My friends mean a lot to me. This is a loaded statement because those who know me know I’m a pretty private person. I have a theory about how that came to be.
Growing up, I had exactly one friend in elementary school - and that lasted until second grade. I know, in second grade, you’re all of seven years old. But that was the extent of my friendships in elementary school. My “friend” turned on me to join in with the bullies because it was cool. I hadn’t done anything to her - I had just somehow become “uncool.” After that, I was the target of bullying for the remainder of my elementary and middle school years. I spent most days either crying after school or pretending I was sick every morning so that I could stay home. It sounds bleak, but I promise, I have discovered several bright sides to this. I read - a lot. I focused on school and earned straight A’s. I developed a keen sense of perception. I learned how to enjoy my own company. My parents got me a dog!
Things got better in about eleventh grade when I changed schools. It was the first time I went to a predominately Black school. Did that coincide with me finally having a few friends? Maybe. I do think it partly had to do with me feeling more in a comfort zone around people who looked like me; granted, some of the bullies of my youth looked like me too. It certainly prepared me for my college experience and undoubtedly influenced my decision to attend an HBCU, and I’m so thankful that I did.
Stepping on campus was like being welcomed into a new family. When I got to college, I finally came out of this shell I’d developed. My shell was my protection; it had been my covering for over ten years, and I was hesitant. In fact, I was scared. But, I began to meet some amazing people almost from day one of class.
I had learned to play the flute in 5th grade and still played through high school. In one of my first-semester college classes, someone convinced me to join the marching band. This was literally a life-changing experience. In the band environment, friendships seemed to come naturally for me. My time not having friends growing up made me skeptical of people and their motives, but it gave me a sharpened sense of observation and of rooting out character.
In those first few months of college, I developed friendships with people that I’m still close with today. While I was selective of who I let into my inner circle, those I did, became really solid. A couple of years later, I joined a sorority - something I thought I would never do. But, the instant connection I felt with these ladies, even before joining, drew me in. And, I’ve since made some of my closest friendships and relationships through the sorority. I have made other friendships as I’ve grown - at work, through other people, online - each of them valuable and meaningful. I haven’t sought out any friendships; they’ve blossomed on their own, and the quality of the ones I have is rich. Over the years, I’ve learned how to employ trust in my friendships.
Trust is an interesting concept. I say concept because, for some people, it doesn’t feel tangible. Based on your experiences, you may be less likely to trust others. And that’s completely understandable. I’ve felt that. I’ve lived that. I still have doubts about people. I still have to feel folks out before I let down my guard. But as I said earlier, what I experienced as a kid really shaped my perspectives and how I trust. I think when I decide to trust someone with friendship now, it’s a seasoned trust; it’s reciprocated, and it feels good.
As Black women, we are often portrayed as catty, combative, and tearing each other down. This narrative needs to change. Of course, we have our moments, but they are in the minority. When people see these layered relationships that Black women have with each other, they focus on the negative layer. We aren’t given the benefit of the doubt. What they don’t see are all the years of trauma that lead to those interactions. We’ve had to band together in the worst circumstances. We celebrate each other. Black women have a lot of love to give. We are fiercely loyal. We are immensely smart and resourceful. We are resilient and creative. The friendships we develop often become sisterhoods.
I’ve created some amazing friendships with a cadre of women. The love I have for them runs deep and was nurtured out of a need to sustain one another. If I call someone friend, I mean it. If I call them sister, I don’t say it lightly. I’m grateful for the lessons I learned when I was young. They helped me discover what it means to find a real friend, a sister. They cultivated my gratefulness for the friendships I have today.
Tonya Childers is the Senior Editor of BSW Chronicles. Tonya holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Bowie State University and a Master of Science in Management from the University of Maryland University College. She is a native of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area where she lives with her husband. She enjoys reading, creative writing, decorating, and crafting in her spare time.