The poet who told me that I have the right to take up space

When I was in high school, I wanted to be a poet. I wanted to write about love and depression. I wanted to be the next great someone. I wanted to see myself in the art I longed to create. The only issue? I couldn’t find any poetry I related to. Online, I watched slam poem after slam poem and waited for the one that would let me say: that’s me. Eventually, I stumbled upon Tonya Ingram’s “Thirteen,” and found what I was looking for.

Tonya Ingram is a Black female poet, most well known for “An Open Letter To My Depression.” When I first discovered her work, I found a kind of familiarity that I didn’t expect.

There I was: a young Black woman aspiring to be a writer, and in Tonya Ingram, I faced my wildest dreams. She was all I wanted to be.

Ingram’s words provided the comfort I’d been seeking within poetry. I was hoping to be understood, for my experiences to be accurately represented. For the first time, I saw myself.

Ingram wrote and spoke in a way that allowed me to see my own stories as valid and worthy of sharing, because hers were. Honest stories of trouble, trauma, and hope opened my eyes to writing as a form of healing I’d never seriously considered.

Tonya Ingram’s work told me, “be.” I came to realize that I could be depressed, angry, and full of love, and none of those emotions meant I was unworthy of becoming the person I envisioned.

When thoughts of suicide consumed me, Ingram’s poems told me to just “get through today first.”

Her honest struggle with lupus told me, “share.” I learned so much about the art of healing through storytelling after watching Ingram speak so gracefully.

Most importantly, though, her work told me, “grow.”

I started writing poetry again in earnest in 2016. That year also happened to be a special kind of awful for me (and for a lot of the world, might I add) and I’d grown discouraged. Then I came across a months old post by Ingram in my newsfeed — a profound message that I’d almost ignored. are the best kind of space. do not minimize yourself for the convenience of others.

Those seven words, “you are the best kind of space,” helped me rethink my position in life. After spending the first half of the year believing that I was altogether unworthy of support and joy, I reconsidered it. I started to think about my purpose, and the fact that, maybe, I was here for a reason.

I began to believe that I could take up space — that I had the right to take up space. And it made all the difference.

By allowing me to love myself — all of myself — and by learning to express my truth without reservations, I entered one of my life’s most important periods of personal growth.

Before Tonya Ingram, I’d never considered that the stories I hoped to write were worth telling. I was stuck in a thinking pattern that repeatedly affirmed my irrelevancy. I couldn’t imagine that I, in all my awkward Black girl-ness, could ever say something that people would listen to. So when, in 2016, Ingram announced that her first book, Another Black Girl Miracle, would be published, my heart sang. After reading it, I gained passion that I didn’t even know I’d lost. I marveled at the power packed into 68 pages and cried at the familiarity in the pain described.

Awestruck as I was, I was challenged to keep growing.

Now I spend my days evolving as a person and as a writer. I am learning. I am welcoming everything that comes.

Filed Under