Nobody should have to live in a state of suppressing who they are…

Meet Antoinette.

My name is Antoinette Griffin. I am 44-years old. I have an older son who’s awesome. I have a daughter who graduated from high school last year.

“My motto in life has always been power through.”

Survival of the fittest: power through, push, persevere, endure, mind over matter. That’s how I survive very, very difficult situations. I just never wanted to appear weak. I haven’t really had the room to be vulnerable and let my guard down in many situations, both professionally and personally. I don’t think it’s acceptable in the workplace for me as a Black woman and also as a Black woman in a leadership position. I feel like you have to present yourself in such a way where you have it together all the time. One ounce of weakness and they automatically peg you as not competent.

“I will attend meetings with 500 managers and be one of two Black people.”

It’s very hard. And since you’re already sticking out like a sore thumb, you cannot show any sign of weakness. Never. It’s exhausting to present this front where you feel like you have to have it all together. We’re living in a racially-charged, emotionally-charged, physically-charged environment. And it’s hard trying to navigate through all of that.

“Nobody should have to live in a state of suppressing who they are…”

…or how they’re feeling to get through the day. So when you’re trying to be your authentic self, it’s really challenging. Not only are you dealing with Covid, but you’re dealing with the murder of George Floyd. I was sitting in my office and I saw the video and I just cried. I’ll never forget that moment.

 I’m in a unique position because there’s not a lot of people of color, especially Black, in leadership where I work. And I do have a few Black people on my team. To sit there in silence in a team meeting and pretend like nothing’s going on, it didn’t sit well for me. And then to attend larger meetings with other leaders and everybody’s ignoring the elephant in the room didn’t sit well with me. I was struggling.

“I’m sitting there trying to fight back tears…”

…and everybody’s like, oh, how’s your day? It came to me and I was like, “honestly, I’m not good.” And I just broke down crying because I wasn’t good. To sit there in a meeting and pretend like everything is okay… I couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t fake it.

 And that’s exactly what I said. Tired of faking it, tired of pretending like things are okay. I’m tired of acting like nothing is wrong. Something is wrong. And you and we all need to address it. It gave me the courage to have the same conversation with my team. And we did not leave that meeting with dry eyes. It was empowering. It was much needed, long overdue for people to really, truly say how they feel without fear of repercussion or fear of retaliation.

 My hair’s natural now. Never wore it natural, it was always straight and flat out because I felt like I had to put on this facade. I had to feel like I fit in. I didn’t want them — them, society — or even professionally to see me in my natural state.

“My strength comes from the village that surrounds me, my family, my loved ones.”

Even then, sometimes it’s not enough. When you lay in bed at night, you’re still trying to reflect and think of ways to survive the next day. Being a single mom for many, many years, just trying to be strong for [my children]. I never wanted them to really see me weak.

 My faith is what grounds me. I’m very blessed. I’m very loved. I have a great support system. And while I say I’m a single mom, which I am, I have not raised my kids alone. I’ve had a lot of help and support from family. But, it’s hard reaching out for help, especially when you want to appear to be strong.

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