“Why doesn’t your hair flow in the wind like mine?”
“Why are your legs so big?”
These questions posed by curious first graders had a significant impact on me in school. As the only girl of color
in my class, I always felt I did not belong at a private Catholic School. While it prepared me academically, my school fell short in nurturing me emotionally and culturally. I questioned myself repeatedly if I had the talents and the attributes of my peers.
The questions that plagued me in elementary school followed me to high school as I sought acceptance and tried to establish my identity. I found myself in a paradoxical environment. When I was not being questioned about my complexion, I was being complimented on my contagious laugh and outgoing personality. Although it was affirming, I always went home to the mirror in search of ways to look more like my peers. I used flat irons to straighten my hair and plastered my face with makeup. The heat from flat irons damaged my hair and my skin became irritated with
visible patches. I came to the realization that altering my appearance to conform to my environment steered me farther away from the person I was trying to become.
I had an epiphany during the summer of 2014 that helped me realize that I was beautiful and wonderfully made. I volunteered at a soccer camp co- founded by my father on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. As the only female coach and player on the field, I received many stares and pointed fingers. When I asked a fellow coach why the boys were staring, he replied, it was rare for them to see a talented young girl on the soccer field. Usually they were home performing activities reserved for the females in their society. He shared that the community had the island’s highest high school drop- out and teen pregnancy rates. I was shocked. At that moment I knew I had to be a role model to the young girls and show them that they too could play soccer and it was not just a man’s sport. By the end of the camp, five preteen girls joined me on the field and the numbers doubled the following year. Through the platform of sports, I began changing their perspectives on traditional customs and accepted cultural norms. My next goal was teaching them to know and appreciate their self-worth.
I created Girl Talk sessions to provide a forum for the girls to talk freely and express themselves. In those sessions, I led talks about setting goals, self-confidence, and self-love. My plan was to help them change their lives, but they changed mine. During one particular session this past summer, I asked the girls to write down five things about themselves. One little girl said she was ugly. My heart stopped. “Oh honey!” I said grasping her hands, “You are so beautiful! Don’t you ever call yourself ugly and do not let anyone label you as ugly.” My eyes filled with tears, as I saw my own reflection in her eyes. I realized in that moment that beauty is what you self-define and self-accept, and it is most radiant when you selflessly serve.
My paradise is a small island in the middle of the Caribbean Ocean that is unknown to much of the world. From the black coastal sand to the peak of the volcano, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is where I found freedom, happiness, and love for myself. By helping others I was able to help myself and answer the questions that have followed me throughout my life
“Who am I?”
“Why am I different?”
My name is Lauryn Ademorenike Taiwo.
Gifted athlete. Focused student. Servant leader. Beautiful inside and out.