. However, my twenties have revealed something much more unexpected. In high school, the people around me are what "typical" American teenagers looked like, or older. However, when I was out in public, I was repeatedly mistaken for a middle schooler, or younger. I thought changing how I dressed or acted would make a difference, but it didn't. I thought graduating from high school would make a difference. It didn't. I remember once hanging out with a friend of mine shortly after graduation, and I was mistaken for her daughter. I was older than she was. When I told people I was moving to another state to attend school, people would give my parents very concerned looks and ask them if they would allow this to happen, and why. However this same concern was not expressed similarly to my peers.

I thought graduating from college and living on my own would make a difference in the way people viewed me not only physically, but maturity-wise. But I'm still "carded", still stared at, still judged. I honestly would not care if I did not face the social and political ramifications of these events. But now that I am in a master's program, I have found myself in an incredibly terrifying position to be in. Soon, I will begin competing against others to secure internship sites where I can practice clinical counseling, and I have realized that my race and gender are not the only two strikes I have against me. How am I supposed to be taken seriously in comparison to others when the employees at establishments stare at my ID in disbelief? Others have tried to cheer me up by saying this is a "compliment". I also used to view it that way before I realized the opportunities I have been denied and the credibility that had been snatched from me throughout my life. Seeing the difference in the way my peers and I are respected is astonishing; it doesn't feel like a "compliment" at all. For a long time, I had let the comments and the microaggressions roll down my back but little did I know it was all building up to one explosion of frustration and fear.

When I expressed frustration about these things while growing up, I was told that this was a gift and that I should not be in a rush to grow up too fast. And though I agreed, I now feel as though I am between a rock and a hard place. I wish people could understand how people talk down to me in a condescending tone or the way that my other identities already give people the agency to not take me seriously. In fact, I recently realized that much of the behavior I portray is overcompensation for this.

In the midst of all this, I would also like to call attention to the way that we regard aging in Western culture. Heaven-forbid someone has "crow's feet" or smile lines, or signs of aging. The disgust and fear we show towards aging and the elderly is utterly disturbing. The standards of beauty or "coolness" are just always out of reach...just a $49.99 container of under-eye cream away...

No amount of degrees under my belt or the length of my CV is going to convince someone I'm not 15. However, carrying around the resentment of this experience is not helpful either. I am grateful to have explored this, but I still feel fearful for the future. I still worry about the way I am received. However, I would never let that prevent me from offering all that I have to share with the world.

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By: Lynette A. Shaw

As a Black woman growing up with Generation Z, the expectations to perform well and represent my ethnicity are boundless. However, as a recent college graduate (Bachelor's in Psychology), and incoming graduate student, I am beginning to realize that much of the pressure I feel to perform well is often coming from within. I graduated from undergrad in three years, with my final semester consisting of 23 credit hours (7 classes). It was strongly advised that this may be an unwise decision, and I was elated when I received an email from the Dean cautiously signing off on my maximum course overload. At the time, I was working two jobs and maintaining two internships. At times, I began to wonder why I was so married to the idea of graduating early. When people asked me "why", I retorted, "why not?". It had been a serious ambition of mine since high school. Part of me believes this is because I like a challenge. It had nothing to do with pleasing my parents or proving myself. It was something I knew I could do, so I did it. I graduated Magna Cum Laude in May of 2022.

As I reflect on this past summer, I can genuinely say I relaxed and practiced serious self-care. I can't tell you what happened the first two weeks after graduation, because I was sleeping. I had to teach myself that it was okay to recuperate and rejuvenate before graduate school. With graduate school on the horizon in a few weeks, it dawned on me that success is no good if you are not practicing self-preservation and care. I used this summer for reflection and good old-fashioned fun! On the one hand, I could let the approaching of graduate school trigger my anxieties and fears, or I could appreciate the calm before the storm and bask in the last few moments of summer. I am excited to see what graduate school has in store for me, as I am one step closer to my dream. Going into the field of counseling psychology has provided me with a lot of time for self-reflection, and has caused me to ponder the phrase, "you can't pour from an empty cup" which was once said by a social worker by the name of Joseph Fleming. I think this phrase serves as an appropriate mantra for women of color when we experience fatigue, exhaustion, stress, and frustration. I believe it is incredibly important to remember this as we enter the new academic year.

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Updated: Feb 14, 2022

By: Lynette A. Shaw

The times in which we are currently living in, that are infested with systemic racism, the effects of the Pandemic, as well the danger of mental burnout, have provided us with an opportunity for serious introspection. In the past, I thought of certain art forms such as poetry, as a hobby, however this is no longer the case for me. Poetry has developed into a defense mechanism to combat what I face on a daily basis. Poetry protects me. It gives me answers.

Setting aside time to write poetry is an act of self-love. It validates who I am a person by giving me a voice, and a space to use it.

I am currently reading, "Call Us What We Carry" by Amanda Gorman, and this concept is demonstrated repeatedly. The way in which the author illustrates human empathy, tribulations, and challenges we have all faced recently, allows for a space of human healing.

By that same token, poetry provides us with the opportunity to connect with others as well. There's no greater feeling than listening to a poem that resonates with you. Or better yet, hearing a fresh poem someone is sharing with you for the first time. Being a college student who has attended many open mics, I have been blessed to see the way in which words can move others from across the room. People are only one poem away from getting to know someone better--their past, their passions, their pitfalls.

In a world where I am constantly restricted by rules, my words are heavily monitored, and my voice is heavily regulated, poetry provides me with a space where there are no rules. Recently, my poetic journey has led me to believe that poetry does not have to be confined to the page. Breathing is poetry. Eating is poetry. Pictures are poetry. Tears are poetry. And that single sock under your bed, yes, that is poetry too. I have been experimenting with the idea of poetry being a multimedia experience (photography, voices, painting). And with said realization, I have grown immensely from it. I recently read "Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb Capitalism" by Tina Maria Dunkley, and I was moved by not only the thousands of metaphors throughout the poem, but the illustration that accompanied it. Poetry allows me to practice self-love not only because it validates my voice, but because it shows me that my voice carries power. This is emphasized by some of my favorite poets such as Nikki Giovanni, whose voice made waves as she navigated the Black Arts Movement as a Black woman. Her poetry does not conform to the conventional poetry we are often made to study in school; however, it speaks her truth unapologetically...and I was immediately drawn to this.

A lesson I have been learning recently is that giving yourself space to just be, is art. It is love. This may mean I start writing in a stream of consciousness style, no expectations. No right or wrong. It might mean I watch my favorite film. It might mean watching the sunset.

My life is art. Being Black is art. Our coexistence is art.

Here is a poem I wrote and performed recently:

In the darkest hour of the fight,

the bleakest minute of the night,

our eyes collide

in shared solidarity

of our


Caught between seeking,

and what's sought,

and claiming what

your ancestors fought



making plates

at the cookout,

with uncles on

the lookout


and expecting mothers

collecting wisdom

from our grandmothers

who brought generations


sit before them,

It's waking up to Anita Baker

and the smell of Pine Sol

on a Saturday morning,

and doing the dishes--

it's birthday wishes

made to the

Stevie Wonder version

of "Happy Birthday"


sung to you.

It's watching your cousins

who clung to you

as babies,

grow and find their way.

It's dancing the electric slide

to Cameo,

and getting your hair braided

on the back porch

in the summer.

It's the twinkle in my brown eyes,

and the way they easily disguise the

way society

has inflicted


upon me.

To bring an end,

to the eternal reign

of hatred

that beats upon my

Black skin.

It's knowing where to begin.

It's knowing what's within.

Author with Nikki Giovanni (2006)

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