When I was in 3rd grade we completed an art project for Valentine’s Day where the student’s profile shadow is projected onto a black piece of paper, traced, cut out and then pasted onto a large red heart. Before the gift is proudly given to the adult in your life whom you love, it’s displayed outside the classroom door on the hallway wall for a couple of weeks. As the class is lined up the jokes begin about which hearts are paired together and which person belongs with the specific profile. Yet, among the students whose profiles look the same is a student whose hair grows to the sun. There are obvious physical differences as I am the only Black girl in the class with long braids, bows and barrettes on my hair. This was one of the many activities/examples/conversations throughout my life where there was clear and specific evidence that I was in a space where I was obviously different than “others.”
Decades later, that student is now an adult who’s written a book full of lessons she’s learned while navigating life as a magical unicorn. Lessons about invisibility, the power of representation, as well as disparities in health care, education, and employment, and many more. Even though the cover artist didn’t know the story of the 3rd grade baby unicorn, she captured the image perfectly after a short hour-long conversation. The cover of my book has silhouettes in the background that are shades of gray, and they’re all the same. There’s the face of an adult with a large puff of hair, and in the front is the image of a child with hair that looked like mine as a child. The hair looked like my daughters with their twists that dangle down and some that point towards the sun. The little girl is also wearing a string of white pearls with one pearl that is different. It’s not quite black on the book cover, but her necklace has a pearl that’s the only on the string.
Perhaps the reason the cover artist was able to capture the image so perfectly is because the experiences of unicorns in this country are more common than we think or acknowledge. Perhaps whether walking into a classroom or a board room produces the same feeling when you recognize you are the “only” in that space. Perhaps when you look around at the pictures on the walls, you know if the space was designed for you or not. Perhaps there’s a moment when the feeling of “pride” at being the “only” in a space transforms to “exhaustion.” When you’re the “only” in a space, there’s no one to discuss that joke that was made at your expense. Did I really hear that? Did they really mean that? Am I just imagining it? Was it a race/gender/religious slur? Am I being too sensitive? When you’re the “only” in a space, there’s no one to discuss that interaction in the meeting when you said the same thing as another, but the statement made by the other was heard/validated. The cover art of my book is amazing and special, but the strength of unicorns is even more amazing and special. We thrive and survive in worlds not designed for us because we’re just that magical.