Welcome!

My name is Alexzandria Kaylan Churchill, but most just know me as Lexi. This is the only spot in cyberspace that you will see my full name. Not too many get so close that they even know my real name, nonetheless the details – the ones that make up my being.

So here I get personal. Here, I let you in.

But truth be told, I’m still working on letting myself in with self reflection, writing and exploring. I’ve always believed I learn the most about myself through other people.

You see and read about those people – these amazing humans that inspire me to explore, teach me the lessons they’ve learned and help me love my life even more. Through them and our relationships, I will know myself.


 

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Amplified Whispers

For Sierra, may you always encourage the inclusion you did not receive yourself. 

“What did you say?” Sierra commanded sternly with one eyebrow raised. “I need you to repeat it so you hear how ignorant you sound.”
With sheepish hesitance the blonde freshman said, “You’re sassy because you’re black.”
“You realize you’re making a generalized statement, right?”
“My other black friend is okay with it.”
“Well I’m not your black friend from home. I’m Sierra Danielle Morris and I don’t appreciate that comment. I’m sassy because I’m me. I’m sassy because i’m having a bad day today, but I’m not sassy because I’m black.”
Sierra let her statement fill the silence of the study room for a few more moments. She’d owned the room. She’d made her statement.
But Sierra did not always have the voice to stand up. Before she spoke in whispers.
. . .
Mizzou was divided, socially, geographically – not in total, but sometimes it felt that way.
Sierra never wanted to limit herself to a specific group either way – she hadn’t in her diverse high school. Why should she have to now? However, it didn’t take long for Sierra to realize that wouldn’t be so easy.
At first Sierra didn’t want to be part of “Black Mizzou.” She worried if she embraced that group, there wouldn’t be room for anyone else. Ever since her fourth grade
Things changed after a few semesters. The fall of her sophomore year Michael Brown was shot, not two hours from campus. The fall of her sophomore year, black mizzou students experienced the same discrimination. And the fall of her sophomore year, those students decided to do something about it. Sierra became one of those activists.
She strolled past Carnahan Quad the first day the tents were pitched up. She looked at the students with same complexion as her own and thought to herself what most mizzou students seemed to think – they’re crazy. Crazy, not because they were retaliating racism on campus and the lack of action against it, but because of these far out demands. And of course the hunger strike.
The second day she stopped. Sierra asked a few protesters about the specifics. They invited her to a meeting that night. She accepted.
One thing led to another and before she knew it, she was headed to Kansas City –  a fellow protester. They’d come to speak with Tim Wolfe, the UM System President who’d ignored opportunity after opportunity to handle racial injustice incidents at Mizzou.
The group made its way into a UM System black tie Gala tennis shoe step by tennis shoe step. It wasn’t their sneakers that made them stand out the most.
Standing near the — event, the students linked arms, pressing each other with the color that bonded them most. And they chanted. And they did not let go, not until Wolfe heard their words.

“I stood there and we started chanting. The idea that the people beside me weren’t going to unlink their arms, they weren’t going to move and no matter what they had me and I had them, it dissipates all your fear. At that point, you’re not scared anymore. At that point, you’re empowered. At that point, you know that you can do anything. And no matter what they say to you, you are not leaving. You have a purpose there.”

As much as Sierra felt empowered, she was angry – angry that she had to be there, angry that it’d gone this far.
However, the racial situation only seemed to grow worse. Not soon after, several black members of the homecoming court were called the ‘n’ word. And another protest ensued. This time Sierra had no hesitation in joining in.
 Black Mizzou was no longer limiting, but the most empowering experience to be had.
Sierra still strove for inclusivity. That was something her exclusive fourth grade year pushed her to always remember.
She puts forth black representation on tour team. She enourages encourages volunteering as one as a service ambassador. She befriends the rainbow.

On Her Shoulders

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To Humera, I know you will realize your absolute greatness one day soon. 

The islamophobia that spewed from his mouth struck a chord. Humera had, of course, heard it all before from one racist or another, but this was different, much different.
Those previous remarks came from mouths of the irrelevant on the street. It’s not as easy to shake off the words of your president.
Out of two discriminatory decades, it was perhaps the first real time she was scared to be a muslim in america. Her headscarf put a target on her back.
But that headscarf was her first true choice within her faith – to where it or not and when to start. Her hijab symbolized everything good in her life – past and present. That inkling of fear would not overcome the faith that had strengthened her so.
       . . .
Humera’s mother thought her headscarf eagerness was misguided. She was only in first grade after all. She did not understand the weight that would come with the cloth.
But in Humera’s youthful eyes, hijabs were everywhere, as were strong muslim women. Despite living in the middle of Missouri, the Lohdi family had found their niche in the muslim community.
Although stereotypes surrounded her community, her parents did their best to divert the attention of those false descriptions. They redirected Humera’s thoughts to the good and that’s what she grew to associate her faith with. Kindness, service, inclusion – it all took her back to Islam.
Her role models embodied this and they, of course, wore the headscarf. It became a symbol of what Humera was striving for.
So she continued to ask, year after year. And after three, her mother finally said yes. She knew Humera still wasn’t ready, but Humera’s parents had always been the type to encourage freedom of thought.
Her mother handed her a book on history of Hijab and muslim women. Humera needed to educate herself and form her own voice thereafter.
That task didn’t come easily.
It wasn’t that Humera didn’t think on her own – she had a world of opinions when it came to her faith. But her voice was silenced by shyness.
Peers would often ask about her headscarf, her faith, her henna. She struggled to find the words to encompass this enormously impactful aspect of her life. The goodness was overwhelming in sorts.
However, the more questions that came, the more Humera found her footing. The more she learned, the more she spoke up. With small strides, she became the go to for anything islam-esk.
Come college, that status brought a mountain on her shoulders to her shoulders.
Humera felt as though she was carrying the Columbia muslim community on her back as she charged into the unknown territory of the journalism world.
She had to be represent them well. She had to be successful. She had to be perfect – at least, that’s what she convinced herself.
That weight worked worked up her shyness. Her shyness submerged the confident voice she’d built up.
During an interviewing exercise in her convergence reporting class one day, they were charged with the task of the ever-important follow up question. The class was interviewing their teacher, a long-esteemed photojournalist with an open secret none knew prior to the question right before Humera’s.
It felt like he dropped a bomb when he told the class about his cancer. His words floated through the room with such causality, yet carried the implications of death underneath.
That mountain came back. His words had muted hers.
The silence fell as heavy as the weight she’d placed on her own back.
After a minute or so with a few prompts of help, she changed the subject.
That was early on in the semester. She was still proving her abilities to herself then. It took practice and perseverance to find her footing. Little did she realize, that’s how everyone was.
Before long, she’d entered an even more daunting task – a technology competition. Looking around she saw only white men.
Although she wrote best about her identity, she never wanted to be limited to it.

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In-Between Intersections

For those in-between, may you find peace and beauty within your own intersection. 

There was something so exquisitely beautiful – something so inherently undeniable that day when they bowed their heads and raised their fists.
When they said “We have nothing to lose but our chains,” my heartbeat tripled.
I put my camera down when to witness take in the celebration of resignation.
But when they said  “Ashe” then “Power,” I could not hold back my tears.
I could not stay away.
I could not stay away from the Concerned Student 1950 protests in the fall of my freshman year. And I could not stay away from any other protests thereafter.
I never denied the attraction, but I never questioned it either. I would not understand it until a few years later, a few weeks ago truly, when those same chants and those same motions elicited the same response once again.
I sat paralyzed on a tattered black leather couch when those words of simultaneous strength and struggle filled the tiny rag tag theater. They erupted from the film “Whose Streets,” a documentary tracing the events and effects surrounding the shooting of  Michael Brown.
Scene after scene of protesting and personal narratives jerked at my eyes. My heart felt so heavy.
My emotional reaction reaffirmed the path that I’ve been on since the CS1950 protests – that I want nothing more than to cover social justice issues. But why? That was a questioned I had never truly unpacked.
For the past few years I’d attributed it to my upbringing. I grew up in a unique situation. My mother, who immigrated from Egypt before she could recite her ABCs, remarried to Carla – a long time female friend. My dad remarried to a woman named Cheryl, whose complexion is as dark as the sweet treats that bonded us.
My mother gave me my olive skin and features that made me look “exotic” and my father gave me a last name that couldn’t get whiter.
Between sexual orientation, race and immigration, I was raised within households of inherent intersectionality – and not the kind you’re used to.
I’ve always been grateful for my diverse upbringing – at least since I’ve realized it was diverse. My young naivety and inclusive middle school environment led me to think all of these identities were “normal. Afterall, between my three best friends, I was surrounded by black, mixed and peruvian identities
But there was still something missing.
When it was time for college applications, my mother and I began talking about what these intersectionalities meant for me. She assured me I was middle eastern, yes, but under government codes I was white. And that’s what I was forced to put down on the FAFSA, SATs, etc.
Meanwhile, my friends, as they still do, tried to convince me I’m African – black. They say Egypt is in Africa so why would you not put anything else down besides African-American?
It tore me up, still does. I wanted to claim the diverse parts of me.
Even still college friends question why I do not identify as african. The way they say it, leads them to think I’m ashamed. But it’s quite the opposite.
Despite my intersectionality, I do not feel worthy to claim that identity. I’ve put it on a pedestal.
I look up and see a community of strength, passion and perseverance; an identity that has been inherently criminalized and disadvantaged in every way for its entire existence in the states, yet they continue to fight with everything they have to achieve equality. I see a culture so rich and meaningful – something I do not find in my other half.
I see people who take enormous pride their innate identity that for so long been torn apart.
I have not faced the discrimination that comes with being brown. My mom did not sit me down before I reached double digits and explain what to do when a cop rolls up. I will never know the feeling of being watched a little too closely while skimming through clothing racks.
And I never will. But I can that does not keep me from being part of the community I wish to support. 
And that is why I have never missed another protest.

The Perfect Storm

 

 

Isolation Inclining

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To Zach, you have always been stronger than you know. I’m so happy you’ve found that power in words. Never stop speaking your truths, especially the uncomfortable ones.

 He looked down and saw red clouding the bowl. Second later, he saw nothing.
His eyes rolled back and his body lost control as he stumbled from the bathroom through the hallways, barely catching himself before his father did. And that was the hail mary catch finally let him know there was truly something wrong.
The drive to the hospital was painful. Not only was it long, but Zach, for one knew it was overdue. That irritation filled his lower body and mind, knowing his deadly fever that had kept him from sleeping and internal pain indicated something, and soon he found out what it was.
He went through the alphabet soup of procedures that didn’t seem to form solid conclusions.  
He had clusters of tubes running through him because he couldn’t keep anything down himself. A few ice chips an hour was all he had to quench his cottonmouth.
The tall and wide linesman couldn’t care for himself in the simplest of ways. It brought his self-perception down even further.
He was not invincible.
There was always a guest in the room but recovery was lonely. He was used to the isolation with a 7-3 work schedule followed by dinner in the basement and entertainment alone.
He came out of the hospital with needles of medication and the diagnosis of septic shock syndrome, something he didn’t take lightly.
A return to the football fields of hypermasculinity and the shallow high school halls only furthered the insecurities that his two week hospital stay had magnified. Classmates called him “Sepsis,” a painful label that would send him back into isolation.
And for the rest of high school, that is where he found the most comfort.
In college, his space was shared and not by someone who knew how. He struggled with his place of belonging once again. Once he’d found some ground, his lowest point came around and all he craved was the isolation he’d grown so accustomed to.  
But there was no where on campus that truly gave him that alone time. Instead, he relied on long morning showers to let out the tears of anxiety and depression.
Come second semester, he got busy. His mental health and self-image was far from perfect, but at least he was distracted. Business kept the intrusive thoughts out.
Greek life brought more connections and involvement opportunities, including one that change the course of his mental health thinking.
Though he’d always been a mental health ambassador for others, he continued to struggle with his own. Sophomore year he finally found relief in counseling. There was still something missing, something more consistent and readily available.
At summer welcome, he was surrounded by plenty of leaders with similar struggles. They shared their experience with medicine, something he’d readily avoided out of uncertainty. He wanted to remain in charge of his emotions.
But from his fellow trustees experiences, he grew more open to the idea. It took a week of adjustment, but his hormones soon balanced out.
And at last, he found control in what he feared would control him.

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“Everything will be so good so soon. Just hang in there & don’t worry about it to much.” 

Shadows and Sunshine

For all those who struggle with anxiety in your heart that rattles your mind, may we learn to tame the internal chaos with words. 

My journey with mental health is like any walk on a sunny day. It looks bright, happy, warm – and for the most part, it is. 
But the sun casts shadows. That is where my anxiety hides. 
Most of the time it stays hidden, suppressed in the shadows. Its ever-present, yet non-effective when the rays hit my skin. 
But the moment I step in the shadows, it creeps up on me like a rattlesnake – slowly it slithers, quickly it pounces. The venom hits even quicker. 
It poisons my mind, latching on to fading doubts and subtle insecurities. Suddenly they’re all-consuming in the very being of my brain. It erases other thoughts and paralyzes my lips. 
I am so sorry I could not speak with you today, the poison is tightening my heart.  My lungs are trying to catch breaths in-between the cardiac twists. 
I am physically transformed into a lowly-looking, mute creature. You can’t see how my the venom has taken over. 
There is simply nothing I can do. I try to breath, deeply. I try to wait it out without fidgeting or ripping my hair out or smashing something against the nearest wall. 
Instead I must sit, dreaming of those magic circles a handful of friends have. I hear they suck the venom right out, at least temporarily. All I want is a quick fix, an easy solution because right now I cannot smile at a familiar face passing by without tears streaming.
That grin would be too painfully fake. 
Despite my tight heart and battling brain, I find my sense of reason. I remind myself, my pain is temporary and not as severe as those who surround me. 
As you may guess, comparing doesn’t do me too well, yet I always come back to it. I think of my close companions who’s shadows date back to a previous darkness, memories they can’t make go away. Without a tablet, they limit themselves to rainy days, maybe overcast at best. 
I do not have this deep-seated darkness that I can attribute my mental state to. And the frequency is not nearly as great. 
So I push my feelings to the back, to deal with myself. Their battles are more intense, immediate, important. 
At the same time, I want to prove that I can heal myself in hopes of develop relieving mechanisms as a lasting skill. 
Wouldn’t that make me strong? I like to think so.
So I continue to teeter between the decision of curing through self love or reaching out for help. 
Which is why I continue to walk down bumpy lines on sunny days – between the shadows and the sunshine. 

 

Enough

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To Taylor, in hopes that one day, you see your holistic beauty the way I do.

She was surrounded by reflections – perfectly thin and effortlessly poised. And there she was, a twirling body among the rest, same physique and all, but that’s not what she saw.
Taylor labeled her lines, points and turns as inferior, always. Perhaps if she dropped a few centimeters, her kicks would look just as seamless.
That comparison ate her up. But she suppressed the pain, as she’d learn to do so long ago when her emotions ran high and spontaneous. She couldn’t help it – she felt things deeply.
Her flaw evaluation was no exception.
She’d lost control of those emotions, her reactions, her surroundings. Yet, she still had her body – something she could indeed control.
So she ate disproportionately in hopes those lines would get straighter and points more perfect.
It became a cycle – restrict. Binge. Restrict. Binge.
It was irregular, sure. But not strange enough to notice the unhealthy pattern until a few years later while trying to rid her body of toxins by detoxifying her lactose intolerant body with ice cream.
Inbetween lasting hair curling tips and Maybelline lipstick advertisements was a wake up call. Outlined in an article was her disease. Everything clicked.
She sat it down in front of her mom and pointed, claiming it as her own. With a nod everything was understood and plans were arranged. Plans that would help – not cure, but help.  
Help that has eased the criticism of reflections. The mirrors are now minimal.
And when she looks in the mirror the first lines she sees are curvey. She reads a cursive word.
Enough.

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