You have heard the word a million times: unprecedented. The word seems to have lost its meaning and weight as we come to the end of 2020 and into “the new normal.” Yet these days right now are the ones that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Living through the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest racial justice movement in U.S. history, California wildfires, and countless other unremarkable events — 2020 has changed everything. As our lives have been torn apart and slowly stitched back together, we have the power and opportunity to build a new future.
This is the change that Raldgine Beauvais is calling for.
Raldgine grew up in a small town as one of the few Black students in her school. Throughout middle school and high school, this isolation took its toll on her. While she had her two Black friends, being in a predominantly white school led many to brush her and her friends off whenever they’d discuss “Black problems.”
She specifically recounted a time when students from her high school created a racist Twitter account that pretended to sell slaves. The account was ridden with racial slurs and followed the Black students from her school. When the students who created the account were exposed and reported to the school, they received a stern talking-to — nothing else.
“That’s when I realized that it sucks being alone and being by yourself while going through that phase where kids will just say the N-word because they think it’s funny, but you just can’t do anything about it,” she says.
Raldgine felt this isolation beginning to affect her mental health.
“During high school, I just had really low self-esteem,” she says. “I just didn’t really see myself as beautiful or my skin color as beautiful. I wanted to fit in so badly with everybody else, and it just got worse and worse.”
Growing up with rigid beauty standards, it was difficult for her to feel confident when she didn’t fit the image of a skinny, white, blonde girl. With that feeling like the epitome of beauty at the time, the emphasis that she is not that girl was inescapable.
“Going to school and seeing that, going to social media and seeing that and seeing that in my town — it gets to you. You think that’s the beauty standard and I don’t look like that. That played a big role in my self-esteem.”
It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that her outlook on life began to change. She took a current events class that highlighted the imperfections in the world around us.
“We talked about racism, sexism, homophobia, terrorism and ISIS — just having my eyes opened to the world drastically changed my views,” she says. “That’s when I started becoming more vocal about racial injustice. That’s when I started forming my own opinions and filling my social media feed with things going on in the world. I just really want to help people, so I want to be updated on what’s happening.”
Filled with compassion and empathy, Raldgine realized her calling in life is to serve others and help those in need. She decided that she would study behavioral science in college and eventually open up her own clinic.
A fresh start
In order to make her dreams a reality, Raldgine came to Penn State to study biobehavioral health. As soon as she stepped foot on campus, she noticed a striking difference from her hometown.
“Coming to Penn State, it was honestly a culture shock for me,” she says. “Even though Penn State’s still a PWI [predominantly white institution], there were definitely still more Black people than basically I’ve seen in my life or at least in my town … Most of my friends were people of color my freshman year which was really cool. That was my first experience being surrounded by people that looked like me. That’s when my self-confidence really went through the roof.”
Having supportive Black friends meant everything to her. Even if they weren’t from the same area, they shared their Black experiences. She’d listen to their stories of where they grew up, and she gained a broader perspective on what it’s like to be Black in the U.S.
“Obviously kids would say the N-word and say things about Black people, but as for someone just coming up to me and being disrespectful, I’ve never really felt that,” she says. “I’ve talked to people who’ve come from the inner city and everything, so that really opened my eyes.”
Having more diverse friends led to a range of new experiences and conversations. This gave Raldgine a place to openly discuss problems of racial inequality with people who also wanted to make a change. This desire for change was put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine.
Catalyst for change
As Raldgine left school for spring break, she never would’ve expected to remain home for the rest of the year. With the COVID-19 pandemic quickly spreading and sending everyone to quarantine, Raldgine embarked on a whole new journey.
“Coming back home from college was a very different experience, especially during this time of transformation that I was having,” she says. “I was just thinking about how I was in high school and how I am now, and it was such a big change.”
After growing so much in college and having a new-found self-confidence, she knew she needed to keep going. After feeling tied down to her old ways, she knew she needed to do the one thing she said she would never do: the big chop. After years of growing her hair long, perming it and straightening it, she knew this was something she needed to do for herself.
“I wanted a change and wanted to put a new foot forward, so I cut my hair really short,” she says. “I feel like that was a cultural reset for me. Cutting my hair was just me taking my power back into my hands. In that moment was when I really, really started advocating for racial justice and honestly everything else going on in the world — homophobia, sexism, all that stuff. It made me want to live in a place where everyone is accepted and no one is above each other.”
After letting go of her old self, she knew that there was more change that needed to be done. As cracks in our racial justice system began deepening, it pushed Raldgine further. She began attending protests, sparking important conversations, forming new relationships and filling her social media with Black beauty.
With pressures from social media as one of the biggest influences to harm her self-confidence growing up, she turned something once so toxic into a space for inspiration. She now fills her feed with Black women and accounts that celebrate dark skin. Now when she sees posts about beauty, outfits or trends, she sees them on Black women. Shifting what content she consumes has lifted her up and inspires her to lift up others.
“Just seeing where I was as a girl who didn’t like her skin tone, didn’t like her hair, didn’t really understand Black culture or even how it is growing up Black with Black friends and having that, and just being so sad about it and not wanting to be myself,” she says. “All of this compared to now. I am embracing every part of me and standing up for people.”
Working on herself and building her confidence empowered her to see that she could bring that same positive change to those around her. Her transformation was the defining moment for seeing that the world could change too.
“When I first started on this journey, I was still kind of selfish and thinking, ‘Oh yeah, that’s happening, but I’m young and don’t need to focus on that,’” she says. “And now it’s just like no, this is affecting me. I’m the next generation.”
After everything that has happened in 2020 so far, it’s clear that change needs to happen. Now is the time to rebuild a new foundation for the future, and it can all start with a conversation. These conversations are about coming together, listening and growing. Radgine says the best kind of conversations we need right now are more people sharing their stories.
“Put them in your shoes,” she says. “Imagine if you were me. Having that conversation and being real about what you’ve experienced makes a difference … Just keep it real and tell your story because that’s the most powerful thing that you have.”
Opening up a conversation about what needs to change is the only way to move out of the chaos and into a brighter future. It’s about coming together at this unique point in time and making decisions that are much bigger than us.
“I want to see more alliance, not division — more bonds being created between people,” she says. “I want more conversations to be happening — more people talking about what’s going on … A conversation is starting. I want our generation to be more powerful in our beliefs because I feel like us millennials and Gen Z, we are changing the world. We’re not going to take this. I want more of that.”
In addition to conversations, Raldgine says that educating ourselves is incredibly important. Be curious, and challenge what you think you know. Raldgine gives the example of history classes in school. We are taught just a sliver of history that has led to incredible change. Go beyond just U.S. or European history — there are so many more stories to be heard than what we are taught. It’s never too late or too early to start learning from our past.
“Learn from 2020 and ask, ‘What did we do where everything went wrong?’ Learn from this so this doesn’t happen again,” she says.
The new standard
Since Raldgine’s self-transformation towards self-acceptance and confidence, she sees the need for change within the fashion industry and media.
She says it’s not enough for a fashion company to “be diverse” — there need to be more conversations that discuss the importance of inclusion. Raldgine believes that once there have been significant changes within the media and fashion industry, other areas will follow suit.
For example, she explains that in many workplaces, natural hair for a Black woman is not accepted. Despite being a part of Black culture, curls and braids are often deemed unprofessional. By having natural hair more represented in the media, Raldgine hopes it’ll become normalized in the workplace.
“If a big fashion industry puts up a poster of a Black woman with her natural hair, then more individuals would recognize that natural hair is professional’,” she says.
Raldgine says inclusivity goes beyond including people of color and wants to see people with disabilities be represented. Having models who need wheelchairs or with missing limbs is important too so people with disabilities can see someone relatable. Fashion and feeling beautiful is for everyone.
Building off of this idea, she explains the importance of women uplifting each other. She says that coming together is more important now than ever and that anyone can make a difference.
“No matter who you are or what you look like, or even if you fit all of the Euro-centric beauty standards, you can still make a change,” she says. “Even if you’re not Black or a person of color, you still have so much power to make a change. With that, for them [white women] to know that they’re beautiful too. Just because I talk about Black girls compared to white girls or skinny girls, everyone is so beautiful, and I just want everyone to realize that. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re being put down because another race is being uplifted — I want everyone to be uplifted at the same time. However, we need to realize that there are girls who are being put down, and we need to end that. Every shade is beautiful and every race needs to uplift each other; even the men in that race have to uplift their girls as well.”
Don’t lose yourself in the fight
While uplifting and advocating for others, Raldgine emphasizes to not forget to take care of yourself. Especially with issues like racial injustice, the effects of that conversation run much deeper than politics or the media.
“Waking up and seeing another Black person getting killed for nothing, seeing it on the news, seeing people on social media talk about it — it’s traumatizing. Because then you think, ‘That could be my dad, that could be me.’ … When we say our lives matter, why do people hate that? It plays on my mental health.”
It’s important to look after your own mental health and well-being during this time. Raldgine explains that, often, mental health can be a taboo topic.
“I don’t want to play on stigmas or stereotypes, but it’s true that in the Black community, especially me having parents from Haiti, talking about mental health is not a thing,” she says. “Mental health just wasn’t talked about.”
Raldgine says that having mental health be part of this conversation is an important aspect when it comes to fighting for change.
“I realized that even if I was going to these protests and speaking up about this, I still wasn’t good within myself, so I couldn’t pour it into other people,” she says. “It has just been important to work on myself so that I can help others.”
She wants to raise awareness of the different resources that are out there. At Penn State, one of the most well-known resources include Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Raldgine believes that having people talk more about their experiences at CAPS could help break some of the stigma surrounding getting help.
“I want all these people to know to not be afraid to get help during these times. We need it. We need someone to talk to. Having that conversation about the resources you can go to is everything.”
Whoever you are, wherever you are
Raldgine emphasizes to advocate for whatever change you want to see and the things that are important to you.
“Keep fighting for change,” she says. “Be confident in who you are, because who you are, every personality trait, every quality, you can use it to be a change and advocate for stuff. I want people to be inspired to just talk about stuff that’s going on. I just want a conversation to be started.”
Raldgine believes that change can always happen, even if it may seem impossible. It’s easy to feel so small, especially when dealing with issues that span the country or world, but you can start making a difference wherever you are. She explains that if you’re feeling stuck, there’s no need to worry.
“No matter who you are, you can make a change,” she says. “Where you’re placed right now is for a reason. Growing up I was like, OK — me, a dark-skinned Black girl — why am I in a white town? Why did my parents choose this town to raise me? After that, why did I choose a PWI? Why didn’t I go to a HBCU [historically black college or university]? But, I realized I needed that experience to grow and educate others.
Raldgine’s past experiences have all led up to this moment of change. Through a challenging high school experience, quarantine, recent racial injustices and many other hurdles, Raldgine has used all of these moments to push her vision further.
Raldgine is paving her way to make a difference. In a time filled with so much uncertainty, she refuses to let her dreams be silenced.
“I want Penn State to know that they need to listen to their students, especially the ones of the color. We have stories to tell, and things to change. When we talk, Penn State needs to not only listen but bring change by working with us. A simple email is not “change.” We want people to listen and act. We want to be heard.”
This new wave is washing over us all. Be a part of the change.