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I’ve always been a bit “different” from others. When I was a really little kid, I was shy and quiet. In all my pictures I did this sort of half nervous smile thing. It’s as if I was already afraid of everyone because I knew what was coming. Once I hit elementary school, the taunting really started. With every new freckle on my face, the name-calling from other kids got worse. My book smarts and my complexion only added to make the situation worse. I knew that my mother and sister had gone through this before me, but I wasn’t sure I could do it. My freckled light skin wasn’t quite thick enough.

Other kids looked at me like I was an alien. I was tall and skinny with reddish hair and spots on my face. “Black people don’t have freckles” or “you act like a white girl” were a few of the things I heard from my classmates. My mom encouraged me to keep up with my schoolwork, and if anyone hit me then I should hit them back and make sure it hurt. If things got too tough for me to handle, then I should tell my teacher. I eventually learned how to maneuver out of difficult situations. I just kept thinking what would Martin Luther King or Gandhi do? Over time, I collected a great group of friends who were just as different as me and who knew what it was like not to fit in. We were bright, outspoken, and didn’t need anyone else’s approval to know we were doing things right. I knew they had my back and they knew I had theirs.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I get this Facebook wall post from my friend who’s a a teacher in Texas that reads “So glad I have a famous model friend I can use in my English lesson :)” She went on to explain “They are finishing a poem called ‘To This Day,’ and it’s about kids being picked on. There is this one line that reads ‘she doesn’t think she’s beautiful because of a birthmark that takes up a little less than half of her face. kids used to say she looks like a wrong answer that someone tried to erase.’ So I’m using your Tyra Banks interview to show how beauty is different and how you’re a super model even though people picked on you because of your freckles.”

The tears immediately came flooding from my eyes. This friend and I had been through a lot together as teens. We’d both been teased for being “different” and I’d always admired her tenacity for calling someone out for being mean and wrong. The fact that she used my story as an example for her class is such an honor. If it hadn’t been for good friends and supportive family, I wouldn’t have made it through all the picking and bullying. Theirs were the voices that harmonized with my inner thoughts telling me it was okay to be me and that I’d keep on keeping on no matter what those naysayers said.

If you know a kid or even an adult that others are constantly teasing, stand beside that person and encourage them when no one else does. Let them know there is light in all the darkness. We are all human beings even if some of us look like we’re from another planet. We all have insecurities and hangups, but that doesn’t mean we should talk down to each other. I’m glad i had people who lifted me up when others were trying their darndest to keep me down. Thanks for that, friends. I wouldn’t be where I am without you.

– Nikia Phoenix

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