Philadelphian Opéola Bukola, Nigerian-born founder of Lillo Consulting and director of GPLEX at the Economy League

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In December 2019, I answered the final interview question for my current full-time role at the Economy League, where I am director of the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange.

My then-interviewer (now boss) said something I took as a compliment — as it was intended. In the context of how difficult the following year turned out to be, I’ve found myself thinking about the comment exhaustively.

“You seem unflappable,” he’d said.

Twelve months later, I am less than proud to report that in 2020, I was flapped.

With a new position, an empty apartment, a young relationship, and only a few local friends to lean on, I had the mind that I could finally live the Young Black Philadelphia dream I’d been striving for in the tumultuous couple of years since I moved to this city. 2020 had other plans.

Through the imposter syndrome of learning a new job and community; my first year in therapy; the absolute trauma of a racially and politically chaotic pandemic; a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive personality disorder; plus several serious reckonings with former friends and loved ones from my upbringing in overwhelmingly white suburban America, the year has brought me to at least one grand conclusion:

Everyone knows a superhuman Black woman, but there are no superhuman Black women.

As I’ve realized in reflecting on the year past, I absolutely deserve to be celebrated. I will continue to support and appreciate being supported by the fellow Black women in my life. I am, however, no longer accepting compliments and celebrations of my resilience.

I haven’t survived these things on purpose; they weren’t my goals. Honestly, there were a few times my declining mental health left “surviving” out of my intentions altogether. I got through this because I had to.

While I’m grateful for the fortitude and immeasurable growth this has afforded me, I have no intention to celebrate this new reduction in unflappability.

Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim. Be patient and be tough, one day this pain will be useful to you.

This, by the Roman poet Ovid, is my favorite quote. And, hopefully soon, my first tattoo. It has gotten me *really* far for a Black woman at 28 — it has gotten me really far for anyone, at any age but its relevance in my life is starting to shift.

I’ve realized this year that I’m pretty damn useful, and it’s because of my intelligence, efficiency, and compassion. Not my pain. There are no superhuman Black women. There are resilient ones, emotionally intelligent ones, and ones with brilliant poker faces, but we are each human and each inherently valuable.

Even when the year has flapped us.