Exploring and unpacking the reality of what we think about ourselves and what God thinks of us. It can look any number of ways – and that’s the beauty of it.
I am often asked, What do you do? Which, depending on the context, is another way of asking me Who are you?, both presumably innocent questions, but I don’t always know how to respond. While, at times, it is obvious that some are actually inquiring about my belonging, I can also tell by these questions that a number of assumptions are being made. And interestingly, what I am most proud of about myself, being a doctor (Ph.D), is the least likely response to ever be expected. So when asked to write a blog on my identity, I hesitated; I wondered should I craft a safe narrative to make readers feel comfortable, or should I just tell readers who I am with the understanding that some are going to be uncomfortable? I chose to just write, and so after reading this, you may get a little bit of both.
Over the course of my life, I have had to assume many identities: being Black, a Daughter, a Sister, a Friend, a Christian, a Student, an Athlete, a Worship Leader, and the list goes on. But the one identity that has endured the tests of my life is being an Academic; which, most recently, has evolved and shifted to me being a Black Intellectual. For some, qualifying my intellect with my race may seem unorthodox. However, being Black will always be the entrée into who I am, yet I don’t want my identity to be limited to that.
I guess, at this point, I should share that I have been teaching at the university-level for 15 years; and in 2016 moved to Oregon to assume my dream role as a tenure track (Assistant) Professor in education. In this role I teach, develop and present original research, support my institution, provide service across the field, and mentor students who also want to be researchers and/or institutional leaders.
However, to get here I struggled.
I had to put up with being defined and redefined; racialized and dumbed down; or worse, discredited.
With that, my journey was filled with anger, anxiety, and frustration, which only perpetuated stereotypes about Black women and didn’t reflect who and Whose I am. I went so far as to question God’s plan (Jeremiah 29:11). The task of pushing past negativity, racism, elitism, and even my own doubt was daunting to say the least, but God, nor did any of my professors ever promise that this road would be easy. However, the joy of the Lord has been and continues to be my strength (Nehemiah 8:10). And as I delve deeper into my identity, which socially, seems to always start with me being Black, I find myself doing so in a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Having defied stereotypes and overcome the dismissive ignorance of others, I guess I can also add that my identity is undergirded by the patience of Job, the worship of David, and the heart and surefooted nature of Joseph. Like them, I know I don’t have to fight my battles (Exodus 14:14). Now that you have learned a little more about me, I hope I challenged linear or prescriptive perspectives of someone who looks like me; or perhaps readers gained an even greater appreciation and understanding of His grace. But most importantly, when the afterword of my identity is written, I pray that I am most known for being His (1 John 3:1).
Tenisha Tevis has been a part of the Grace Chapel community since November of 2016. In her spare time, she loves working out and also enjoys cooking!