As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, we continue to encourage everyone to use this time to recognize the achievements and the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.
To celebrate Black History Month, our very own Monique Griffin was kind enough to share her story. Despite her experiences, Monique believes that we can work together to create a beautiful life for everyone.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
I was born and raised in Bremerton, Washington. My parents were brought here from California because of the Navy. I have three young adult children. I’m married to an amazing veteran husband of 23 years. I enjoy most art-related things, such as photography, dance, interior design, etc. Moreover, I like teaching financial wellness. I am an entrepreneur at heart, and I enjoy health and wellness. One of the things I cherish most in life is hosting my ‘Rainbow Family’ for dinner at my home. I call us a “Rainbow Family” because we are a melting pot of different races. Amongst my family, I have nieces and nephews who are Black, Half White/Half Black, Half Hawaiian/Half Black, and Half Russian/Half Black.
How was it growing up in Bremerton?
I grew up during a time when racial inclusion was not widely accepted. I grew up being the only Black girl in the classroom and attending schools where students separated themselves by race socially.
How did this impact you?
As a child, I was outgoing, adventurous, and creative. Others now see me as introverted. After years of scrutiny and feeling judged, you develop some sort of imposter syndrome from systemic factors. I was criticized for speaking my opinion, critiqued on how much knowledge I had, and even judged by my facial expressions. This led me to be more cautious, shy, and quiet around other people because I don’t want them to pass judgment on me.
Could you share some of the racial hardships you endured?
l have faced many racial hardships throughout my life. My very first time encountering racism was at the playground. I was called burnt toast. In elementary school, I could not get a seat on the bus. During sixth grade, I was called the N-word by a student, and when reported, the school did nothing. Another time, a white classmate told me to partner with a student who was my own race. At the same time, people of my race condemned me for acting “too white.” I had a police officer say I fit the description of a perpetrator and was asked for my military ID while I was walking from a youth center on base. In high school history class, a student asked the teacher if Black people get sunburn. The teacher then looked at me and said, “Ask Monique.” I then said we all have skin. In college, a white student I had to peer edit with said, “All blacks are the same.” Which is not true. My husband and I are complete opposites mainly because of how we grew up.
What was different about how your husband grew up compared to your upbringing?
My husband had a different experience than I had growing up. He is from the Midwest and grew up around minorities, whereas I was in predominately white schools. He did not experience racism like me. His mother, a single parent, was affectionate and supportive of him; that is what he does for me and my family. His upbringing changed me for the better. He loves me like nobody else is in the room, and somehow, that gives me superpowers. I feel like I can do anything. Feeling loved and supported gives a confidence that nobody can take away. I’m grateful for that. I love giving that support to others, knowing firsthand how that can positively impact their lives.
What kept you going?
My parents! My mom ran a home daycare business, and my dad retired from the Navy. They were the hardest-working people I know, and without them as an example, I would probably have given up.
My mom always said she is from the ‘Show Me State’. That meant ‘stop talking about it and be about it.’ My dad always spoke up for himself even if it costed him. I can’t thank them enough for their inspiration to keep moving forward and persevering.
Rosa Parks said, “I was just tired of giving up.” Was there a turning point where you knew you had to take a stand?
Yes! When I was on the drill team at Central Kitsap High School. It was a very proud moment because I was the team’s first black member.
It was required that all members wear the exact uniform during performances. The uniform included pastel pink ballet tights. The tights did not match my skin tone or the other members whose skin was darker. We were told we could not participate in the performances if we didn’t wear them because we would be considered not in uniform, so we wore them anyway for a while. Frustrated watching my white teammates wearing tights that matched their skin tone, one day, I went to the principal to discuss the matter. I told him that I had bought tights that were the same shade as my legs but was told I could not wear them and if I did, I would not be allowed to perform. I explained how unfair I thought this was because we all have different skin shades. I had to present my case to the entire drill squad. After having to ask the team how they would feel if they were on an all-Black drill team and had to wear brown colored tights, they were able to see my point of view. After that conversation, I could perform and wear tights that matched my skin tone.
This was a pivotal moment for me. I knew then if I had not drummed up enough courage to advocate for myself, there would have been no change. That was when I knew I wanted to be an advocate for equality and inclusion.
Is this the reason you volunteered to be on the DEIB committee?
Absolutely. There is still more work to be done. My family and I continue to deal with economic, health care, and social injustice to this day.
Black History Month is a time to reflect on what the people before us, including my family, contributed and sacrificed for a better way of life. Looking back at what they accomplished reminds me that change is possible.
Did you ever yourself have an experience where you felt there was hope for positive change?
Yes. It was my experience with my first manager at KCU. I could have conversations with him without feeling like I had to hold back. I could be my authentic self. He would tell me how he had confidence in me and my knowledge and would be there to support me in any way he could. I had never had anyone from a different race say those words to me and show me that kind of respect. It made me feel hopeful that we were going in the right direction and that other people were out there just like him.
You mentioned earlier that you reference your family as the ‘Rainbow Family.’ How do you handle differences in race amongst your own family?
I believe that if people would stop and listen and converse with each other, we could learn what each other needs and form a connection. When we have our family dinners, that is what we do: we talk with each other. Since we are family, we can have these conversations about the different races amongst us and how we can be there for one another. These conversations are educational, and they form a stronger bond among us.
Ideally, we would take what we learn at our dinner table and share it with others. Then, hopefully, further connections can be made – and the cycle continues to reach other people.
“Although I have experienced my share of racism, I still believe that through inclusion, empathy, and love, it’s possible to work together to improve the quality of life for everyone.”