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  • Chelsea Bolden

Lessons from Louisiana

So rich in culture and heritage, I'm a proud native of New Orleans, La. Yet, it was also where I was often reminded that I was annoyingly educated and a well-spoken black (or not-black-enough) girl. Simultaneously ridiculed and celebrated, the sum of my experience growing up as a young black girl in the south in the 80s was one big oxymoron.

We were the second black family, in an otherwise all white neighborhood. The other (mostly Caucasian) kids were allowed to get messy, we were not. The other kids could be loud, we could not. I grew up with this “above standard” way of living, which set the tone for me to consistently live a life of “performance” and perfection. As a result, my younger adult-self ended up battling performance anxiety as well as PTSD. These disorders have also, oh so graciously, been accompanied by episodes of depression and mania. I am still in recovery to this day.

Now at 30 years old, I wish I had taken the appropriate steps much sooner to begin my journey in recovery. My childhood was not entirely the fault of acts/words by a collectively different group of people with different skin. I also was often (more so) in angst with many kids that DID look like me, but still disliked me for growing up in a newly middle class area that was just developing in the Suburbs, gorgeously painted with the most various skin tones of brown & black people nearby for years.

There were even times when I heard the recordings of my grandmother, Tamiya Lynn, a well-known New Orleans Jazz artist sounding from the windows of those with fairer skin as I played around my neighborhood. We would go to festivals and local cultural events that highlighted those of the past and present, regardless of skin color, who enriched the culture of New Orleans like no others could. Some of the best teachers, coaches and mentors I have had in my life from my childhood looked nothing like me - but their hearts did; pure, golden and seared in genuine love. That fact, I could never deny, regardless of any amount of hurt or trauma I have experienced.

Did you know it was taboo for Creole people to marry and have children with people who's skin was darker than the color of a brown paper bag. Despite many awards and straight As, I learned to look at myself, to nitpick, critique and criticize myself. I wasn’t taught by my society and community, both white and black, that good wasn’t great enough because of my skin. This is something we don’t discuss, but this has been my experience.

I will continue to fight in recovery, love to live with myself, and embrace my differences. Kinky hair and all. I am currently on my journey of rebirth, that guess what, I have learned isn’t a rebirth, but more so an undoing. An undoing of believing I’ve been anything less than who God has called and chosen me to be, and that is Chelsea. There’s a great quote many of us have heard “If you want to change the world, start at home.” I encourage us all to grasp and hang on to this idea wholeheartedly and entirely.

Chelsea Bolden resides in Reston, VA. Originally from New Orleans, La, Chelsea relocated to the Washington DC Metro area in 2005 as a result of being displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Now, Chelsea enjoys serving her community in various roles of servant leadership, while also working full-time as a realtor in the DC Metro area. Her passions range from self-help work, travel & living an active lifestyle to volunteering, speaking publicly sharing her story with others and continuing to support the local church in the DC Metro area.


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