by Christin Ayers and Jennifer Mistrot
SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Nyia Roberts is celebrating. The 22-year-old college grad recently held her own graduation party on a beautiful day in a local San Jose park. She greeted every guest with a big hug and words of thanks for their attendance; nearly 50 people turned out. The gathering was large, inclusive and diverse.
“It was great,” recalled Nyia. “I felt so special because they were all there for me.”
Ann Shulmister was there, too. The two are as close as sisters, but they’re not. Shulmister is Roberts’ mom, something Roberts says is difficult for others to acknowledge at times. That’s because Shulmister is Caucasian, Roberts’ father is African-American, and Roberts identifies as biracial.
“When people see me, the first thing they see is my skin,” explained Roberts. “They may not think that I am biracial and that is really hard because it’s like they are denying a piece of me.”
She says being raised in a diverse family has been a blessing, but leaving home for college brought some unexpected experiences, including negative reactions from others who saw the two together, once while mother and daughter were waiting in line at a local drugstore.
“[The customer in front of me] goes, ‘Are you in line?’ and I said, ‘No I am not,'” recalled Roberts. “I’m waiting for my mom and I pointed to her. And she was like, ‘OH!'”
It was a reaction that she was not expecting.
“And it took me back a little bit,” she said. “And it opened my eyes, it just gave me a little bit of the world because just being from this big diversity bubble, I don’t think that these things happen.”
Shulmister looked to sooth her daughter’s hurt.
“As a mother, it hurts. It’s very painful, because as parents we always want to protect our children, and the reality is that we cannot.”
Shulmister says she works hard to educate all three of her kids to be proud of who they are, but as a mom she recognizes it’s not always going to be easy for her daughter Nyia. So the two keep an open dialogue about the challenges she will face.
“She turned that into her drive,” explained Ann with pride.
Roberts is planning on social work as a career so she can teach young people about acceptance and diversity. And she says she’s ready for the next time someone questions who she is.
“You know it is a teachable moment. And not everybody wants to be a teacher, but I think that is the only way that we are going to have change,” explained Roberts. “And it’s progress. Every teachable moment is progress.”