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I choose to question. I choose who I can be.

Tyra Beaman is a bridge-builder, an orator, a diplomat, an agent of change and an IB graduate. She is a Black young woman from Richmond, Virginia and informed by her unapologetic identity. This is her story.

I choose to question. I choose who I can be.

By Tyra Beaman

“When we chose the IB, we didn’t just choose a challenging programme that would prepare us to get into an excellent collegiate institution. We chose a lens through which we would come to see, believe in and love ourselves, others, and our own responsibility to make a change”.

Somewhere sandwiched between Tara Westover’s Educated and Tressie Cotton’s Thick, I found me. Similar to Tara, I was grateful for all that education has exposed me to but frustrated like Tressie that no matter how much I achieve academically or professionally, for some reason, America just can’t, “get used to me” (I Am America, Muhammad Ali). I write today, not about how our nation has failed to support the high intellectual development of young girls into top practitioners within the sciences, policy, history, education and the arts (that’s for a different blog), but about how our communities have failed to teach the critical stuff―emotional intelligence.

As I write this piece, after reading countless books throughout this pandemic (shout-out to both Educated and Thick for mentally and emotionally traveling with me) this is my twentieth time over five months seeking to pinpoint exactly how I know I have the power to choose who I can be and why I choose to exercise that power. The questions seem absurd even to write in a nation that swears to guarantee at least 10 basic rights to every citizen―at least one of them has to say something about your freedom to choose your own life and your own direction―right? You read the stories of Tara―who struggled until receiving her doctorate from Cambridge with violent abuse and consequently determining who she is and more importantly, who she is not. It took Tressie her childhood and into her adulthood fighting to, “fix her feet”, and negotiate her, “thickness”, to fit into the mold of woman and Blackness and intellect that White western realities had subscribed for her life. Then, you read the stories of Breonna Taylor, Aiyana Jones, and Tiffany Harris and are reminded time and time again that everyone in our nation does not have that choice. What relevance does the American dream have if only applied to a select few?

“I found that there was only one programme, dedicated to exploring who I am and who I can be, the IB”.

Growing up in Henrico County in Richmond, Virginia, I was exposed to the limits of that American dream. Similar to many marginalized communities within the U.S., there are limits to academic excellence based on your zip code, gender, skin complexion and family history. Within my own microcosm of the nation, the ability to choose a high school specialty center beyond zip code, was seen as a cunning way to overcome these limits. Each center attempts to sell parents and students on a future career a student can pursue or an obtainable degree. However, I found that there was only one programme, dedicated to exploring who I am and who I can be, the IB.

Unfortunately, many families and school administrators get stuck solely on the question of intelligence quotient (IQ), often determined by standardized testing scores, acceptance to honors programmes, admittance to elite universities and fancy job titles. What value do these things hold if a young person struggles with their own emotional intelligence; often revealed through their inability to empathize, fear of self-expression and shame associated with their life experiences? What impact do these hollow markers of success have on a young student if they cannot clearly and confidently tell you who they are and who they hope to be? What relevance do they hold when you’re lonely in a pandemic? The answer to these questions is a reflection of the historically-flawed U.S. American education system and the historically-flawed American dream. One that benefits the privileged and further suppresses the marginalized. One that rewards IQ over the empathy of a young leader who courageously stands in their truth inspiring others to do the same.

“We must ensure our youth have access to programmes and educators who will assist them in building the life tools and core values”

Fourteen-year-old me may not have been fully aware of the importance of developing my own emotional intelligence when choosing a high school, but I was aware I was not interested in being the, “other”, in a classroom space that allows homogenous thinking and rewarded those who fear deep questioning and critique about our world and our role within it.

While touring specialty programmes, I quickly learned the IB programme was not like the curriculum at other centers, it felt like home. I was surrounded by a group of students who shared a previous experience in elementary and middle school being deemed the, “other”, or the, “token minority”, either due to their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, ability, nationality or political persuasion. Despite our past experiences, in the IB community we were connected to a global diverse community of young learners committed to asking, “why?”. We asked “why?” in IB English as we considered the influence of mental health on the complexity of author Sylvia Plath’s work and in IB seminar as we sought to find a solution and role of the nation-state in addressing the Syrian humanitarian crisis. Even as we learned IB physical fitness, we were questioning how to develop fitness programming that is intentionally inclusive and accommodating to all ability identities.

When we chose the IB, we didn’t just choose a challenging programme that would prepare us to get into an excellent collegiate institution. We chose a lens through which we would come to see, believe in and love ourselves, others and our own responsibility to make a change. I chose a community where I could see my Black excellence as a normality. Ultimately, despite scholarship offers from many colleges and universities, I chose a college where I could truly, be me. In April 2012, I chose to attend a historically Black, all women’s institution: Spelman College. Only after my experiences in the IB and at Spelman, I am proud to scream to the world all aspects of my identity. I am a Black young woman from a blended family. I am a bridge-builder, yet I too have caused divisions. I am an orator, yet sometimes I struggle to find the words for my pain. I am a U.S. diplomat, yet I have participated in acts of civil disobedience within my local community. I am an imperfect, perfectly-made human being.

Therefore, in our world today―filled with chaos, hate, and violence―we must ensure we teach emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ demands that our youth have access to programmes and educators who will assist them in building the life tools and core values to, first and foremost, accept who they are and how their unique truths are integral to changing our world. It is only when a child has been empowered and inspired to be, “crazy enough to think that they can change the world … that they actually will”, (Steve Jobs).

I do not know what may drive your decision-making as you prepare for the next stage of your learning journey or career, but when you make your decision, remember you have the power to direct your life’s path. So, if you have the option, choose a path and a community that supports the most authentic, resilient version of you―choose a path that will allow you to freely and lovingly just be.

Tyra

Tyra Beaman currently serves as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State (The views expressed in the article do not necessarily represent the views of the agency or the United States). She is a graduate of Henrico High School and completed both the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP).

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at alumni.relations@ibo.org. We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter Instagram and YouTube!