Center Stage: LeShawn is Dead and I Killed Her

Many minds behind closed doors come together with painstaking effort to carefully craft the image and identities of most of the celebrities we see. Watch any episode of Unsung on TVOne and you quickly learn that every little detail is considered including the name. They can be anyone they want to be and we buy into it. And when they get ready to recreate themselves, their team crafts new identity. If celebrities can confidently own identities that were created for them and many times don't reflect who they really are, why can't we take control of our own identities and shape them into what we want them to be? When I was born, the name and identity my mother chose for me was Natasha LaShawn Jamison. Yet my doctor filled out my birth certificate to read Leshawn Natosha Jamison. He didn't care enough about my identity to accurately reflect it on my birth certificate, opting instead to write down his interpretation of who I was to become. A name is a small thing until you are given one that's not really yours. My identity crisis wasn't simply the name. It was having two identities- Tasha at home, Leshawn in school. It was finding out 30 seconds before I walked into my kindergarten classroom that I could no longer be who I'd come to know myself as. After four years of seeing "Natasha" sewn into nursery school blankets, dance costumes, and written on the inside of my tap shoes, my mother says to me, "they're going to call you Leshawn." My response, "But Mommy that's not my name." That was the last time for a long time that I fought to hold onto my identity.

While in grad school six years ago, my colleague and actress friend crafted a whole new identity for herself when she changed her name from Diane* to Jadyn*. Those of us who loved and supported her seamlessly made the switch. Even our professors took to using her new name without question or hesitation. Yet here I was, too disempowered to rightfully reclaim a name and identity that was given to me at birth. I have since wondered why we have no problem respecting others and addressing them in the way they demand that we should, yet we willingly accept any label that others want to toss at us when it comes to our own identities. At what point do we no longer remain silent, but rise up and start correcting some folks? Are some of us ever going to take ownership and creative control over our own identities?

I finally decided that Leshawn was disempowered and hiding in the shadows of life, and quite frankly I've really never been that chick. So I killed her. That's right, I took it to her jugular and violently took her out with a knife in the form a ballpoint pen. In 2006 just before entering seminary, I legally changed my name back to what it should have been thereby reconciling my names and my multiple identities. I might even argue that Natasha emerged stronger and waxed much more confident than she would have had I not gone through this identity crisis. Some people aren't exactly comfortable with who I have become, not realizing that I am just the me I always should have been. But then that's not really my problem now is it?

These days there are people who don't know that I was ever Leshawn, and the ones who do are encouraged to respect the fact that I have a new identity in Christ Jesus and a new name to match. While many of my friends still call me LeShawn (by my own choice), I must admit I get a twinge of delight when they introduce me to others by my new government name. This lets me know that they honor who I am. Owning my name has definitely made me a lot more selective about how I allow others to define me. For example when some call me young, I say I'm youthful so that it's understood that I'm a grown woman. More than anything owning your identity allows you to walk in the fullness of who you are. Regardless of how anyone tries to label  you, when you already know who God created you to be, you can be secure in that.