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How Black Girl Magic Helped Me Dream Again

by Melissa Etienne

Growing up, I was afraid of everything. And to this day, there are still fears that permeate my skin like needles with ink. The fear of driving on the highway, the fear of moving out of state, the fear of failing are all still there. As I look back on the exhausting 27 years of my life, I am thoroughly disappointed in myself. I have allowed all my fears to rule over me, and I have become someone I don’t believe I was meant to be.

The summer after my first year of college, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was 19, ready to take on the world and see all that there was to offer. I decided that I was going to be a music journalist. It was perfect! A few days after this revelation, I went to the community college I had attended the year prior and changed my major from Liberal Arts to Journalism/Communication Studies. I went on to write for the school paper, and later I interned and freelanced for a local newspaper.

Four years later, during my last semester in college, I read Sex and the City for the first time, and it was something special. I knew for a long time that I wanted to be a writer, but Candace Bushnell inspired me to tell my story. The idea of taking my experiences, as well as the stories of my peers, and narrating them in a humorous way had never crossed my mind until then. I have always had a fear of speaking my truth, and this style of writing would allow me to tell personal stories that would be relatable, embarrassing, and empowering. It was my form of expression. I spent hours crafting stories of all kinds. I had my life planned out in my head, yet again. First, I would start a blog or a column (like Candace), which would of course be a hit, which would eventually lead to a book deal, which would later turn into a television series. I would move to NYC and have my face on the side of a bus like Carrie.

That was five years ago.

After I graduated from college, I knew I needed a steady job. Freelancing can only do so much for your bills, and I started working two jobs to get by. My dream of being the black Candace Bushnell was put on the back burner. I thought about it every once in a while, but what are the odds of this ever really happening? would come to mind, and I would quickly shut that thought down. I had to be practical.

I spent the past three years not writing a single story. When I got my first full-time corporate job, I praised Jesus twice. This is perfect, I thought. Now I will be able to save up and get my own apartment, I can go to the doctor’s (I hadn’t had insurance in years), and I can move up in the company. After my first few months on the job, I realized that this was not where I was supposed to be. It was everything I didn’t want. How did I end up here?

Slowly, my dream crept back into my life like a bad man, and it was all thanks to amazing black women being incredibly successful. During my time away from writing, I worked with young girls, and there were a handful of little black girls that loved me. I loved being there for them; they were growing up in an all-white town where there is no representation, and I realized that I could be that for them. However, I never realized what Black Girl Magic could do for me. In all my 27 years of living, I forgot that I needed to visualize that representation, too. I didn’t realize how powerful seeing women who look like me would be to me. Seeing women like Issa Rae, who like myself grew up in a white town; or Yvonne Orji, who grew up in a multi-cultural household; or women like Lena Waithe, who are so comfortable being different has re-inspired me. I always thought I would be the black Candace Bushnell, but why be the black version of anything when I can just be Melissa Etienne? A black woman who tells her story, which can relate to multiple women, and who looks up to women of all backgrounds.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am still scared. I have already pitched a few stories that have been rejected. I got the very polite thank you but no thank you, and my first thought was to quit. I was honestly pretty hurt and confused. Why am I so compelled to do something that I’m not good at? And then the images of all these great black women made me think twice. A few days after the rejection, I decided to sign up for a writing course. If I want my face on the side of a NYC bus one day, I need to get to work.

top photo: Insecure (HBO) 

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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