IRUSA Intern Reflects On Being “Too Much”

On Being Too Much - Islamic Relief USA

The name Kayla Vaughn Tolbert tells you nothing else but my name, my identifier. My name is simple but my identity is complex.  Three sub identities are encompassed into Kayla Tolbert. Although we live in a contemporary social sphere aimed to break racial, sexual and religious barriers, I prefer to keep my barriers intact.

I have three identities, two crowns (hair and hijab), and one voice. I am black, I am a woman and I am Muslim. For the ignorant, for the stubborn, for the misogynists, for racists, for the conservative, for the pacifists, I am too much.

I was raised by a single mother of a black and Pakistani background. I was raised a Muslimah, hence the dynamics of my identity have always been complex. Throughout my life, I was always externally defined through my racial, religious and feminist attributes. I allowed media the ability to determine if I would be trapped in the poverty cycle and rely on government benefits, because black people were “lazy”. I allowed the social construct deter me from leadership positions because as a woman, I am emotional and not rational so I should be submissive to the rational man.  I enabled post-9/11 media develop a misunderstanding of jihad and define my family as a threat to Americans. Although I never initiated any of those definitions of myself, I have remained highly conscious of the softness of my voice, the style of my hijab, my brown skin, and overall being “too much”.

It was my mother who demonstrated being “too much” is not negative. As a black person and single mother, my mother did not succumb to the poverty statistic, whereas the US poverty rate stands at 13.5 percent and 24 percent of that is allocated to blacks. Yet, my mother continues to be an asset to the black community as a social worker. My mother is the woman who oversees and leads the 9News Health Fair for Masjid Abu Bakr. Most importantly, my mother is a Muslimah who wears her head covering (crown) without fear and without doubt, but with confidence, definition, and most of all knowledge.

When I see my mother assisting elders with their healthcare information, volunteering at community events and attending interfaith projects, she shows that our intersectionality breeds advocacy. Coming to Islamic Relief is more than joining the fight to alleviate poverty; it means to be the voice to the ignorant. The ignorant are the individuals who don’t recognize the importance of these issues because they cannot identify or relate to them.   In order to recognize the issues taking place in the Islamic, African American, Women’s and greater international community, we must be “too much” to show that the work that has been done is simply not enough.

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Kayla is a Public Affairs Intern at Islamic Relief USA. She is passionate about social justice and being a voice for the voiceless.

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