A journey of self-worth

Growing up in Canada was a great blessing for me. I had a wonderful childhood, was blessed with parents who infused me with pride and a desire to succeed and challenge myself. My father faced every opportunity with a level of positivity and drive that was unfathomable. My mother, who was much more conservative, forsake some dreams to raise her daughters, challenging us to want more, to strive for more than we were expected to want and to carry ourselves with pride and respect every day. And yet I lacked a sense of self-worth that many to this day find difficult to understand.

Karen White-Boswell and daughters

Karen White-Boswell and daughters

As I walked into high school with my hair freshly done at the hairdresser I still recall the sadness I felt at the loss of the last vestige of my youth – my natural hair. But it was virtually unheard of to not, as a young black woman, process one’s hair. Why would one ever think of keeping their ‘nappy’ hair and embarrass family and friends by an unruly head of hair. And please don’t remind me of the fact that I should not be at all offended by the request by my peers to touch my hair. An implication of some sort that I had been relegated to the status of a novelty to be explored for all of my dark mystery.

This was the beginning of the end of my belief in the simple beauty and wonderfulness of me. I very quickly saw my sense of self-worth eroded and challenged on a daily basis. From the assumption by teachers that I was either illiterate, less than capable or obstinate; to the prospective employer who questioned my ability to read and write; to the multitude of police cruisers that have tailed me as I drove any and everywhere. I felt a constant question burning in me. A sense of un-belonging in everything I did. My self-hate grew daily as I was bombarded with negative images of those ‘like me’. The feeling that I owned the wrongs of every Jamaican, Black and woman before, after and beside me. The sense that if I did not scream out daily I would never be heard and then the silencing of my voice for fear of how that voice would be interpreted and then relegated to a level of unimportance that would yet again eat away at my ability to continue forward.

I have carried this burden for as long as I can remember. And yet when I reached my current role and all the years of that burden had truly begun to weigh down my ability to rise up with the energy of years gone by I knew it was time to try again.

When I started at Purolator I was walking into a new journey. One that has seen me move into an executive position over a relatively short period of time. A place where my opinions and skills are valued. A place where I have felt that I can bring my whole self to work and not be afraid. And although there are still days that I think that this is the day they are going to decide I don’t belong, I am fortunate enough to interact with individuals that remind me that I have earned my spot and that the colour of my skin and the texture of my hair does not define my success.

This is my journey, this is my Black history. There are so many who have come before me – Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela to mention a few – and they have all been sources of strength and inspiration for me. But my journey, my Black history, has also been a struggle to accept that their greatness, their achievements were a sacrifice so that I could be who I am unapologetically. That their journey is my journey. And I will not squander the next leg of that journey allowing my self-worth to ebb away in the abject ignorance of those who cannot look beyond the epidermis that they have defined me by.

This month, Canadians are invited to recognize Black History Month to honour the legacy of Black Canadians, past and present. I think it’s also a time for us to recognize the diverse journeys that each and every one of us has taken to get us to where we are today and celebrate these experiences that bring different perspectives to our workplace.

As we celebrate the great contributions of the likes of Jean Augustine, Sir Lincoln Alexander, Harriet Tubman, Addie Aylestock, and all the other Blacks who have contributed to the tapestry of Canadian history, I encourage you to find those things that can help each of you to rediscover your worth. Find that emotional armour that will help you take on the challenges that you face and to find the thing that will help you face the next battle that your self-worth has to endure.

There are a multitude of books and articles that one can read and, while I could list those that inspired me – Maya Angelou, Louise ‘Miss Lou’ Bennett, Walter Mosley, James Baldwin, Bob Marley, to name a few – it is the inspiration that you can connect with and find strength in that you will need for your own journey; to find your own inner strength; to revel in your own greatness; and strive to achieve your potential in spite of the unspoken barriers that society will place in your way.

4 Responses to A journey of self-worth
  1. Ken Johnston Reply

    What a moving story. Karen, our leadership team is so much richer with you on it, and you make us a better team. Thanks for sharing this with us…

  2. Gus Reply

    Karen, Thank you for this genuine and heartfelt post.
    As I work with students of various backgrounds, my main focus is self-awareness and self-leadership.
    This is an excellent example of both and I will share this with them.

  3. Michelle Grant Reply

    Thanks for your honesty Karen. You brought tears to my eyes. I emigrated to Canada at the age of 39, and it was the first time I realized I was different, as I faced racisim. I became a shell the woman who stepped off the plane. Gone was the confident, outgoing person I had been during my formative years.

    My employment at Purolator is the best thing (after the birth of my son) that has happened to me since I came to Canada. I have been re-born. I get up every morning wanting to come to the office where I am a valued colleague, confidant and employee.

  4. Karlyn Reply

    What an inspired read! Thank you so much Karen for having the courage to speak your truth. By doing so – you have given someone else the courage to live their lives apologetically. Thank you for inspiring me:)

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