Growing up I hated my name. Each time a teacher attempted to pronounce it I cringed. The default was to call me “Keith”- thinking my name was a typo to be corrected. It got to the point I no longer answered to its butchering. During rollcall I tried to shirk into the huddle of children seated on the floor, trying to disappear from embarrassment followed by relentless teasing. How I hated school.
I longed for a simple name like Sally or Megan. Then I’d be smart, pretty- maybe even White. I liked the name Victoria. In school, I tried writing stories about a girl named Victoria. She was intelligent, pretty, with hazel eyes, caramel skin, and long thick black wavy hair. She would have epic, magical adventures.
I quickly abandoned writing about her, though, believing I was too stupid to write – you see I was dyslexic. A diagnosis I knew nothing about until I was in my 30s pursuing my BA for the third time. Anyway, whoever heard of a story about a Black girl on adventures.
Secretly, I wanted to be “Laura Ingles” from Little House on The Prairie. I imagined what it would feel like to live in a house built by their father with a loving family. My father left us while mom was pregnant with me. She awoke to a note on her pillow stating he “couldn’t do it” and a promise to provide for “it”. I became the statistic; single black woman on welfare, etc.
However, I was determined to get my BA, I had two children counting on me. One day a classmate in a thick accent asked, “How did you get this name?” It was clear she was sincere, so I explained it was the “60s.” And while some children were being named Dawn or Harmony, my mother wanted me to have an identity that was rooted in Africa, not in a history of slavery.
The woman replied “I am from Mali, back home this name is VERY powerful. It belongs to the dynasty of the benevolent Sundiata Keita who ruled Mali during 1200 BC.” I learned Keita began life as a cripple, ridiculed relentlessly for his deformities. Determined to walk, he cured himself, thus becoming a threat. To protect him, his mother fled them into exile.
As a man, he longed to return home. Along the way, he mobilized neighboring tribes convincing them to overthrow the current regime and end political corruption. It was a successful plan. The people rewarded him with the title of emperor thus fulfilling the prophecy his father spoke of on his death bed.
I’ll always be thankful to the younger woman who helped call me into being. Awakened, I felt an ember deep within my soul reignited. A path once dark begins lighting my way towards my true identity. Today I not only help heal soul wounds caused by trauma, but I also teach others how to consciously thrive. I am Keita (kāy-ta). And, thanks mom- Ashe.