By Lauren Nixon | Photography by Chelsea Keat
A few months ago, I taught a class to a group of upbeat 9th graders. From the beginning, they had established that I was a vegetable-toting weirdo, albeit a weirdo that they respected and listened to. We had a good time, shared many laughs and challenged one another.
In our time together, we discussed food and culture, food and identity, and food and media. During one particular session, a student attempted to describe a food advertisement to me. When, I told him that I hadn’t seen the ad and that he’d need to go into more detail, he inquired about just why I hadn’t seen it.
“Well, I don’t have a television,” I said.
Without missing a beat, I heard gasps and chuckles and saw my students’ eyes jutting out of their skulls in amazement, in confusion, in horror.
“So, what do you do instead?” asked another student.
“Well, I spend my time hiking, and reading, and practicing yoga, and hanging out with my friends,” I responded.
It took all of a millisecond for the class to break out into shrieks and cackles that poured into every crevice of the room. For a few seconds, as their laughter seemed to seep into every cell in my body, I felt like I was in 9th grade again—the weird girl, the girl who was misunderstood, the girl who was too much of this and never enough of that. I attempted to breathe through it, to return back to my adult self, to not confuse my past with my present.
As the class simmered down, a sweet young Black girl, simultaneously confident and soft spoken said, “I want to do that. I want to get healthy. I want to get rid of my t.v. like you. You just seem so...happy.”
Everything inside of me shook. Everything inside of me wanted to scrap my lesson for the day and pull up a chair next to her and talk. She was awake in a way that I wasn’t when I was 15. She was vulnerable and brave for admitting that she wanted to give away her television set—a pretty valuable item in the eyes of many 9th graders. This sweet faced Black girl, probably about 15 years younger than me, looked me in the eye and saw my light...in front of an entire class of 9th graders. Beyond all of that, though, she recognized that happiness is something that she, too, deserved and wanted to work toward.
“Thank you. I am. I am happy,” I told her.
That night, I went home and cried. I cried because I was happy. I was happy for me and for her. I was happy that she could see my light, and that she realized that she, too, deserved to glow.
In a few years, I will probably forget her face and name. She will most likely forget mine. But I will not forget the moment that I shared with her. And I will cross my fingers that she remembers the day when she realized that happiness is her birthright. I hope that she works toward the happiness that she deserves—claims it, grips it, and wades in it every time it moves through her life.
Lauren Nixon is a Food and Wellness Educator who guides youth and adults in creating healthy, nourishing relationships with local, sustainable food through cooking instruction and educational workshops. She has had the pleasure of working with sustainable food and environmental education organizations including FoodCorps, Urban Nutrition Initiative, Raices Eco Culture Micro Farm, Johnson's Backyard Garden, Hidden Villa, and many more. Follow Lauren on Twitter @LaurenNNixon or at www.laurennixon.com.