Welcome to Wakanda

Kendra's 30th Birthday - 2018-08-11 18.27.26 (Lauryn D.) (1)

I turned 30 four months ago. (Crazy, right?)

As I do before most birthdays, I contemplated life, accomplishments, failures, goals, and dreams. While I usually celebrate my birthday in some shape, form, or fashion (I am a Leo after all), this year felt different. I’m the last in my group of friends to turn 30. While most of them dreaded the milestone, I was excited! To me, 30 felt like a new beginning. It felt like an opportunity to relearn and redefine myself. I sensed a refreshing relinquishment of what wasn’t for me and an overwhelming determination to achieve what is. It was an opportunity to celebrate identity and principle. It was growth. It was progress.

It was my Wakanda.

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What do I mean by “my Wakanda”? I’m glad you asked.

Many of us are at least remotely familiar with Wakanda, due to the tremendous success of “Black Panther” which dominated box offices earlier this year. Wakanda is the fictional African kingdom, home of and ruled by the Black Panther. It is untouched by colonial influence and harbors the strongest metal in the world – vibranium – making it the most technologically advanced nation on Earth.

So, yes, 30 became my Wakanda. While my new age doesn’t exactly mirror all the characteristics of the African kingdom, here are a few ways in which turning 30 was my “Welcome to Wakanda”:

  1. Wakanda is the epitome of achievement and excellence.

If you’re familiar with the film, Wakanda was an extremely advanced and successful society (directly opposing the poverty-stricken representation of Africa used far too often in films…but I digress). Not only had it successfully maintained independence as a thriving kingdom, Wakanda made great strides technologically with its use of vibranium, allowing it to be a global powerhouse used for good.

Many might consider me “successful” – college and law school graduate, job with a prominent law firm, etc. I guess I’d agree. I’ve been extremely blessed, and I’m very grateful for every opportunity I’ve been afforded. However, I wrote in one of my journals at the beginning of the year: “Move from success to significance.” I’m no longer satisfied with stereotypical “success.” I want to leverage that success to do even more important work in society.

We all know 30 is a milestone birthday; however, I truly felt a shift this year. People often ask, “How does it feel being __?” after a birthday. If you’re honest, you likely say, “The same.” If you’re witty, you may say, “I feel a year older.” If you want to sound deep, you might say, “I feel – wiser.” We’ve heard it all. Nevertheless, we all know a year older is merely a number change and nothing more. At most, you might feel the physical change in your body, but that’s usually it. (Can we talk about how 30 has nearly brought my metabolism to a screeching halt and brought about increasing aches and pains?? No? Okay, maybe next time.) Still, a change in age, metabolism, and body does NOT mean there’s been a change mentally. Yet, I’ve experienced it all this year. This birthday has brought about such a profound mental evolution for me. Like Wakanda, I’m committed to real achievement and meaningful excellence in all that I do.

  1. Wakanda is full of pride and culture.

The film beautifully depicts African culture through the actors, the costumes, and the intentional details implemented throughout. When planning my Welcome to Wakanda party, I did my homework. I spoke to many of my African friends to ensure we would appropriately and respectfully depict African culture. They explained to me the various customs, décor, attire, etc. vary by tribe and country or region. We wanted an inclusive representation of it all, but I must admit – it is disappointing to not have a specific cultural identity of your own. Being a Black American/African American (whatever you like to call it), I don’t know (exactly) where I come from. My ancestors were slaves, brought to this country against their will. With many families separated once they arrived in North America, they were given new names and adopted the traditions of those they were owned by. I soon realized how cheated I felt to not know more about my ancestry.

Nevertheless, I have a newfound desire to learn. And although I don’t know my ancestry and the unique customs associated with it, 30 has given me a heightened self-awareness in other areas of my life. I like who I am, and I’m all the more proud of who I’m becoming. Culture is defined as the “social behavior and norms found in human societies.” I have recognized an enhanced comfort with my cultural characteristics. For instance, my playlist might go from Beyonce to Beethoven, Cardi to Carrie, and Drake to Donnie McClurkin (you get it!) in one day. I might wear a power pantsuit and heels or a statement crop top tee with daisy dukes. I am me. Perfectly imperfect. Sophisticated ratchet (“sophistiratchet”). 😉 Quietly loud. Cautiously ambitious. Fearlessly frank. Casually confident. Humble. Fun. Determined. ALL OF THAT and more. I’ve created my own diverse culture full of an assortment of standards and behaviors that suit and serve me well. I embrace who I am, not only ethnically, but culturally and otherwise. I have gotten to know myself, and I think I love her. I love ALL of me. And I’m extremely proud to be her.

  1. Wakanda has a wealth of natural resources.

According to the story line, Wakanda was hit by a meteorite comprised of the strong, valuable metal known as vibranium. As a result, Wakanda has an abundance of this natural resource below ground that sets it apart from other countries around the world. Similarly, I’m becoming more aware of the resources I possess. I am already what I need. It’s within me. We all have unique gifts and talents that are often hidden beneath our surfaces. My purpose, unique to me, sets me apart from anyone else. However, I must extract my own natural resource to truly use the innate power that’s within me. 30 has taught me to mine deep beneath my surface to reach my true potential. It might require some deep digging to unearth what’s inside, but my vibranium is there. It’s up to me to find it. Then and only then can I truly be who I’m called to be and do what I’m called to do.

  1. Wakanda is free from “colonial” influence.

Characters in the film frequently refer to the outside European presence that lays claim to and inhabits native lands as “colonizers.” Wakanda has been able to remain free from such outside control, maintaining complete freedom and autonomy over its affairs. Beyond race relations, many of us have been “colonized” in that we fall captive to outside pressures and are no longer true to ourselves. We often become products of our environment; we are slaves to the various institutions that influence us. Maybe it’s people and their opinions of you. Maybe it’s what society has conditioned us to believe. Maybe it’s likes on social media. I’m not sure who or what your colonizer is, but 30 has provided me a sense of liberation from mine. With my enhanced self-realization, I am aware of who Kendra is and what makes me tick. With that, I’m able to rid my life of the inhabitants that don’t belong.

Many of us may suffer from stress, anxiety, or worry because we are in places and/or with people God did not intend for us. Like I have done in this new season, “go ahead and free yourself!” (In my Fantasia voice. LOL!) I am shedding my “colonizers” so that I can be true to who and what I’m supposed to be. Let me be clear, though…there is a time and place for EVERYTHING. Being free of the confines, restrictions, and limitations that are unduly placed upon us IS NOT permission to act inappropriately or cast a negative light on your reputation (all in the name of keeping it REAL). Yes, be YOU. Just be the BEST version of you without the added pressure or influence from whatever/whoever your colonizer may be.

  1. Wakanda struggled with the balance between self-preservation and moral responsibility.

The Black Panther was committed to keeping Wakanda isolated with little to no concern for the outside world. So long as their kingdom was thriving, they did not feel responsible for the troubles faced by others. After much internal turmoil and even an external battle with his long-lost cousin Killmonger, T’Challa (the Black Panther) came to realize, “…more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”

I’ve always been fairly philanthropic, but it’s fair to say I tend to get comfortable. When we are content with our lifestyles, our jobs, our experiences, we tend to disregard the issues others may face. I often say in speeches we must dispel the “It’s not my plight, so it’s not my fight” mentality. No matter how good my circumstances are, I am committed to working so that others can say the same.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite stories (and one I reference far too often) about Queen Esther. She was living her best life as queen of Persia, as an undercover Jew, when a decree was issued to kill all Jews in the kingdom. Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, challenged her to use her relationship with the king to save the Jews. He confronted Queen Esther by saying she just might have been elevated to her position “FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS.” Eventually, Esther did leverage her relationship with the king to save her people, despite the fear of rejection and possible death she faced.

Wow.

She did not retreat from her responsibility to help, but, instead, Queen Esther accepted the anxiety that comes with selfless action. She did what she did not have to do, risking her own life and position of influence, for the rights of others. *I’m shook.*

How could we be using our relationships, platforms, etc. to help others? In what way can we step beyond our comfort zones to benefit someone else? What plight are we fighting for that’s not our own? I’m all the more inspired to be like Esther and be like Wakanda so that I’m intentional about finding a good balance between preserving myself and serving others. As we rise, we must take as many with us as we can.

With these newly cemented principles, 30 became my Wakanda.

So in true Leo fashion, we celebrated my “Welcome to Wakanda” birthday along with my nonprofit’s birthday (also August 11) with a big bash to welcome this new mindset, this newfound self-awareness, and this new movement for me personally and professionally. My friends/sisters/business partners (Your Maids of Honor) brought my vision to life for the beautiful celebration of life and purpose for me and Club R.E.S.T.O.R.E. (Click link for photos).

My “Welcome to Wakanda” coincidentally came at/around my 30th birthday, but yours may come before or after that. Either way, I encourage you to do some self reflection and step into your purpose and your peace. Dig deep inside to find your vibranium and use it to change the world for good. While you’re at it, let me be the first to say, “Welcome to Wakanda!”

Kendra's 30th Birthday - 2018-08-11 18.27.26 (Lauryn D.) (1)

“I turned my birthday into a lifestyle!” – Drake

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