© Leighann Blackwood
YOU CAN'T BE WHAT YOU CAN'T SEE.
30th January 2021.
Words by Anne-Claire Ahouangonou. Photography by Leighann Blackwood.
You can’t be what you can’t see.
- A hackneyed sentence. But is it really?
I have been very vocal about Amanda Gorman, my new girl crush. When I saw her on the podium at Inauguration Day I was in awe - so young, so talented, so stylish with her red headband, yellow jacket all Prada, so brave and confident, not stumbling on the words. A young 22-year-old Black woman.
It mattered a lot to me. I felt immensely proud.
Amanda Gorman always says:
“I am the daughter of Black writers who are descended from freedom fighters, who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me. »
Growing up she was surrounded by writers, who nurtured her gift and she became this soulful and thoughtful poet.
A few days later, I saw Gymnast Nia Dennis performed her flawless floor routine with some hip hop moves and music. And I was ecstatic and yet, melancholic at the same time. Hear me out.
Ecstatic - imagine the sheer confidence that you need to craft such a effortless-looking routine. Double it up because it needs even more confidence to do this routine on a hip hop music with some pure hip hop moves. Triple it - it needs everything to pull it up being one of the few black women in gymnastics.
I used to be a gymnast, nothing compared to UCLA gymnast Dennis but enough to do France championships and trained 3 hours a day every day, after school & weekends for 5 years from 12 to 17. I loved the floor as well. You could dance and you could backflip. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Working out so much during puberty has really made me strong and boys at school were picking up on me calling me 'a removal man' because I was as muscly as the men helping move houses. They also called me ‘Fifa’, like in the Playstation game, because my bottom was so muscular that it was square like the players in the game. It gave me bodydismorphia up until recently. I was afraid to show my shoulders or to wear certain types of clothes afraid to be mocked, laughed at, ridiculed even until recently (recently, understand 3 years ago).
I remember looking at my body in the mirror growing up and I felt horrible - too muscly, too strong, too manly.
Melancholic - On Monday, I flew back almost 20 years ago, some insecurities never fully leave you. I looked at Nia Dennis' body, the same type of shape I had when I was her age and, what I saw was a beautiful body - healthy, rising, blooming. I wish I could have shown myself at her age the same kindness and appreciation as I was showing her today. Looking at her features, I only saw beauty, light and confidence. Fire.
You cannot be what you can’t see.
I wrote to my sister telling her 'I wished I saw a Nia Dennis in the TV growing up.' I wished that growing up I was able to see more little girls looking me, little girls looking like me doing gymnastics. I might not have felt so alone, would have definitely have felt more understood and more appreciative of my own differences; I might even have simply accepted them and maybe celebrated them, with the sheer belief that all bodies are different.
Representation matters, especially growing up, especially to children.
Sometimes, I am asking myself, why am I doing this project? Why I keep working on this project?
And then, I remember.
Firstly, generational healing will help tomorrow’s generations. Secondly, because I wish that growing up I saw more young women looking like me - excelling at theirs arts whether it is gymnastics, poetry or anything else for that matter - knowing that I, too, will be OK. Therefore, if by doing this project, some children could grow up feeling more at peace and not like the odd one out, then it will be my biggest pride.
Amanda Gorman said:
'There is always light
If only we are brave enough to see it
If only we are brave enough to be it.'
You cannot be what you can’t see and, even more so, Light.
So, let’s lit a fire so big that all the Black Children could see it and could feel its warmth and its light,
so, that all of them could be brave enough to step into it and be the Light.
Leighann Blackwood is a California native, creative and multifaceted soul. She is a 'superhero' as she describes herself on her website - she is a social worker hoping to fulfill a career as an actor of social change. She graduated for the University of Georgia and hold a Masters in Social Work.