Congratulations on your unprecedented wins at the 2012 Olympics in London. As an American, I am so very proud of your accomplishments. As an African-American mother of two amazing daughters (Tryumph and Whizdom), I am proud beyond words, of your skills, your demeanor, your confidence and your smile. As my daughters and I watched the gymnastics competition in Los Angeles, we cheered for all of the American gymnasts, however, when you performed, we cheered the loudest.
I was nervous, excited and anxious for you, all at the same time. By osmosis, I was balancing your handstands on the beam, spinning your flips tighter over the Pommel Horse, pointing your toes across the floor exercise and helping the “flying squirrel*” soar higher between the uneven bars. I was on pins and needles because I saw a beautiful, poised, talented, young African-American woman on the throes of making history.
Our race was relevant to me and I wanted to thank you for representing “us” so impeccably. But in my daughter’s eyes; young ladies who are growing up in a very diverse community, with friends from around the world and with the only President they know – a black man; your race was irrelevant, nor did they ever bring it up. Your brilliance (and fashion-forward outfits) captivated them. “Mom, she’s awesome!,”; “Mom, did you see that?”; “Mom, how did she do that?”; “Mom, why are you smiling so hard?” were their questions. Never, ever did they say, “Mom, why is she wearing her hair that way?”
Soon after you stood so proudly on the top podium, with a gold medal around your next, as our Country’s National Anthem was played, I heard rumblings about ignorant, small-minded individuals making disparaging comments about your hairstyle. I refused to discuss it, let alone read any of the mindless banter. I assumed that the pettiness would fade. When days passed and I learned that the conversations were intensifying and that you and your family were negatively, emotionally impacted by such stupidity and meanness, I wanted to hug each of you and say “this too shall pass”.
I still have not read anything regarding ‘their’ hair issues, but I want you to know that your looked stunning and your smile radiated with such brightness, that I could hardly see anything else. I want to share a brief story with you.
When I was modeling during my law school years, I finished a big show in NYC and immediately took off the hot wig they made all of us wear. I was going to brush my hair and put it into a long pony tail. The show’s hair stylist said, “come here honey, let me give you a models ‘do’.” Then, he put my pony tail into a bun, just like yours. When I went to the models/beautiful peoples hangout called the “Coffee Shop”, I realized that most of the models, White and Black wore the bun ‘do’ (BTW, I wasn’t a top model or a beautiful person, just lucky). It was almost a signature style for bragging, “I’m a model, and I just finished working”. And dancers there – they wore the same pulled bun.
I share this story because, just like most of the young ladies with whom you ‘work’, wear the industry ‘style’ – embrace it and be proud of it! “YOU BETTER WORK” – in by best Rupaul voice (you may not know who he is, but trust me, he will make you smile.)
Lastly, know that you were created and anointed for greatness. When your sister pestered your mother until she finally enrolled you in gymnastics – that was God pushing you towards greatness. When your mother struggled with the idea of sending you away but conceded – that was God pushing you towards greatness. When you wanted to quit but you mother refused to let you, and you went to practice the next day – that was God pushing you towards greatness. When you outscored every other gymnast and become the best in the world, that was God pushing you towards greatness. You have not yet achieved the greatness He has in store for you, so you keep your head high and ‘keep it moving’ – Greatness is waiting for you.
At such a young age, you have the platform to empower, inform and engage the hearts, minds and perceptions of people around the world with your God-giving gifts and talents – this is your unique purpose. God could have chosen anyone, but He created you for “such a time as this”. God is a King and therefore, as His child, you are royalty, and royalty does not walk around with her head down, shoulders slouched and defeated. Don’t let haters and dark spirits of jealousy distract you from your purpose – you are just beginning your amazing journey.
Please find comfort in knowing that as you elevate and expand your territory, there are millions of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons; Black, White, Latino, Asian and every other race, cheering you on – drowning out the pathetic jeers from people whose eyes can’t see your anointing because they are focused on a hairstyle. I know it gets hard to meditate on the positive and dismiss the negative because you are young and new to this world of celebrity, but it will get easier and you will get stronger.
One of my favorite Bible scriptures is: “ If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?” (KJV) It’s more easily understood as: “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? (NIV) Gabby, my young star, don’t let man wear you down, you were created to run with the horses, and you will win – again! Congratulations and God bless you and your family.
Tanya Young Williams
*The Flying Squirrel: Thanks to her high-flying exploits on the uneven bars, her signature event, Douglas was nicknamed the Flying Squirrel by national-team coordinator Martha Karolyi. “I like to become the Flying Squirrel,” Douglas said last month. “I like squirrels. They’re so adventurous.”