Maddie Conley, Online Editor

First-year student Symone James took the stage during the International Gala to perform her original spoken word poem, “Cocoa Brown Skin.” The poem tells James’ story of learning to love and embrace her blackness despite adversity and white supremacy.

“For me, my actions do not speak louder than words because it is hard for me to express how I feel through my actions,” James said. “Writing helps me to do that– express myself.”

James remembers the week of the gala being unsure if she should go through with her performance. “Throughout the week, God confirmed,” James said. “Even backstage, I knew that God wanted me to share my struggle. The response I received really empowered me to continue writing and using the gift God has given me.”

Watch James’ performance and read “Cocoa Brown Skin” below.

I detested my cocoa brown skin
For I was taught that blackness meant dirty And if blackness meant dirty
Then I was unclean
And If I was unclean
Then I was unworthy

In the sight of man
My blackness stained their eyes
And shunned them from my God-given beauty

My blackness received dirty glares and racial slurs Because to them, I was undeserving

I detested my cocoa brown skin
Because All I ever wanted to do was fit in
But because of my precious blackness, my sun kissed skin, and my sweet melanin, I was casted out and deemed unfitting

I detested my cocoa brown skin Because the lighter, the better, pale, white, light glowing

In my ignorant mind, beautiful was equated with white White. Bright. Beautiful. Gorgeous.

I detested my cocoa brown skin

Along with the roots of my heritage The nappy
The tangly
Big

The fro
Kinky curly

My roots, unmanageable, frustrating, too much work
And only to be shamed by our strict standard straight-haired society Shamed for my hair
So I pressed and heated it to fit in
Straight not nappy
Straight not kinky curly
Which meant
Straight. White. Bright. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Bright.
And in the end, I damaged my roots, my heritage and
Suppressing my precious blackness
Suppressing my cocoa brown skin
My cocoa brown skin that I hated

I detested my cocoa brown skin
Because of the stereotype
Loud, crazy and most importantly angry
And that
That drove my madness and anguish
because of the language put over my life because
of my precious blackness, my sun-kissed skin and my sweet melanin.

But now,

I refuse to apologize for my loudness.
I refuse to apologize for my loudness of laughter
For standing for my voice to be heard because I refuse to be submissive
I refuse to apologize for my overthinking that convicts me crazy
And yes, I refuse to apologize for being angry
Because for all of my life, I apologized for my precious blackness
When it was you who deemed me unworthy.
I refuse to apologize for my anger
All the self-hatred and societal hate for my sweet melanin grew in mass amounts because all I saw was beautiful equated with white
And the lighter, the better.
Pale. White. Light. Bright. Gorgeous.

But not black. Black meant dirty So I was dirty
And If I was dirty
Then I was unclean,

And If I was unclean, Then I was unworthy.

Then I realized, that’s not what defines me.
Yes. I get angry. Sometimes I’m loud and
sometimes I get a little crazy,
but I am so much more then these adjectives.
And blackness is not refined to only loud, crazy and angry There is so much potential within us

Yet we are oppressed by our strict standard straight-haired society

This is the skin, this sun-kissed skin that I was born in And so I learned to love myself
My culture and everything within it.

And yes. I detested my cocoa brown skin
But now I am in love with my precious blackness

Because this sweet melanin, sun-kissed skin And precious blackness is what makes me me

The Black culture image is not
Drugs, violence, gangs and broken families
It is the image of community, prosperity Traditions, love, outspoken, and activism.
It has come from shackles and bound chains to successful, business, dream chasers and brains

But because of your whiteness. You see black.
And black to you means dirty

But society can no longer tell me that blackness means dirty Blackness means power, elegance and beauty
And blackness is more than worthy and deserving

I adore my cocoa brown skin
And I adore my kinky curly nappy

I am so much more than what you see. We are so much more than our blackness

And we will rise up to be what we have been called to be.
We will rise up to chase our ambitions and dreams and not be scared of society

And so yes. I detested my cocoa brown skin, but now I am in love with my sweet melanin, my sun-kissed skin and my precious blackness.

Because no longer can society determine my worth Because no longer can society belittle my blackness Your blackness or our culture.

Society cannot tell us that blackness means dirty
Because in fact, blackness means power, elegance and beauty. And blackness, is more than worthy and deserving.

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