The Need for Cultural Representation of Neuordiveristy: A Personal Reflection

When asked about the real reason why I founded SCD Enrichment Program, I often reflect back to my experiences as a gifted, Black young girl for the inspiration behind the program. To be gifted has its own set of issues that are as unique as the many synapse in our brains. I knew that I was different from many of my peers and never really understood why, let alone understood what giftedness truly was. My brother reminded me how blessed my mom was to have three academically and artistically gifted children in her house that would draw or create inventions for hours. Although our giftedness showed up in different ways, it did not always have a peaceful outcome. My oldest brother (who my middle brother and I handsdown believe is the most gifted between the three of us) bagan to receive college invitation/acceptance letters in middle school, but overall felt the most misunderstood and eventually discontinued the gifted and talented program. My middle brother and I continued on in our advanced classes throughout high school, but my brother, because of peer pressure, unenrolled from his AP courses. I explained brief parts of my brother’s stories to say that they were far more “typical” students than I was. I LOVED following the rules and was a model student because I was an extreme introvert who wanted to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible. I loved to complete my assignments and sometimes completed more because I was so invested in the topics.

This behavior was rare and I knew it because the other students in my class were not feeling it. I often felt alone and always had only a handful of friends and was always picked last for pretty much everything. This was the beginning of me navigating my identity as a student. When compared to other students that I went to school with, again, this was atypical behavior, although I had a few friends that I could relate to, I often got the side eye! This was unfortunately because of the lack of Black (and gifted) academic role models in our communities. The only point of reference for my fellow Black peers related academic success to whiteness because of forced code switching of our cultural cues to adopt more white cultural characteristics in school. I don’t blame my peers for saying I was like a “white girl” for my traits, their only point of reference didn’t share that education was a true part (and significant part) of our beautiful heritage. The comments however, left a scar on me and I truly felt like an outsider in so many ways, I didn’t feel like I belonged in my racial community or academic community. In the second grade I was bussed to South Denver (during the desegregation bussing initiatives) and began to receive advanced education. This helped me feel like I had an affinity with other like minded gifted students, but I still felt as far away from my people as possible. This became even more evident in middle school and high school where I was one of the few Black people in my gifted classes. In fact, in high school, I was the only Black female in my advanced courses for four years. The paradigm shifted and I was now the “Black representative” for all Black questions and experiences. I was fortunate to have nice classmates that were never outwardly racist to me, but I still felt alone in my classes most of the time.

My experiences changed when I attended one of the greatest Historically Black Universities (HBCUs) in the nation, Hampton University. My time at Hampton hasn’t only opened my eyes to other gifted Black students, but also awakened me by allowing me to learn my ancestral history and the greatness that people from the African Diaspora have come from and still have within us. I knew at that time I wasn’t alone and I was finally secured in my identity because I had thousands of reference points at my amazing “home by the sea”. My journey to self discovery should not have come in college. The educational system and our communities should have several positive references of people of color that reflects the varying levels of neurodiversity in our communities. This is why movies like Black Panther are so monumental to our Black community, it embodied the greatness of our motherland and the giftedness of our people. This is also why my program is so important to me. It reshapes the perspective of what gifted looks like and allows our youth of color to embrace their giftedness and heritage, realizing that they have always been connected. “This is also why my program is so important to me. It reshapes the perspective of what gifted looks like and allows our youth of color to embrace their giftedness and heritage, realizing that they have always
been connected.”

Shalelia is a Denver native and Daniels Fund Scholar who graduated from South High School in 2003. She received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor of Spanish from Hampton University.

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