Celebrating Black History Month: Shayla Gibson
Finding pride in and owning your Blackness can be difficult, especially if you are confined to the expectations of what others think your Blackness should look like and mean to you. Technical Project Program Manager Shayla Gibson shares how she has been able to reclaim her identity and feel more comfortable in her own skin, how she’s teaching her children to do the same, and the importance of Black representation. Shayla has been an important member of the Treasury Prime team, joining after successful runs in I.T., fintech, and banking at SDLC Partners, L.P., and BNY Mellon.
How has your relationship to your Black culture and identity changed throughout your life?
I am proud of being a Black woman, but that pride hasn’t always been there. Growing up, I moved around a lot and was living in places that were predominantly white, and I struggled with my Blackness.
People would tell me that I “don’t act Black” or that I “sound white.” So I often felt like I needed to fit within the box of what other people thought being Black should be. From the music I liked to even the people that I wanted to date, I felt that I had to abide by this ugly stereotype that people can have about the “typical” Black woman.
It wasn’t until I started becoming more involved in the Black community and meeting more Black people that I realized that there’s nothing wrong with being Black. I could just be me and appreciate and be proud of what makes me who I am. I’m a self-proclaimed nerd who’s also a gamer, likes to watch anime, and listen to all kinds of music. That’s just who I am.
How did your family support you in finding pride in your Black identity?
When I was younger, there were definitely times when I felt like I had to avoid my Blackness. My mother told me that I was named Shayla so that hiring managers wouldn’t assume I was Black. Or I was discouraged from wearing my natural hair because it “wasn’t professional”, and I was reminded that my family had worked hard to get me into a “white school”. There was dialogue around avoiding being a stereotype which made it difficult at times to reconcile that with my identity.
Now, though, it’s changed a lot, and I am a huge advocate for being proud of your Blackness and my family has really embraced that as well, and it’s shown in some great ways. One that sticks out is the acceptance and importance of mental health. My family has had its own struggles with mental health. Treating mental health is stigmatized in the Black community, but recently I think that perspective has changed a lot and I’m happy about that.
One resource I’d recommend for those in the Black community interested in learning more about and treating mental health is Therapy for Black Girls.
You have young children, how are you teaching them to embrace their identity?
First, I try to teach and show them that there are people who look like them out there. My family and I have introduced them to a variety of things like Black children’s shows, Black books, and Black toys and dolls — a lot of things that I didn’t have growing up. I think it’s important that they see themselves represented in the outside world.
And they’re still really young, but I hope that as they get older I’ll be able to tell them more about my experiences growing up as well, and let them know that it’s okay to be whoever they want to be.
One thing that I think will be difficult will be teaching them about the realities of being a Black person in America. For instance, having to teach them how they should behave with police and other authority figures. It’s concerning to have to tell them these things, but I think it’s something that I’ll have to do.
What are your hopes for future generations of Black Americans like your kids?
I hope that the next generation will get to see more people like them in places of power and in their everyday lives. More Black presidents, more Black senators, more Black doctors, and more Black therapists. It’s so important to see yourself reflected back in the people you encounter in the different aspects of your life and my wish is that it becomes the norm for the upcoming generations.
How do you honor Black History Month?
I think Black History Month has its pros and cons. On one hand, it’s great that we’re reminded of Black history and culture and all of the contributions that Black people have made to this country. On the other hand, every Black person lives the Black experience every day, so I think it’d be great if people felt compelled to better understand Black history and culture beyond the shortest month of the year.
I would also love for people to not just focus on the “bad” parts of Black history. They’re obviously important, but there’s a lot of good to focus on, too — Black people are responsible for some amazing things in the fields of medicine, business, food, and more, and people should remember that.
Ultimately, though, I want people to understand that Black people are just that: People. We’re all humans and we all bleed the same. We can all acknowledge that we have different cultures, different lived experiences, and different pasts, but we’re people all the same. Embrace the differences, embrace one another.