“Who am I? I identify as black, coming from a multicultural family. Blackness is the umbrella that captures us all, paying all homage to our African ancestry. Nothing was ever conventional or traditional for me growing up. At a young age, I quickly came to terms with my family life being different from those around me. If anything, I think that gave me a deeper understanding of difference. Learning to embrace difference has given me a better understanding of people. I identify as Black and my Blackness encompasses a lot. I find exposing myself to various places often, because that gives me a feel of what it’s like there. Then, I can pull from all of these places as a collective to enhance my stance on something. This way, I can come to find a grand understanding. There’s more than just one background that falls under Blackness: it’s an umbrella that holds a variety of things. Being situated in America, you can’t expect everyone to understand the diversity in it. Looking around, you can see xenophobia and anti-Blackness is prevalent. You either take the route of being anti-Black, or you’re complacent. People are wild about this stuff.”
An 18-year-old Kahlea Khabir looked upon her new campus, Colorado State University, with young eyes and a mind full of wonder. Ambition begged her. She bought pens and pencils at will. She readied herself for a freshman year of college. A time likely spent writing papers and entries, based on her interest in studying areas such as journalism and English. The pencils and pens proved sufficient for the tasks at hand. However, as the semester progressed, things changed.
Kahlea, working hard, found herself challenged. Challenged in ways by which many of these classes were sought to be understood. They didn’t seem to mesh with her internally. Living in the dorm hall, Braden, Kahlea was separated floor by floor based on different groupings of topics that the floor fell beneath. This program which isolated each branch was called KEY. Her division (or floor) was focused on race and education, which flourished and created new windows and opportunities, eventually evolving into a field that she particularly enjoyed.
Following the subject criteria of race and education, Kahlea met a new-found friend and professor, Doni, who advanced her knowledge surrounding the expanse of Race through her magazine, Culturs. Within her freshman year, a younger Kahlea felt she had begun to find her path. A wide path which winded many times and changed direction in every way imaginable, but slowly it began to narrow.
“My freshman year of college was a stepping stone, merely an introduction to what lay ahead of me.”
A subtly wiser, spirited and passionate, Kahlea stormed Colorado State University her sophomore year. A compass in hand — looking down, it may have shifted slightly, however — held a direction. Kahlea was ready to navigate and chart her course through ethnic studies and sociology. Fields that would, in turn, offer knowledge about ethnicity, race, differing relations around’ the world, people within communities large and small and further emphasizing how they interact with one another. Most importantly, Kahlea wanted to know how to entertain this common ground to make an impact on the lives around her.
“I started to get involved and in doing so I witnessed things that concerned me. At the time, police brutality became more salient and, it became more apparent that the campus wasn’t interested in realities of black students. I wanted to create space for those falling through the seams in higher education. I wanted to be apart of the mobilization of Black students on campus and bring forth change.”
A year’s more perception and experience captivated her vision whilst her junior year began with a boom. With ethnicity becoming a strong suit in her life, Kahlea developed a different kind of sight. This sight, now enabled, left her spinning in circles. Curiosity inevitably grasped her. Each time she spun around, she saw friends and peers similar to her lost somewhere in the shadows and forgotten.
Living with her friend, THani, got the two of them talking about the lack of spaces for black women at CSU. Whereas plenty of spaces for others to speak out for differing affinity groups existed, conversations about black women around campus were limited. Each black woman — fenced in around her — hypothetically chained and corrupted with vocal cords that no longer seemed to work. A voice taken, gone, and unheard. The new-found sight that marked an enlightened Kahlea looked deeper into those around her. Diving into her heart, it spoke to her in a wave of passion. Sparks appeared and burned within her chest, mind and soul. A fire ignited within her. Looking downward again, the internal fire raged brighter and halted the needle’s head that lay on her compass, which now pointed in one true direction.
“I was developing a critical understanding to the issues that black women face, but I struggled to find a way to materialize the change I wanted to see… All of the injustice spoke to me, they were my reality and the reality of those around me. I recognized how important it was to begin to locate our space, as we had been rendered invisible.”
Kahlea began her senior year, and she wanted to submerge herself into a culture that would be new and unique to her. An investigation led to an obsession as she sifted through Brazil as a possible culprit to satisfy this thirst for diversity. Brazil piqued her interest to an extent that fascination became infatuation as she learned more about the racial democracy that the country supposedly enacts. According to the ideology, while within the borders of the country, all are Brazilian. To her, she thought this to be the perfect place to continue her research and gain a greater understanding of how white supremacy is being combated across borders. The underlying infatuation quickly turned reality when her flight took off from DIA with a course plotted to Brazil.
Her flight landed and a new world was displayed in every direction around her. However, excitement evaporated as she quickly learned that what was written down on paper seemed to be an umbrella that merely spoke to disguise a country filled with racial tension. As one of the last countries to abolish slavery, Brazil was infested with racism. This left the identities of many confused or injured, if not destroyed completely.
While on the move, Kahlea did her best to update her friends, family and peers through her blog series, Khabir Speaks. Captivating her time between writing, documenting and observing, Kahlea wrote an autoethnography. The piece captured the attention of one Dr. Saran Stewart, a woman advocating for the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, who was thoroughly intrigued with her story and hunted her down to learn more.
Impressed, Dr. Saran invited her to join alongside her in a research study funded by the British council, The Champions Project. The project aims to bind educational standards with the proper tactics to efficiently provide young black men with equitably geared teachings. Kahlea accepted the offer.
During her time in Brazil, Kahlea focused Afro-Brazilian women, with intent to brew a possible remedy that could act to heal some of the broken characters found amidst the nation intoxicated with racial strain. All the while along with her adventure throughout Brazil, she juggled tension, stress and pressure. Kahlea trekked on and further created the blueprint of her research concerning race and education. Eventually, the four months of Brazil were exhausted, and it was time to head back home.
“I was surprised to find what I established in Brazil. It seemed like everything that they claim to be is a hoax. Just a big umbrella. It’s all bullshit.”
Once back on campus at CSU, Kahlea found herself with new insights that fought inside of her. Things were different, but they calmed down once she adapted back to the environment she remembered as home.
“I just had to take some time to exist, you know?”
Back to school, Kahlea began a research project with goals to create spaces for Black Women to be given a voice and be heard. This drove her into a head-first dive into black feminism, which made a mark close to home. Working hard to encompass an understanding and finally materialize this space, Kahlea’s phone rang. A text message from THani that instantaneously brought a smile to her face, and that voice again fueled the intense passion within her. Reading the text, CSU wanted to forge a collective of 14 people and send them to a black feminist conference. Intensity and shock pulsed within her veins as the original ignition to the inner-fire beating inside of her heart and soul was recognized. CSU had never done anything like this before. Kahlea was part of the first small group consisting of 13 women and one man that advocated for black Women on behalf of the university. The group met and mobilized once every week. Throughout the course of five months, Kahlea alongside 9 others from the group wrote a book concerning issues among black women. Her journey through college left her in a moment of actualization, where all of the hard work she had been investing in came into display tenfold right before her eyes.
Graduating in May, 2018, Kahlea has presented her research in Jamaica, presented in Canada in October, and she is scheduled to do the same in Mexico come March 2018.
“I’m looking to strive to make a dent on community based work, and I plan on going to graduate school with an initiative in building my own work that impacts equity for Black women in education.”