Rhode Island · School Talk

Kiara Butler: Shifting the Narrative from Perfection to Truth

The full text of Kiara Butler’s TEDxProvidence talk on September 30th, 2017 is below. 


The Untold Truth

by Kiara Butler

I want to play a game
But it has to be our game
It has to be our secret
That means you can’t tell anyone that we’re playing this game.
Not even your friends.

Those were the words he said to me…

He first began to touch me around the age of 8.
Touch me in places that were supposed to be sacred.
I trusted him and I thought that what he was doing was right.
I thought that playing a game with my stepfather was something that all little girls did.
But it wasn’t until I grew older, after years and years of us playing this game, our game, that I learned I was being molested.

I had built a relationship with my stepfather being that he was present in my life. My dad was.. is.. an alcoholic and cheated on my mother when I was 8 months old, which left her to raise me and my 2 sisters alone. My mother was married to my stepfather for about 8 years. Well at least that’s when I stopped counting.

As a result most of my life was spent raised by my molester. It was spent in silence because I had promised to keep this secret.

I also didn’t want to be blamed for what happened to me. I didn’t want to be judged or labeled as hyper-sexualized. We tend to put labels onto situations that we don’t understand because in our minds, it’s easier to classify a situation or person based on past experiences than to have the realization that we’re all complex human beings. Because of this.. I shied away from the idea of people saying that I wanted it to happen. And so I told no one.

Just like I didn’t tell anyone that I was gay until my freshman year of college. It took a while for me to accept it myself because I wanted so badly to be straight. I would pray every night for me to no longer feel what I was feeling… for God to fix me and make my life like everyone else’s. I would pray so much that my prayers had prayers.

Growing up, I felt obligated to have a boyfriend because that’s what everyone asked about. I can still remember at a very young age being questioned about what little boy I was crushing on in class. It was the favorite question that my grandmother and great aunt would ask every weekend. Other than my great aunt asking “how’s your hammer hanging?” and me replying “it’s fine.”

I would say a random name like Jeffrey or Adam but in reality my soul was crying out for me to say the girl’s name that I would constantly smile at and she would smile back.

So I went through my adolescent years seeking love from guys because I thought that that’s what I was supposed to do. I knew that if I were to come out and say that I was gay, I would have either been bullied or called an abomination or both. And so I told no one.

We tend to live our lives telling no one our truths. You know, the truths that we’ve buried so deep inside of us in hopes that they go away. But still they linger and hunt us because they are apart of who we’ve become. Our truths have helped to shape our present and continue to mold our future.

How did we as a society become so comfortable with not living our truths? Daily we’re asked “how we’re doing” by our peers, colleagues or family and without even thinking we utter the words “I’m well”. But are you really well? 24 hours a day.. 7 days a week. When is it okay to be humble enough to break down and say that life sucks today?

We’ve built outer shells that have allowed us to get away with not being vulnerable. I would like to think that vulnerability is what truly makes us human. But being vulnerable means that you have to live with yourself. You have to proudly live with your secrets and you have to accept your mistakes.

I’ve lived with my untold truths for roughly 20 years. And these are the truths that I am just now willingly open to share. Imagine how many untold truths we carry throughout our lifetime. Imagine how these untold truths affect the generations that come after us. If we shared more of our mistakes and experiences with other people, I believe that we can stop making the same mistakes over and over and over again.

As adults, we have to be willing to engage in conversations that go beneath the surface. The types of conversations that most people avoid.. and we have to be willing to have these conversations with our youth so that they aren’t taught to live up to our unrealistic ideals of perfection. Shifting the narrative from perfection to truth.

Because… Our youth are already living similar truths such as mine and yours and they will continue to live with them hidden if we don’t begin to address the elephant in the room. We have to stop only addressing the symptom by placing the same bandaid over various levels of trauma that we all carry through our untold truths.

The first step for this paradigm shift to take place is humility. It’s accepting that we don’t have all of the answers or that we aren’t as perfect as our facebook and instagram paint us to be. We must do so with an open-mind and understanding that not everyone is in the same place.

Growing up, I didn’t know what it meant to be a student that received free or reduce lunch. I was just happy that there was never a day that I would forget my lunch money. It wasn’t until I joined the education sector that I realized society has already placed the marker of failure on “low-income” students and I was one of them. I went through my adolescent years thinking that youth of color were given the same resources as everyone else. I didn’t know that there were systems and structures in place that contributed and promoted the failures of entire races. But as a very good friend of mine always says, “We have to stop looking at our youth of color from a deficit perspective.”

In 2017, why are we still providing our youth with an education that is structured to prepare them to work in factories but place the blame on them for being disengaged ..when in reality we’re not meeting their individualized needs? I’ll repeat that question..

We’ve skipped the step of building relationships with our youth and assigned them to buckets based on their test scores or socio-economic status. We’ve predicted their entire future in advance before they even make it to middle school.

Our youth, specifically our youth of color are trying to thrive in environments that are structured for them to fail. Most are trying to escape the perpetual cycles of poverty, some are trying to navigate in spaces of white privilege, and others just want to feel as if they have a voice thats worth listening to.

The way a person looks, their race and ethnicity is not often times the topic of discussion that people want to engage in. But we can’t truthfully talk about socio-economic status without talking about race. We can’t eliminate sexism, racism, homophobia, or classism, if we aren’t talking about how they’re all interconnected.

We can’t skip the race conversation and dive right into data because if you pull back the layers of that data you will see that all roads lead to your skin tone.

What are we doing now that we’ve witnessed these perpetual cycles for centuries? What do we do for those of us that aren’t yet ready to acknowledge this as truth? And what do we do for the people that are willing and ready to have these conversations but don’t know where to start?

Well… Myself and 2 seniors of our k-12 education system, Taiwo Demola and Taliq Tillman created the solution through an idea that has now evolved into a company called Diversity Talks.

Diversity Talks creates a healing space for adults and youth to have these conversations in the classroom- where our youth spend most of their lives and are greatly impacted.

Diversity Talks fosters this space by providing youth-led professional development to k-12 educators. We train youth to be able to facilitate difficult conversations around topics such as race, power, privilege, and oppression with adults in their schools.

Because the realization lies within the fact that even though they spend a countless number of hours in the classroom all of their identities and experiences still have not been acknowledged or represented.

Diversity Talks asks adults to relinquish their power by allowing youth to have a seat at the table. An actual seat where youth are able to make decisions for themselves. Not just decisions based off of what we project onto them.

These conversations can’t just take place in silos. They can’t just be had with people that look like you or can relate to your background, they have to be inclusive and they have to be the truth.

I knew that I couldn’t stand here in front of you today with untold truths while going out into the world promoting the mission of Diversity Talks. I couldn’t continue to ask adults to reach a level of discomfort and vulnerability, if I hadn’t done so myself.

Today, I ask you to join me in living your truth. Join me by asking the next person you cross paths with “how is your day?” But this time, actually wait long enough for a response, pushing them beyond the response of “I’m well” or “it’s going well”.

Join me by being willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations with our youth.

It is then that we can begin to dismantle systems that aren’t equitable.

Join Diversity Talks.

Thank you.

Kiara Butler is the CEO and Co-Founder of Diversity Talks, a nascent, Rhode Island-based which provides K-12 school districts and higher education institutions with student-led professional development grounded in the cultural competencies of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Butler is a strong advocate for student voice and in her current work, she focuses on bringing the voices of marginalized groups to the forefront.
Butler is a Mississippi native where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Interdisciplinary Career Oriented Humanities with an emphasis in African American Studies from the prestigious Tougaloo College and became a member of the Gamma Psi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Butler also holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Belhaven University.
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