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Love Koko; A Letter From An Older Sister

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary essentially defines identity as “who someone is.” Such a simple definition, if only it were that easy to wrap up the fabrics of my identity in a perfect box and present it to the world. Identity reminds me of prints on a lappa (African fabric); the simplicity of the shapes paired with the vibrancy of the colors creates a harmonious asymmetry. The threads of my identity alone are ordinary and boring, but when woven together create harmonious asymmetry. My name is Konah Lahaitu Brownell. I am from the Grebo tribe, a Liberian national, a woman, Black, African, an immigrant. I am a political science and journalism double major, I like corny jokes, and red is my favorite color. I am a middle child, Scorpio rising, and an older sister. My identity as an older sister isn’t usually apparent at first glance, and it may not instantly arise in conversations, but it is very important to me. Below, I will share an essay/letter I wrote to and about my younger brother when I was sixteen and he was twelve. I am now twenty, and he is sixteen. Oh, how time flies!

I remember when I first saw you. I was four, and you were wrapped snugly in a blue blanket. I held the stuffed  Elmo monster I  brought along for you in one hand and reached for your tiny fingers with the other, and we both smiled. You and Mushee (mama) had to stay at the hospital for one more night and I refused to go home without you. I wanted to stay and could not understand why the nurse wouldn’t allow me to climb up in the bed next to Mushee (mama). I was adamant about staying. I crossed my arms and dug in my heels, but in the end, I was defeated and went home with Dad and Kedor (my sister). I remember when I was three, I stood in our sky blue marble tub as mama bathed me, and I told her I wanted a baby brother; my friends in the apartment below us just got a brother and no longer wanted to play. Mushee (Mama) held my hands and told me to pray, and I prayed for you to come every day.

Now I’m sixteen, and you’re twelve. By next fall, I’ll be a freshman in college, and you would be a freshman in high school if everything works out, by God’s grace. It’s incredible how time slipped through our fingers. We know from our own experience how quickly life spins and changes in an instant, but close your palms and hold on to the moments. The world is cold, but wrap the warm memories around your heart and it will keep you warm as your blue blanket did when you were a baby. We are a long way from home and from what we know. The way the rain falls does not feel the same, and the cheerful barking of Bruno and Spikey is absent from our ears, but I’ve learned to take my home along with me in my heart. My house is Mushee, Dad, Kedor and you.

I want you to know that you are essential, and your views matter as much as any other person in the room. I want you to walk confidently with each stride with your head held high above your neck, knowing that no one but you has the power to strip you of your self-worth. Moving to Brookline and America as a whole was a huge change, and it was times like those that I wished life came with manuals, or that I had the power to pause, rewind, or fast forward.

For the first time, I was hyper-aware of my race, the shade of my skin, and my accent. Back home, I was Konah, an awkward, silly, Grebo girl, and here I am, Konah, black girl, or so it feels. I guess what I’m trying to say beneath the euphemism is that living in America sucked for a while. It still does, but in different ways now. I was not as strong as you thought I was, or as happy. I want to believe it was winter, with its gray days and lack of warmth my body was so accustomed to, but it was not. Because I’d never questioned my identity or belonging before then, it was easy to become lost in the questions and sink in the quicksand that was my life as I struggled with my reality. 

I do not have the recipe for happiness or success and couldn’t tell you if I tried, but I learned that sometimes the bravest thing one can do is choose not to give up and to love yourself despite the flaws and the scars that won’t fade away. Embrace the difficulties because they will shape you. I know my adversities made me a profound individual. There is no fairytale ending to my story; in fact, no ending at all as I am still living out what is and what could be. I want you to know that I’m always here to talk, listen, be a shoulder, a kind face, and the annoying sister when necessary, which is all the time. Sometime thirteen years ago, a three-year-old girl stood in a sky blue marble tub and prayed a silent prayer for her little brother. She promised she would love him if God promised to answer her prayer. God kept his promise, and so did she. Love, Koko.

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Konah Brownell

U Mass Amherst '23

Konah is a Political Science and Journalism major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She cares deeply about issues relating to race, gender, immigration, education, and the environment. Outside of Her Campus, Konah enjoys writing poetry and runs a poetry account on Instagram @sunflower.seed.s_
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