GRACIA BARETI, 17
Gracia Bareti is a first generation American from parents of a Congolese and Rwandan background, and was born and raised in Westbrook, Maine. Though she comes from a small town in a state known for its lack of diversity, Bareti uses her voice to speak up about social change. Her story, “Four Ways of Viewing a Black Girl,” was published in Atomic Tangerine, the anthology for the Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center of which she is a former student. In the piece, Bareti describes four different events in her life that show a snapshot of her experience as a black girl in the state of Maine.
In her freshman year, Bareti was nominated to be apart of former Maine Senator Olympia Snowe's Women's Leadership Institute, a selective leadership program for teen girls in the state of Maine. Bareti petitioned and formed a Model United Nations club at her high school. In the summer of 2018, she studied abroad with Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), a nonprofit organization promoting international education and exchange, in Mohammedia Morocco. Gracia participated in CIEE’s youth mentorship and raising social awareness programs. She is an alum from the Seeds of Peace Program and is now an ambassador for the Telling Room.
Bareti plans to apply to Howard University, Smith College, and Bryn Mawr College in the fall of 2019, and intends to pursue a major in Political Science or International Relations.
Four Ways of Viewing a Black Girl
An excerpt from Four Ways of Viewing a Black Girl
by Gracia Bareti
“Mama, it hurts!” I say as she’s wrapping the black thread around a section of my hair: crisscross applesauce, meatball in the middle. I’m sitting between her legs losing any and all feeling in my butt as it begins to numb from sitting so long. Yet this is my Sunday norm, with one braid hanging directly in front of my right eye.
When I show up to school the next day, the confidence I originally had goes down the drain. I am surrounded in a classroom filled with white girls the same age as me, same grade as me, and playing the same games as me, yet have different hair. They speak among themselves about their hair being wet from their morning showers, leaving me in awe. How do their mothers have time to wash their hair before school? Or do they wash it themselves? In that moment I longed to have their beautiful straight hair…
So when Mama and I wake up early in the mornings every Saturday and head to the beauty salon, excitement fills my body knowing that I’ll be able to get my hair texturized and straightened. Finally, I’ll fit in with my classmates. But Monday morning when I walk to school with my straightened hair and huge smile, I still feel some type of separation from them. And I continue with this process of texturizing my hair in hopes of not feeling like this anymore. Then one day I see these girls on Instagram who look like me, have skin like me, with these flourishing curls. I continue looking and there are all different textures and colors and it sparks a yearning to want to feel and look as confident in myself and in my hair as these girls seemed to be. I end up getting my long chemically straightened hair chopped off. I remember the feeling I had in eighth grade when I cut my hair and how self-conscious I was, wondering if my hair would end up growing back.
I am a junior now and happy to admit that going through my entire hair journey, as crazy as it may seem, has played a factor in molding me into who I am. I’m the girl who doesn’t have straight hair, but rather coarse curls. Strands of hair are intertwined with each other like dancers and the strands bounce just like my heart did when I first really looked at myself and became scared. I was afraid because the person staring back at me was exactly who I wanted to be.