There’s a song lyric by the artist, India Arie that says, “I am not my hair; I am not this skin.”

I sang those words with all my heart as a teenager, but it wasn’t until I learned how to embrace my authentic self that I came to embody them.

Growing up, I attended a predominantly white school. Even though I had an amazing childhood, it came with its own “character-building” experiences. In the first grade, a classmate of mine told me she wouldn’t play with me because of the color of my skin. The kids at school sometimes referred to me as an “Oreo”. Oddly enough, they thought it was endearing. The one Black teacher I had would often tell me that I needed to be twice as good. That message was echoed in the conversations I would have at home. I would have loved not to be identified by my hair and my skin, but it often seemed to be a topic of discussion.

Jessica with straight hair in a pink blazer

My first headshot, hiding my natural hair

College is where I began to gain some confidence and embrace my authentic self. I attended Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black college and university. At Prairie View, I learned that being Black wasn’t a monolith and that I was not an anomaly. I sat next to students who were nerdy, studied abroad, and took Mandarin language classes, just like me. My experience through those years led me to the summer after graduation, where I did something that a younger me would never have imagined – I went natural. I cut off the permanently relaxed hair that had been straightened my whole life and allowed my hair to grow naturally in its kinky curly state.

Fast forward 6 months, and at just 21 years old, I joined AT&T’s Business Sales Leadership Development Program. My parents were concerned for me. Their life experience showed them that there was no room for natural hair in the workplace. While I certainly continued to struggle with my insecurities, I’m grateful I can name countless experiences that have shaped me for the better. After hiding my hair for 3 years, I was brave enough again to stop wearing wigs and weaves made with bone straight hair and let my ‘fro be free. That same year, I had the greatest success of my sales career, becoming a top performer and winning multiple awards and accolades.

Jessica pokes her head out, smiling

Rocking my ‘fro proudly

Today, it’s been nearly 10 years since I started my career at AT&T. The customers I’ve developed relationships with have praised me. My work friends continue to support me, and my leaders have championed me no matter how my appearance has changed. And even when I took time away from the company to build a life coaching business, those co-workers turned friends celebrated my successes.

I have quite literally grown up at AT&T, and as such, becoming my authentic self has also been closely intertwined with my experiences in this company. I am grateful for the community of people who saw me for who I was and still made me feel safe.

Now I feel compelled to be the person I needed when I was just beginning my career. For years, I’ve watched young professionals join this company and be accepted for who they are, just as I was 10 years ago. It is my hope that when they see me, they feel just as encouraged to continue to be themselves too.

Representation exposes us to possibilities.

My story is proof that you can be a high-performer and respected leader even while rocking your ‘fro.

Learn more about representation at AT&T