Where do you feel like you belong?
The question of where do we fit in is one we all face at some point. And some people have an easier time answering it than others.
Regina Boone is a photojournalist. She was born in Richmond, Virginia. When she was seven, her family moved to Baltimore.
Boone grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and went to a predominantly white all-girls prep school. She says her home life, however, was “very everything black.”
“We had a picture of Frederick Douglass on the wall. I had a picture of Harriet Tubman. We had Gordon Parks photography on the wall, some Japanese artwork,” she said.
Part of that “very everything black” upbringing included Boone’s parents telling her she had to apply to a historically black college or university. Boone says her first college acceptance letter came from Spelman College, and since that’s where her parents said their tuition dollars were going to go, so did she. Boone says she was initially apprehensive, but when she got to campus she found, for the first time, a community of people who looked like her.
Sultan Sharrief is a filmmaker and activist. He’s known for his films "Bilal’s Stand" and "The Flow." He grew up a second-generation Muslim in Inkster, Michigan.
Sharrief said his parents — who converted to Islam in the 70s — were “hell bent” on getting him and his eight siblings on the pathway that would lead to college. For them, that meant splitting up the siblings and sending them to different schools. Sharrief said he was the new kid at school almost every year until 10th grade.
“I would try to change the way I talked, you know, like I was code-switching,” he said. “I never fit in anywhere cause I was too Muslim for the black kids, who were mostly Christian. Too poor for the white kids, too black for the Muslim kids. And so it was just like this constant, like, doing whatever I could to try to blend in and sort of be nothing.”
Chances are we’ve all felt like we didn’t quite fit in with the world around us — just like Boone and Sharrief. So when did they finally feel like they found their people?
For Boone, part of it was her time at Spelman. She said it was a far cry from her experience in her predominantly-white prep school.
“At Spelman, it was all shades of me. All different women, from different countries, different socioeconomic backgrounds,” Boone said. “It was just beautiful and it was empowering and I was like, wow, this is what I’ve been missing.”
Boone is also digging into her Japanese heritage, a part of her family lineage that she only recently learned about after her father told her about her Japanese grandfather who was wrongfully arrested on December 7, 1941 in Virginia and never returned home to his family.
“I definitely still belong in a black community, but now I’m in this different point where I’ve been doing a lot of research about a different part of my family that I never really knew about,” Boone said.
Sharrief’s path to feeling less like an outsider actually came from becoming more of an outsider, in a way. He said in high school he stopped trying to be something he wasn’t and started a journey of trying to figure out who he was.
“I’m working so hard to be black enough, it’s like, ‘where’s this gonna get me?’” he said. “Then I was like, you know what? I give up. And then I started 11th grade like sort of this new person.”
Sharrief listened to Metallica and Pearl Jam. He joined the ice sculpting team. He said his experiences helped him develop as an artist and person.
Sharrief said that having a sense of community pushes him to think more deeply about who he is and what his values are.
“It’s almost like a mirror for you to see yourself in the people around you, and to have things pushed that can come out either through peace and comfort or through conflict,” he said.
Boone said she straddles many communities, and takes bits and pieces from all that she learns.
“It’s complex,” she said. “I mean, I’m definitely a part of a strong, rich black community in Richmond. But then I’m a part of this global community.”
Listen to host Bryce Huffman’s full conversation with Sharrief and Boone in episode 3 of Same Same Different from Michigan Radio on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen.
So how did YOU find your people? We want to hear from you. Join us in our Facebook group.
About the artist: Paulette Parker is a writer and illustrator based in Romulus, Michigan. She graduated from Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor with an associate degree in Journalism. She is also a digital media reporter and producer at Michigan Radio. Paulette creates illustrations that reflect the world and the people around her as a woman of color. She was inspired to begin illustrating by the desire to create the things she wanted to see in the world.
You can find her illustrations on Facebook @paintedbypauletteparker