Learning To Speak Up – Part I

I always loved words.  I loved to read books and I even wrote speeches.  My issue was that I was so shy growing up.  I was painfully shy.  If you looked up painfully shy in a dictionary my face should have been right underneath. It was so hard for me because I didn’t get to properly express myself in childhood.

My mother knew I was painfully shy so she would speak for me.  When other adults would ask me questions, my mother would answer them.  It didn’t bother me until I was around 13.

Once I became a teenager my whole worldview changed.  I had different ideas about life and wanted to start expressing myself more.

I was in a 4-H speech contest in 8th grade.  I won my school competition with a speech about being black and dealing with violence in our communities.  After winning at the school level I had to compete at the county level.  I won county and then had to present at the city competition.  I lost at that point and didn’t get to present at the state level.  It didn’t bother me at all because I hated public speaking.

Public speaking was my biggest fear.  Yet, I was told over and over again I was so good at it.  I purposely sabotaged everything when I had to do my speech at the city level.  I knew I wanted to lose because I hated having to keep giving those speeches.  I was scared every single time I had to go up to that podium.  I told my mom I hated having to keep giving those speeches because I was scared.  She told me, “Well…stop being so good at it [the speeches].”

I regret letting my fear get to me so much.  My childhood was plagued by constant fear of everything.  Everything!  I hate that my mom still felt that when I was around 16 she had to continue to speak for me.  Once I was around 16 I became angry with her over this issue.  I would tell her to stop speaking for me.  I didn’t ask her to nor need her to.  She no longer knew my thoughts and feelings. She couldn’t “speak” for me at all anymore.  I was well into my 20s before people stopped looking at my mom and expecting her to answer on my behalf.  It was ridiculous and made me so angry.  They would ask a question about me…in front of me…and I was like 22…and they expected my mother to answer.  I would just look at them like, “Hey…I’m standing right here.  I can answer the question.  It was directed to me, right?”  This is when I had to start interrupting my mother and answering for myself.  It was so odd at first.  It felt like I was being disrespectful to my mother, but at the same time I had to get used to expressing myself verbally.  I was used to expressing myself through the written word but not verbally.

The reason I started writing at 8 years-old is because I was so shy and didn’t know how to express myself.  My 8th grade English teacher, Ms. Bolt, was the first person that saw something else in me.  She was the one who encouraged me with the 4-H speech contest.  I had never had anyone see me in that way.  I had never before had someone who thought, “you are a good writer.  You have potential.  You also are a good speaker and should do something with your gifts.” I credit Ms. Bolt for all of it.  I don’t know where she is now – I wish I could tell her now how she helped me more that she will probably ever know.

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