Mykal White: Labels

Mykal is a recipient of the 2019-2020 MALA Scholarship Program, which seeks to assist rising leaders in the pursuit of higher education through the art of storytelling.

My name is Mykal, not me-kal nor michael, but Mykal. Like the rest of my family, I grew up in the Big Eazy or New Orleans. I ate gumbo, crawfish, po’boys, and attended family gatherings where bounce music, native New Orleans music, was played. We enjoined in Mardi Gras, King Cakes, and the Sunday ritual of second lines. Unlike the rest of my siblings, I didn’t play sports but instead was drawn to entertainment and to the arts. I aspired to be an actress when I grew older. In elementary school, I joined the drama club and for the next 9 years of my life all I knew was the stage and performing; I even joined our local theatre and was cast in a few plays there. In eighth grade, I applied to NOCCA or the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and attended the school for my freshman and sophomore years of high school for Musical Theatre. It was there that I learned to properly perform on stage.

It was at NOCCA that my perspective of people changed also. I attended a school where it was in our curriculum to discuss tolerance, diversity, and to have thought-provoking conversations about stereotypes, race, gender, sexuality, and other “taboo” topics. It was there that I met people who challenged me intellectually and taught me how to embrace my identity as a Black young woman in America and to be unapologetic about it. Coming from a background where I was taught only one type of way to view and live in the world, it was exciting for me to attend a school that taught me to become more open-minded.

The summer before freshman year, my twin brother Michael converted to Islam. My initial reaction was to enjoin in with the rest of the family in giving him a hard time practicing his new faith. We were raised to think that there was only one way and one view of everything, including religion, so naturally, we bumped heads. However, it was at my school that I learned to be more of a listener than a talker and so I spent the next half of the freshman year asking my brother about his religion while also researching it further myself. I read and listened to the Quran, the holy book for Muslims, and even cried in the middle of Spanish class at its beauty. The more I learned about Islam, the more I felt reassured in my belief in the Creator as well as closer to my African roots. The day after the last day of the school year, I went to a local mosque and said the declaration of faith and became Muslim in 2017.

Going back to school for sophomore year I noticed a huge change. Before my conversion, I lived under people labeling me as the “Black Girl Activist” to being labeled as an immigrant, oppressed, and more profoundly, un-American. I lost a lot of close friends and it was difficult. Quickly, I began to notice how people asked me more about where I am from than about me as a person which further alienated me.

In the midst of me trying to exist as Mykal White underneath all the labels society had created for me, a death in the family caused the desire to learn about medicine to grow inside me. Performing was fun and I’ll always see it like that, but medicine was deep and serious for me. I grew up watching my family suffer from many diseases and I made it my mission to learn as much as I could to potentially save their lives. I wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon and so this was my new focus. Schools in Louisiana generally don’t receive a lot of funding and therefore didn’t have much to offer for my new field of interest so I made the decision to move to live with my father in Texas. It was hard leaving behind my mom and siblings but I knew that this was for the greater good.

At Red Oak High School, I took health classes I’ve never even heard of and am working on a healthcare certification. At this school, I’ve also initiated the Minority Student Union club which gives minority students a safe space to be themselves without fear of discrimination or racism. In Texas, I’ve also become more proactive with the local Muslim community and have met Muslim women who now became great mentors and supporters to me.

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