“Black Power” is a bi-weekly editorial series that explores how the Black community can use their collective power to design a new America.

The relentless pursuit of freedom is an enduring mission, one that embodies the collective struggle of every individual born Black in America.

Treading against centuries of compounded racism and systematic oppression, Black people remain in a perpetual fight — for justice, for equality and for basic human rights.

More specifically, as a marginalized people, being Black means to be in a constant fight for significance.

These isolated battles converge to symbolize the shared effort to win a bigger war, pressing forward to frame a future in which Black people can exist in the fullness of our identity without subjugation or persecution, free to enjoy the liberties and protections perceivably afforded to all.

Yet, as we continue to combat racial inequity and the common enemies that have outwardly plagued our past, achieving true freedom and living in the fullness of our identity is impossible without first winning the individual war within ourselves.

This speaks to finding solace within yourself; making peace with unresolved pain, anger and turmoil that — when blindly ignored — can actively swell into a destructive force that violently disrupts every aspect of our lives.

Failing to confront the inner conflict that exists beneath the surface of our Black skin not only restricts our ability to see the full scope of our worth, power and potential; but further evolves into an undetectable disease that erodes our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

Being born Black in America is to be involuntarily thrust into adverse social conditions that naturally breed higher levels of rage, anguish and insecurity.

From the moment we enter the world, we are forced to form an impenetrable outer layer in order to ensure our survival. As a people inherently under attack, we are charged with the task of tirelessly validating the value our lives, while working diligently to protect and preserve our bodies.

The institutions designed to uplift and equip us ultimately strip and reduce us, while systems intended to protect and serve us inversely murder, dehumanize and defile us — without consequence or accountability.

Lacking sufficient access and opportunity, Black people are disproportionately impacted by the crippling effects of poverty, mass incarceration, unemployment and discrimination. Consequently, a staggering percentage of Black kids grow up in fractured families, accustomed to adversity, and confined to underserved communities ravaged by crime and violence.

Instead of producing generations of fully evolved and empowered adults, these environments commonly groom underdeveloped men and women governed by fear and paralyzed by uncertainty, clinging to a fleeting hope of merely beating the odds to rewrite their own history and break generational curses.

Carrying the weight of overcoming these conditions, we are further taught that in order to transcend perception and defy the stereotypes that accompany being Black in America, we must uphold an unrealistic standard of perfection, placing insurmountable pressure on Black people to work twice as hard to be twice as good, just to be respected as equal.

As a result of facing such extreme socioeconomic conditions, our fight for freedom often comes at the expense of our mental health, inadvertently sacrificing our sanity and inner sanctity for the cause of advancing the collective. However, as we maintain a focused effort toward achieving freedom for all, we must also place a stronger emphasis on winning the war within ourselves.

To cope with the intensity of our experiences, we notably become accustomed to suppressing or simply neglecting our emotions as a defense mechanism. While this righteous gesture can prove effective in prolonging our ability to absorb pain, it subsequently numbs our ability to feel.

Becoming insensitive to our own emotions not only restricts our ability to openly communicate, build sustainable relationships or rightfully grieve, it shuts off our ability to genuinely give and receive love. This is what makes the concept of self-love a revolutionary act amongst Black people, embracing the challenges and complexities of your identity to reach a defiant level of comfort and acceptance within your own skin.

Historically, mental health has been widely stigmatized within the Black community, perceived as a sign of weakness and inadequacy, although there are higher cases of mental illness amongst Black people than any other race. We grapple with disproportionate levels of stress, anxiety, and generational trauma.

Yet, despite carrying such a polarizing connotation, mental health simply refers to the health of our mind; which is measured by the wellness, stability and quality of our thoughts. This includes the way we view ourselves, other people, and the world around us.

Even though we are engaged in a seemingly endless fight — to matter, to be counted, and to forge a reality that doesn’t require us to suffer without reason — we must still continue living.

Winning the war within demands doing the uncomfortable work to develop an unconditional love of self, dispelling every vicious lie, and claiming every empowering truth about who you are. It requires changing the narrative in your mind about what you deserve, what you’re worth, and what you have the potential to become.

Setting yourself free is giving yourself permission to feel, further giving yourself permission to be completely present in the totality of your human experience, without being bound by guilt or shame. It’s rooted in embracing the uncomfortable parts of yourself to establish an uncompromising sense of self-worth that is not defined by circumstances or dictated by unqualified opinions.

To be Black and free is not simply having the world accept you, but to also courageously accept yourself, so that even in moments of chaos, you can always find a place of refuge within.

What lies have you internalized about your life? Who would you be without an enemy? What would your life look like if you operated from a space of clarity and confidence instead of doubt and fear?

Our lives are a reflection of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Changing the narrative of the Black experience in America begins with changing our own narrative just as winning the war outside begins with defeating the enemies within.