Editor's Note: Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, we will be sharing dispatches and sentiments from students receiving scholarships from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Our second guest author is Alise Fortune, recipient of The Bogner Family Scholarship, a four-year, renewable scholarship of $25,000 per year. She is also a recipient of this year’s Father Connie Dougherty Memorial Scholarship, a one-time scholarship of $2,600.
My name is Alise Fortune and I was born and raised here in Sarasota, Florida. I am a proud member of Riverview High School’s IB Class of 2020 and will be attending Rollins College in the Fall in hopes to further my studies in social justice and psychology. Social justice has always been an extremely important aspect of my life and is the direction in which I hope to aim my future. Growing up biracial, my sister and I experienced firsthand the social problems and stresses that come with not looking like the people most often around us. Despite this, I can undoubtedly say that I am proud of the person I am today, skin and all; however, it hasn’t always been that way - this is my story of personal growth and acceptance.
My short story "Curls" is a glimpse into the self-love journey I went through on the road to loving myself, my hair in particular.
In the Black community, our hair has and always will be an important part of our identity, however we choose to wear it. Whether we choose for our hair to be natural, straight, braided, or covered, it is ultimately our decision and deserves to be respected, regardless of the setting. Historically, however, discrimination and oppression has caused many Black men and women to hide their hair completely, creating a situation in which many are subconsciously taught that their hair, and therefore identity, is somehow wrong or inappropriate. For a long time, my hair was my main insecurity and darkly influenced the way I saw myself. I have come a long way since my younger mindset, but I can’t say that it was an easy journey, or even that I have made it to the finish line. Nevertheless, I hope my story can inspire others to love who they see in the mirror, no matter what society has to say about it.
Beyond this, I hope "Curls" can open a window to show others the challenges and obstacles I and so many other Black individuals are forced to face on a daily basis. Our country is in an unexplainably fragile state, and the pain that generations of Black communities have been forced to undergo is becoming more and more apparent. At this time, it is paramount that every single person makes their voice heard, that we never let things go back to the debilitating, ignorant, and dangerously systemic reality that we lived in not too long ago. It is going to take a marathon, but I believe this country can change and I hope to be here to see it happen.
I sincerely hope you take away a message that connects with you in some way through "Curls." I hope it can inspire people to love the way they’re made, no matter where they are from or what they look like.
I owe a huge "Thank you" to the Community Foundation of Sarasota County for the opportunity to share my story and for the scholarship that will allow me to pursue my future in a way I never thought possible. In so many ways, it has been my biggest honor to be part of this experience.
I will leave you all with this: Black Hair Matters. Black Identities Matter. Black Lives Matter.
Alise has found strength and support through her loving family (pictured above).
When I was in elementary school, my parents told me and my sister that it was important for us to pray every night. So, when we returned to our shared bedroom at the end of the day, I would lie in bed and say my nightly prayers. Looking up at the ceiling, my younger self quickly whispered into the quiet, dark room: “I pray for world peace, to make all the diseases go away, and to wake up white. Amen.” Surely, I should have focused on the first or second request longer, but, regretfully, it was the third prayer that I seemed to plead for.
Desperately, I wanted to change the color of my skin. I wanted a white complexion, freckles, blue eyes, the entire profile of a pretty white girl. Most of all, I wanted the long, flowing hair I saw on all the girls around me. I couldn’t understand why I seemed to be cursed with hair I didn’t know how to handle, hair that didn’t look like any of the girls around me. There was a day in which I had stood in front of the mirror for hours on end, exasperatedly trying to brush and straighten my curls out. I had paused for a moment, staring deeply into the eyes of the girl looking back at me, then slowly glancing back at the brush in my hand. In that moment, I realized that, while I could not realistically alter my skin, my hair was the one thing I could try to have control over. My hair was the one thing I could try to change.
Growing up, I rarely knew mixed or Black kids my age until the end of middle school. Rarely did I ever have classes with anyone of my same race, so it was not often that I saw people that really looked like me. My father is Black, but my mother is white, so even at home, I only saw the beauty standards and aesthetics of white women.
Spending hours a week trying and failing to brush and straighten my hair while watching my mother come out of the shower with hair straight and tangle-free in a matter of minutes with little to no effort made me see my hair as more of a nuisance than it was a blessing. Seeing the seemingly natural, easy beauty of the girls in class while knowing the amount of time and effort I had to put in everyday to look what I thought was only a fraction as presentable made feeling good about myself harder and harder. It was because of this, that in my sixth-grade year, my parents agreed to spend hundreds of dollars on a more permanent chemical straightening treatment. When the day finally came, I ended up spending almost nine excruciating hours sitting uncomfortably in the darkening and deserted salon past closing time as the hair stylist exhaustedly struggled to control the hair before her. In the end, all her hard work had little effect on my self-esteem, for I knew that no matter how many treatments I tried (and believe me, I tried many), I would simply never look the way I thought I should look. I remember not long after, this thought was even further instilled when a friend of mine had stated that his new name for me would now be Forest, because to him, my hair (the hair I had spent the entire weekend trying to look straight), “looked like a forest.” He quickly added, “But in a good way!” To me, the point had already been made.
Dark thoughts swirled in my head for what felt like forever, that is until a day in December of 2015 when my entire mindset came crashing down. Strolling through a busy shopping center several days before Christmas, my sister and I watched babbling groups of friends walk past us on their hunt for presents. As we walked, a loud teenage girl caught my attention. In the mere seconds that we were walking next to the girl, my heart seemed to stop, and my busy mind suddenly went blank. The girl had skin just like mine, eyes just like mine; we looked scarily similar. It was her hair, however, that set us apart. The hair atop her head was large and curly, just like mine used to be.
Overwhelmingly, I suddenly felt lost. The girl before me wasn’t pretending; she wasn’t trying to hide the way she was made; she looked happier, freer than I had ever felt. Why had I been trying to push away my identity, just to desperately try to take on someone else’s? Why did I abruptly feel like I was lying to myself, thinking I could get away with being something I wasn’t? What would it take to get the girl I used to be back?
That night, I washed my hair for what felt like an eternity, willing my old hair back out from underneath the countless chemicals and treatments. Years of self-hatred seemed to finally start to wash away in waves of relief. From that day on, I have worn my hair exactly the way I was born to have it. In the future, the ways in which I choose to wear my hair will be my decision, not the decision I once thought society wanted from me. The confidence I have been able to take after embracing my true identity has spilled into every part of my life and has morphed me into the person I am now. Today, I love myself more than ever before and am so very proud of the skin I am in, as well as the culture and hair that it came with. True, my hair may take eons to control and it might on most days look like a, “forest,” to some people, but it is mine, and I’ve vowed not to hide it anymore.
To learn more about scholarship opportunities at the Community Foundation, visit cfsarasota.org/students/scholarship-opportunities.
To share your Scholarship Story, contact us at Communications@CFSarasota.org.