Jamese • Paralegal and Closeted Poet
Jamese moved to Denver from Omaha, Nebraska three years ago to be near friends and the mountains. She’s a full-time paralegal and holds a part-time job to make ends meet. She is also a single mom trying to raise her son in a world that seems intent on making things as difficult as possible. Jamese loves art, culture, the outdoors, and the feeling of communing with nature. She was a violinist for 12 years and today enjoys classical music, symphony and listening to composers like Tchaikovsky. In her free time she writes poetry, which she finds therapeutic and healing.
Moving to Denver from a predominantly black city was a culture shock for Jamese. Although she’s accustomed to being the only black person in a meeting or at an event, she sometimes finds it isolating to go through her entire day and never see someone who looks like her. Despite feeling lonely, she finds Denver to be a place to learn about herself and grow as a person.
When I asked Jamese to describe Denver in one word, her answer was refreshing. Here’s what it means to be Jamese in Denver:
What was it like growing up in Omaha, Nebraska?
The neighborhood I grew up in was predominantly black. I eventually became bored with the local school curriculum, so my mom transferred me to a predominantly white school. So, I’ve always been in that dual situation. In that space, I had a lot of experiences afforded to me. It exposed me to a lot of things, but I would’ve liked to have had those experiences with people who looked like me. That was the foundation of the token black girl label that has followed me for most of my life, even in college. It’s been helpful to a degree because I can navigate in both worlds, but I’ve been accused of being inauthentic, which is not true. I’ve been me for so long. This is me.
What does it mean to be Jamese?
I’m resilient, I’m passionate, I’m creative, I’m overburdened.
I think that I’m an incredibly complicated person, and I’ve struggled with how best to answer this question. Honestly, I’m still learning. I don’t feel that I fit any stereotypical role nor am I defined by my race and my gender. I have an internal battle with myself regarding this desire to be free and travel, which is somewhat irresponsible, but I’m grounded by my reality and my duties as a parent.
I’ve been on this journey for seven years. I’m getting back to what is innately me and what makes me happy, and exploring the things that interest me. In Denver, I have greater access to the cultural things that I lacked in my hometown. At home, I felt like an outsider because of my interests. In Denver, I’m finding other people of color who share the same passions, and it’s truly validating. I have a sense of community here. I can be myself and not as self-conscious.
What does it mean to you to be black in Denver?
It’s a complex question. Being black is a multifaceted thing. I think being here allows me to be true to myself and learn who I am on a deeper level. I’m more of a whole person if that makes any sense. I don’t fit in the stereotypical box of what it means to be black. I’ve always felt fragmented and that I needed to tone down or hide parts of myself like I’m something of an odd duck. Here I don’t feel the pressure to fit one mold. Growing up, hearing that “you’re the whitest black girl I know,” is hurtful. Hearing that from your own community is hurtful. When you hear that early on, it really shakes the foundation of who you are. Being in Denver has allowed me to explore different aspects of myself. Every day I’m learning more about myself, but the feeling of being less restricted is the key to feeling free to explore every avenue. The biggest detraction is the lack of interaction I have with the black community some days, which makes me feel a bit isolated. This place is very different from my hometown, but that also makes the moments when I’m able to connect profound and cherished.
How is being yourself, the authentic expression of who you are, benefiting you?
I’ve spent so many years trying to change myself to fit other people and situations. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t have interactions that were meaningful and beneficial to me. Taking that step and being me authentically, has helped me share my thoughts and do things that matter to me. This allows me to connect with people who are on the same page. It’s also allowed me to make connections and meet people that I don’t necessarily think I would’ve sought out on my own. Those connections have led me to others and just enriched my worldview. I’m generally an introverted spirit but going out on a limb, being true to myself, and expressing who I am through my writing and poetry has brought a sense of peace that’s hard to quantify or explain.
What do you love most about living in Denver?
The atmosphere and culture. I’ve met some wonderful, like-minded people, and that sense of camaraderie has been soothing to my spirit.
How have your experiences in Denver shaped you?
It’s given me access to better career opportunities, and more chances to network and develop relationships that facilitate my continued growth. Every year I feel like a renewed person. I am evolving here. I feel like there’s this higher purpose for me, and people are put in my life to facilitate that growth. I’m growing intellectually, professionally, and spiritually. I’m becoming a well-rounded person, and my continued development is beneficial to my son. If I had stayed in Omaha, my growth would have been stagnant. I feel like I’m blossoming here. Denver is just the first step.