As crazy as this sounds, 20 years ago, I arrived in Atlanta, January of 2001. Bright eyed, innocent, naive, scared, and full of hope. I can recall after a short stint at a private art school in Minneapolis and becoming incredibly ill, I returned home to Nebraska. After a year of working two jobs and saving feverishly, I had decided I would transfer somewhere much warmer to continue my education. My parents owned this large puzzle of the United States with all the states in bright bold pieces. I stared at that map feeling as though I could go anywhere. Shout out to the ego and fearlessness of being 19! I had absolutely no doubt I could make it anywhere. Not because I had so much confidence, but because at 19, before disappointments, heartache, and life experience, I just simply had no fear. My curiosity about life, people, places, and different spaces also fueled my desire to explore and see more.
I remember asking my Dad about Georgia because he is originally from here. He thought Atlanta was a great choice based on his nostalgic memories of southern hospitality, good folks looking out for each other, and at that time Atlanta was thought to be a place of limitless opportunities for Black people. Being from a small conservative midwestern town, this sounded like nirvana to me. I wanted to see more culture, have deep access to the arts, and see more folks who looked like me in all areas of my life. And so I applied to college, got my credits transferred, and packed my bags. I began my college journey at the Art Institute of Atlanta the Winter quarter 2001. Fast forward to August, 2003 (I’ll share the thrills of college life in another post), I graduated and returned to my hometown in Lincoln, Nebraska to save money and figure out my next career move.
I was home for a little over two years and I knew I wouldn’t last much longer. I was working at State Farm, which was a decent gig – my first “big girl” job with benefits and a retirement plan, but I was anxious to start a career with my hard-earned degree. As challenging as Atlanta was during my college years, I had so many beautiful memories of my time here. Spoken word night at the Apache Cafe, jazz at Cafe 290, dates at Cafe Intermezzo on Peachtree (they were open until 4am back then), spaghetti and fish nights sponsored by my culinary arts peers who were from Chicago, Caribbean food night hosted by my Jamaican homegirl, Christine who we called Queen, rap battles in the lounge, being an extra in some random rap video (I think Pastor Troy?), standing in the pouring rain and blazing sun to catch Marta buses and trains (this could be an entire book itself), knowing the homeless and substance abuse folks by name, and so many other fun, wild, and crazy experiences that I still reminisce about. Atlanta had opened my eyes to so many different types of people. The diversity even among Black people was so moving to me. My peeps from up north, the west coast, the African diaspora, and of course the native southerners all bought different flavor. A smorgasbord of cultural vernacular, clothing, music, style, and swag. It was a constant source of creativity and brilliance.
Before leaving Nebraska again, I did weigh other options. At that time the top 3 cities for graphic design careers were Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta. After a little research, I decided on Atlanta. I was most familiar with the A of course and I felt like there was a life for me here that I could really enjoy once I was a stable working adult. I returned to Atlanta on February 1, 2006 – exactly 15 years ago today and the rest is history. This city has been good to me. I’ve enjoyed a great career in design and marketing and I’ve had the pleasure of indulging my entrepreneurial interests as well.
I’ve built a beautiful community for myself here. Shout out to all the fabulous dope Black women that I’ve had the honor of cultivating relationships with. I won’t try to name anyone because I know I’ll forget someone – my mind isn’t what it used to be. But the amazing girlfriends that I’ve gathered through the years from working, church, volunteer activities, school, and just living life has been a blessing to me. All of my residences have been here; 5 apartments, 1 townhouse, and now a home that I own. All of my education has taken place here. Atlanta is where I grew up. That young skinny 20-year old full of hope became a woman here with confidence and grit. I found what worked for me – wearing my natural hair here, wasn’t a revolution. I felt embraced with so many resources, stylists, and other women to glean from. I leaned into myself unapologetically and felt encouraged the whole way. I learned a lot as well. Starting with there’s no substitute for hard work, having hustle is necessary, and most importantly, you must speak up for yourself and never back down.
I’ll admit that at times I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this city. Sometimes the traffic has overwhelmed me, or certain things have become expensive or inconvenient for no reason – like valet parking at Perimeter mall. Atlanta sometimes can try too hard to be fancy and Hollywood, but I guess that’s why it also continues to boom and grow and everybody keeps moving here. The relationship/dating scene is fit for the garbage disposal, but hey – you can’t have everything! Pre-COVID, I was having the time of my life. You can’t beat the constant parade of concerts, live music, arts, culture, food variety, or beautiful Black people everywhere. Whenever I would return from visiting my family, the Atlanta skyline would always welcome me back. It feels like home. Some say, I’m officially a Georgia peach. I disagree – I’m definitely a Midwest woman enjoying this southern city. And hearing “Hey shawty!” in that southern drawl after arriving in the airport will never get old. It still makes me blush. LOL.
10 years from now, I can’t say where I’ll be. If you know me, then you know I despise time limits, parameters, or projections that give finite conclusions. But what I can say is that Atlanta has been like that cool auntie that embraces you, guides you, and there’s never a dull moment.
Xo, Tina B.