Celebrating Black History Month: Tyra Vaughns
Being a Black woman in America comes weighted with a lot of preconceived notions and expectations, but it also comes with boldness, joy, and strength. Tyra Vaughns joined Treasury Prime as Bank Relationship Manager after working as a program manager at both Experian and Fiserv. Outside of work, Tyra has spent her life fighting for what’s right — no matter the consequences. What keeps her going? Knowing that she is staying true to herself.
How has your history and identity shaped you?
I was born and raised in New Mexico. There's so much diversity there, so I didn't really understand the significance of Black History Month until I left my town. That's when I really understood how important it is to know my Black history from my ancestors and what they went through, which led to the life that I have today.
Do you feel like you have to educate others on what it means to be Black in America?
I felt it the most when I lived in Kansas. I was also in an interracial relationship, so it was part of the territory. Look, I'm an amazing Black woman, sure, but I'm also a woman. I was with a white man, so there was a lot of teaching needed on that side of the family to get out of their own head, and to see the person beyond my skin color.
It was tough. It was necessary. And I appreciate those tough moments because I knew it was helping everyone ground in. It was helping their culture grow so that they can see beyond what they thought they knew of Black people.
You live in Atlanta now, which has a significant Black population — has that changed your perception of yourself?
In Atlanta I don't have to apologize for being a successful, educated, Black woman. Other places, they ask, why are you so different? I'm not different at all. Being able to stand next to my peers and not have to worry about being too proper, or not being hip enough, was always a quandry.
Black women are always fighting to be seen beyond just the assertive, aggressive, strong-willed stereotype, which we’ve had to lean into because we're often not being heard or seen. So it's nice here in Atlanta; you can just be yourself.
What is a moment in Black history that has struck a chord with you?
The one event that strikes me the most is the death of Sandra Bland, and I think it needs more attention. While a single act of police brutality could potentially make someone suicidal, being a Black woman in such a traumatic situation, while possibly having mental illness, made her especially vulnerable. Our culture shuns mental illness, so that’s something I want to spotlight.
Has your relationship with Blackness and Black History Month changed?
I have three young kids who are biracial with Black and Hispanic heritage. We lean in really hard on slavery. I explained to them what our ancestors went through, why we get to live the life we live, and how grateful they should be. Our ancestors really did fight to make it fair for us all.
I try to teach my kids that if you see something that's not fair, you should raise the alarm and make it fair for everybody, even if there might be consequences to you.
This is something that you had to do as a U.S. Air Force veteran. Can you share more about that conflict?
While I was in service, I always believed in morals over stripes. If there is something morally not right, I'm going to call it out, and sometimes it doesn't resonate well with everybody, especially if you're a young Black woman. They say, “you're causing drama,” but I just can't stay silent about everything.
I was put in a position to protect my friend and roomie, or turn a blind eye to a terrible thing that had been going on for a couple of decades — female trainees being raped by training instructors (TIs). I reported this to the person that was supposed to protect the women in our dormitory, and her response was, "You could ruin a lot of people's careers and lives if you say this to anyone else." She did not report this to anyone, but instead told the male TIs the info she had learned, and these TIs started threatening and intimidating the young women that were involved.
I was on an assignment with the Chief Command staff. One afternoon, I advised the chief about what was happening under his watch. He did not say much, but he told me, “Thanks for your courage and bravery, and you did the right thing."
Shortly after, I started hearing the threats and whispers, and experienced the loss of my new military friends. Life in the military went sour, quickly. At every base I went to, people knew who I was and what I did. Retaliation would have been better than the treatment I faced daily. Ultimately, I still stand by what I did, even though it came at the loss of my military career.
That still takes a toll on me as an adult. I try really, really hard to show my kids that, yeah, you're going to feel a certain way about standing up for everybody, but it's still the right thing. You might face some retaliation, but it's still right. You'll overcome it. You just have to think about all the people who didn't have to experience that hurt.
You’ve been through a lot. What has worked for you, in terms of self-care?
Therapy has helped me tremendously, to get through so many different events. I try to self reflect a lot, especially after significant events in my life. I like to reflect on, how can I make sure that I'm resilient? Because I always say that strong people are really hurt inside, and resiliency doesn't come without a fee. It comes with a lot of internal pain.
Mental health is an under-spoken topic that should be at everybody's table, especially in minority homes. Some people can't afford to talk to a therapist, so self care comes in knowing when you need help.
We also have an amazing Employee Resource Group at Treasury Prime. Everyone is authentic about the topics and what they bring to the table, so it makes it a comfortable place to go. Especially since we work remotely, it’s great having that place where I can be among people who have gone through similar situations. It's just a safe place.