Winning Essay by Aletea D. from Florida attends Florida A&M University
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While there are a multitude of African Americans that have inspired me, there is one I want to talk about in particular, and her name is Antionette Henry. I met her about 11 years ago at my church, where she quickly became my mentor and a major part of my life. She inspired me to truly love myself and help young girls learn to do the same.

It was always easy for other people to try to encourage me to love my skin, but they weren’t the butt end of the Black jokes. Growing up, I felt as though I could only be pretty if I had lighter skin, or if I could magically turn white. Although my mother constantly encouraged me, she was several shades lighter than me, which made it extremely difficult for me to accept her advice. She, just like everyone else, could not truly relate because they had lighter skin and had no idea of what it felt like to always be the darkest, or the only dark-skinned person, in the room. Everything changed when I met Antionette.

The moment I saw her, my heart leapt for joy. There was someone darker than me, and she was stunning- I had to talk to her. However, my excitement quickly turned into fear as I started to approach her. I thought to myself, “What if SHE hates my skin too?” Before I could turn around and leave… she spoke. “Hey, my chocolate sister. How are you?” That simple sentence was the catalyst to my journey of self-love.

Over the years Antionette took me under her wing. She answered every question I had. Whether it was about racism, bullying, love, sex, or just life in general, she freely explained and answered every question. Surprisingly, the most amazing part of conversing with her was not her openness to all subjects, it was the fact that she promised to always be honest with me. Unlike most adults, she did not sugarcoat what she said and filled me with raw wisdom and insight. Not only did she share her experiences, but she also shared how she felt before and after she learned to love herself. I finally had someone who had dark skin like I did and shared my awful experiences of being teased for being “too dark”. She gave me hope that one day, I too, could be called beautiful by others and find someone who loved me and my chocolate skin.

I know I would not be as confident as I am today without Antionette Henry being a part of my life. She showed me what it looked like to love yourself/skin and taught me practical ways to love myself and build my confidence. The older I get, I realize how important it is to build young girls’ confidence and teach them how to love themselves, especially girls of darker complexions. I now get to be the inspiration to other girls that Antionette was, and still is, to me.

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