Shaking her hips to “Freedom” by Beyonce, Misty Monroe danced on stage Thursday night, setting a energetic tone to her play, “Unapologetically Black.”
As part of Cal State Fullerton’s President’s Reception celebrating Black History Month, “Unapologetically Black” is the story of Monroe’s struggle and eventual triumph to develop a healthy black identity.
Filled with laughter, pop culture references and haunting moments of candor, Monroe invited people into her story of finding an authentic version of oneself.
Monroe started the show sharing the difficulty she experienced combining her two identities: the one she had with her black friends in South Central Los Angeles, and the other with her white friends in suburban neighborhoods. With a constant desire to fit in, she said she often fell short and got questioning looks from her friends when she was acting “too black” or “too white” with the wrong group.
In the middle of feeling lost, Monroe heard a lecture about the “Stages of Nigrescence,” which are the five stages of developing a healthy black identity.
As she journeyed through the multiple stages, pain plagued her story. Her mother died from drug abuse and her father eventually became homeless.
Overwhelmed by pain and confusion, Monroe said she turned to marijuana. She said she soon became addicted and couldn’t afford a day without relying on the drug.
Slowly, with the help of her father and self-help books, Monroe put her life back together.
She graduated from San Diego State University, landed a substitute teaching job and eventually started dating someone on and off for the next few years. When Monroe asked him if he’d ever commit to her, he dropped a line that shattered her:
“You’re sweet, you’re funny. I just feel like one day you’ll probably end up like your mom and your dad. I think we should just be friends,” Monroe said he said.
In that moment, Monroe realized broken pieces of her past still haunted her. From her mother’s sudden death to her own substance abuse, there were still parts of Monroe that told her she would never be enough. And now someone was telling her to listen to those parts.
Bawling, Monroe called her best friend and divulged the latest heartbreak life had just handed her.
“So, what? You heard the worst thing that you believe about yourself. You heard it out loud. Now what,” Monroe said, recalling the words of her best friend.
She joked she hadn’t thought that far and that the words her best friend said still resonate with her.
Monroe said she came to a realization that she’d done the work to find herself and didn’t need anyone to tell her otherwise.
“At that moment, I decided I don’t care. I’m going to be vulnerable. I’m going to be my authentic self. I’m not going to apologize anymore (to) anybody about it. And if you can’t accept it, deuces,” Monroe said.
Trimaine Davis, coordinator for the African American Resource Center, said he valued how Monroe’s resilience, despite the setbacks, cemented the idea of the human heart’s desire to succeed. Davis knows her story is reflective of many in black history, but said that it is a journey more people should know.
“Everyone, regardless of your race, your culture, your ethnicity, your creed, can take away a lot from that play. That was a story of struggle, but most importantly, a story of resistance and redemption,” Davis said.
In her one-woman play, Monroe presents to the audience a story of a woman struggling to find herself and never quite understanding why. Beaten down and discouraged many times, Monroe’s triumphant comeback resonates during a month dedicated to celebrating the stories and successes of black culture.
Speaking after her performance, Monroe said she wrote this show for black people who feel left out or confused.
“It’s not always going to be easy simply being in our skin and people don’t support us being in our skin. However, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with us,” Monroe said. “I wrote (this play) to encourage black people and let them know that what they’re going through — these stages — are completely normal.”