The Unexpected Gift of Confidence from a Friend

By Jada Harris

We settle into the booth after one of our long bike rides and order our favorites: jalepeño pizza and strawberry lemonade. After the waitress brought our drinks, my best friend Carter looks up at and says, “So there’s this guy I like.”  

As Carter raved about his crush, he also expressed the challenges he faced navigating his homosexualilty in high school and reminded me of a time when I too felt out of place. I was sitting outside the worksite on my freshman service trip to Kentucky, the sun was beating down when I heard, “You’re the whitest black person I’ve ever met! This is easy for you, Jada.” I was speechless. Jack, a black crewmate and former classmate, dismissed any concerns about my adjusting to rural Kentucky by assaulting me with that cultural insult and cliché, the same joke that never triggered an authentic laugh from me, just a fake chuckle to fit in. 

I had heard similar comments before, making me crave an environment where the notion of acting like a race was unthinkable. I found this space when I was with Carter, who is white. We met at our local tennis club years ago and our friendship quickly blossomed. As we bonded over feeling out of place, our friendship became a space that eliminated ideas triggering pressures around our identities. Around Carter, I did not wonder if I was not black enough when I spoke proper English or enjoyed a country song. 

However, when I was away from Carter, inner tensions surrounding race and behavior turned me into a funambulist, constantly trying to balance my behavior based on my company. This was the result of attending majority white private schools all my life. I also live in a suburb where seeing another brown face is rare and refreshing, while many of my black classmates live in predominantly black neighborhoods.

My reserved personality in combination with my discomfort in my own skin made transitioning to high school difficult. I was not sure if I should sit with the black or white kids at lunch, which clubs to join, or if I should wear sneakers or Sperry’s. Connecting with someone who also confronted societal pressure surrounding his identity assisted in my eventual growth beyond these burdens. After advising Carter not to allow limited mindsets to impact him, I started to practice what I preach. 

I worked tirelessly towards developing more self-confidence. It began with simple actions such as raising my hand in class and working to become a stronger public speaker. The next step out of the confining box of introversion came through my chapter of Jack and Jill, a national organization of African-American families. A parent advisor saw my leadership potential and encouraged me to run for teen vice president, and after some hesitation, I agreed. 

I was terrified as this was the first real speech I had given outside of school, but after winning the election, my comfort with public speaking and leading grew into a love for both, and I went on to take many other leadership positions in school and my community. Through campaigns and elections, I was challenged to focus on my strengths and the qualities that make me a great leader. My confidence grew and I became more self aware. I realized that living in the middle of two worlds has helped me develop a deep understanding of both. 

I spent years wondering whether I was more suited for the “white world” I have grown up in, or the “black world” that I am supposed to favor, but I have finally found that I am comfortable in and belong in all worlds, interacting with and uniting people of every color and background. Though I did not comprehend it at the time, Carter’s comfort with himself and his sexuality triggered my comfort with my identity and growth as a leader.  

Jada Harris, a 2019 graduate of St Ignatius in Chicago, is a freshman at Stanford.