An open letter to the women in my life: by Raven Duran

"You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I'll rise." -Maya Angelou

"You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise."

-Maya Angelou

I love you. I love you for so many reasons—many of which I can not put into words. I love you for your resilience. For showing me what it’s like to be bold in a world that often feels pitted against us. I love Maya Angelou, for teaching me as a little girl that I too could “rise” and Michelle Obama for showing me as an adult exactly how high. I love all of the women now and before me who marched, who spoke, who protested and fought for my right to exist in peace. For my right to say no and my right to own myself—mind, body and soul. Thank you to those who will not settle until every woman has the same freedoms that I am so fortunate to have today. I will not settle until we all do.

My friends, thank you for showing me that I simply can not distinguish between friends and family. (In fact you are the family that I chose). When I think of my life, filled with laughter and pivotal moments of growth, I think of you. When I think of the kind of woman I want to be, I think of you. I want to make you proud, I want to emulate you, I admire you all for so many different reasons but I am honored to be a part of your lives. Thank you for choosing me too. Thank you for carrying me through the hard times and being the reasons for the good times.

My sisters (Kiani this includes you), thank you for showing me that I am ferociously loved and that the bond between siblings is ironclad. Thank you for teaching me my worth, and showing me my value. Thank you for wiping away my tears between heartaches and picking me up off the ground when I fell. Thank you for fighting for me and for the tough love when I needed it. Thank you for teaching me how to drive, how to drink and how to get out of any situation life handed me. And even at 26, sometimes I still need your help and guidance. I would do anything for you, I would give my life for you 100x and I love you more than you will ever know.

Ama, thank you for showing me how a single mother of two can obtain two Masters degrees and raise a family of intelligent, respectful, productive members of humanity. I know you felt all alone but I thank you for showing me that no matter what hand I am dealt in life that my future is in my own hands and that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to  — no matter how difficult the situation may seem. You are my best friend and no one on this planet will ever understand the nature of our relationship but it doesn’t matter. You are sacred to me and your love for me is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever known. You’ve taught me selflessness and you’ve given so much of yourself to me and our family. I need you to know it has not gone unnoticed. I work as hard as I do so I can one day give back to you the way you’ve given so much of yourself to me.

My aunts, thank you for keeping (most) of my secrets and listening to me when I felt I had nowhere else to go. Thank you for never judging and always being a safe place to come when I needed advice, or simply to just get away. Throughout my childhood and even now you have been a constant source of fun in my life and I look forward to the moments I can just be in your presence. I learn so much from you, so many things that have allowed me to ask myself, what kind of woman do I want to be? Binky, you are everything to me and in the rare moments I’ve lost control just hearing your voice on the phone made everything okay again. My first memories in life are of me and you and whether you realized it at the time or not, your presence in my life has given me so much stability. Sometimes when the ground was shaking beneath me in the back of my mind I knew you were there and then things felt still. Aunty Andrea, you are a light in my life and you’ve shown me that no matter what happens I can choose happiness, always. I feel at times that we are so much alike and I know God put us together for a reason. You being true to yourself and true to your soul inspires me in so many ways. Thank you for loving me the way my mother did. When I was afraid to talk to her I had you, and for that I am forever grateful. You also gave birth to my favorite person and for that I am also so grateful. Aunt Leisa, thank you for being so fierce and passionate about what is right in this world. You make me feel confident knowing that I have a voice and that it is okay for it to be heard. Thank you for loving me and supporting me in everything that I do.

Mommy, thank you for having me. Thank you for choosing to keep an unexpected baby despite being so alone, I still don’t know how you did it. I can’t imagine what those early days of parenthood with me were like. I am exactly the age now that you were when you had me and I often wonder if I was in your shoes at this moment if I too would be so strong. Thank you for being brave enough to do it on your own, like grandma. Thank you for working so hard to give me the life I have now. Thank you for giving me the love you didn’t receive and for never showing signs of fear. Thank you for teaching me what qualities I should seek in a partner, and to never accept anything less than what I deserve. You taught me how to be bold and be fearless, in fact sometimes I think I’m too fearless. But you showed me that skinned knees heal and so do broken hearts. I truly believe I can do anything because of you. You showered me with love and support and spoiled me rotten. You were firm and both a father and a mother to me and for this I have no words of gratitude that amount to the way I feel inside. You are the most incredible human being I’ve ever known. And the most beautiful. All I ever wanted in life was to be like you, and to make you proud. Watching you put your makeup on as a kid, the way you carried yourself and how passionate you were—you were a superhero to me. You still are. Nothing has changed. I still look at you and think, how did I get so lucky? Why didn't she kick me out? How was she so patient? Does she know I stole her mascara? Yeah she knows... One day if I ever find myself in the position to be someone’s mother, I pray to God that I am a fraction of the parent that you were to me. If I can channel that, if I can channel you in someway, I’m confident I’ll be fine.

I love you all, thank you for being you and for touching my life the way you have.