Preface: I was born in Los Angeles, California. I lived in southern California for the majority of my formative years, until I was 9 years old and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. My only experiences before moving to Colorado were in very large super-cities filled with some degree of diversity, swap meets and bacon-wrapped hot dogs. …I think I just invented the term “super-city.”
It’s been just over two weeks since I packed what I could of my belongings into three suitcases and said goodbye to Greeley for good. I would say that the moment was bittersweet, but—let’s be honest—that would be a boldfaced lie. I’ll admit I felt a touch of nostalgia as we drove past my university, but most of what I felt as we pulled onto Highway 85 and made our way to the airport was relief. I had been waiting for this moment for nearly a decade.
When I moved to Greeley, I was fifteen and I was mad as hell. I didn’t want anything to do with a city that had a population of about 80,000. I didn’t want anything to do with the entire state of Colorado, actually. It didn’t matter that, according to Wikipedia, Greeley is the 12th most populous city in the state. It was still the smallest, most po-dunk place I had ever lived. The mountains, plastered on everything from sweatshirts to coffee mugs to key chains, were an abominable eyesore. The snow, which blanketed the city each winter in real life glitter, was an affront to everything I stood for. I could not believe that people in this place actually left the house in sweats (or worse, pajama pants). My family had a running joke that you only saw black people on Sundays—if you were lucky. I was so sure that I would finish out my last two years of high school and then promptly abandon it all for the desert heat of Arizona, where at least they had Indian food and weekly screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. This waking nightmare in which my mother’s promotion had disrupted my entire life would be over soon enough. Only…it wasn’t.
It was decided that I would live at home after graduation and attend the University of Northern Colorado, which was a fifteen minute drive from my house (and a cool $10,000 cheaper than paying for room and board). When I was accepted without so much as an interview because I was smarter than the average Bear, I saw my dreams of escaping this small town melt through my fingers. When I attended my first day of classes and realized they weren’t half as hard as my senior level International Baccalaureate courses, I saw my dreams of finally being challenged in school settle into a puddle of despair at my feet. I was too smart for my own good, and I was full of resentment for my surroundings. I had major attitude.
Here’s the thing, though: I can’t sit here and act as if everything about living in Greeley was horse shit and cowboy boots. I learned things about myself that I don’t think I would have anywhere else. There are lessons that only smaller, whiter and more blatantly racist surroundings can teach you. Like how to react when you’re the only black person around and an entire group of “friends” are saying you don’t have the right to be offended at the word nigger (Answer: Walk away, and call your mom to come pick you up. Remain in a friendless vacuum for the next year or so, until your fellow International Baccalaureate geeks decide you’re alright). Or how to deal with feeling like you’re the only person of color on your predominantly white campus (Answer: Find a group or organization that validates your existence and your experience, and stick with them). Living in Greeley gave me more than a few gifts: The pushback I needed to become cognizant of the roles race and gender play in my life. The opportunity to grow as a dancer and performer by joining a step team, a dance company and a sports dance team, respectively. The freedom to play with style and personal expression in a setting that couldn’t care less what I wore. The joy of finding like-minded individuals in the most unlikely of places.
With the amount of meaningful connections I made in Greeley over the years, I think it would have been easy to stay. It would have been the convenient route to settle into what became comfortable. I know graphic designers and photographers and potential stylists and writers and artists who could help me. With my first and foremost life goal being to found a magazine that reflects my major interests, I think the obvious avenue would have been to stay in Colorado and capitalize on that. But would that have been fulfilling? For some, maybe. For me…I’m not so sure. I think that by the time I reached graduation from college, I was at a point in my life where I wanted to expand as a human being. I wanted to fully experience the richness that the universe had to offer me, and that meant going beyond everything I already knew and was familiar with. I want to be in a place that offers brand new energy and forces me to become something I never even imagined. That is what Colorado taught me, after all.
Moving to Greeley during adolescence—a time fraught with change, growth and scary new things to begin with—transformed me in a way that I’m just beginning to acknowledge. Growing into adulthood in Greeley, I went through my darkest times in college. I went through a time when I would wake up and listen to my roommates getting up and doing normal things like showering and brushing their teeth, and I would feel jealous because I couldn’t will myself to do the same. I went through a time when I was ostracized by the people I thought were supposed to be the closest to me, the people I thought were supposed to understand me the most, because I had opened myself up to them in ways that I hadn’t even opened up to myself. In Greeley is where I realized that life is only what you make it and how you react to it. It’s where I became familiar with the ugliest and most beautiful parts of myself.
That’s why I felt it was so important to leave and start something new in Jacksonville, Florida. Because I know now that when you get too comfortable is when you stop trying to make the world a better place. Sometimes it’s the things that challenge you the most which offer you the most growth. It is Greeley, Colorado–home of the largest stampede in the world and most assuredly the place you will run into high school acquaintances at the grocery store the most—that has taught me the most about life in these 25 years. I’m ready for more.