I am Zahara Unique-Lynne Johnson, a 23-year-old Morgan State graduate from Camden, N.J. I live part of the time in Baltimore, part of the time in my hometown. But no matter the state, one thing remains the same: my name is always pronounced wrong.
The correct pronunciation is Za-hi-ra, but my mom felt frivolous on that 26th day of August, and opted out of spelling it that way.
On the first day of school, I can remember teachers butchering it. "Za-hair-ra" or "Za-hor-ra," they'd say with certainty. "No, it's Za-hi-ra," I'd reply in a room full of Johns and Amandas and Ashleys.
People routinely say, "You must be from Africa! No, wait, the Caribbean Islands?" I feel almost ashamed to utter, "I'm from New Jersey." You know, home of the drive-in movie theater — and Snooki.
I'm the youngest of seven children, a twin sister in fact. I was always the wildly driven child who spoke when not spoken to and barked orders at everyone, including my parents. "Mom, make sure you're cooking by 6 p.m.," I'd demand. "It's going to be a long day at school tomorrow, and I need extra rest." She'd stare blankly at me before telling me to go find a seat that was far away from her.
In school, I was that kid who was sure I knew everything. We'd be given writing assignments, and I'd be done in half the time it took everyone else. Tick tock the clock would go, as they rushed through their thoughts to be done before the teacher yelled, "Time's up!" I watched the clock too, but I was counting down until lunch and praying we were having chicken sandwiches that day.
During these years, my fifth-grade English teacher, Dr. Young, saw a gift in me that I didn't initially see. She admired my work and persuaded me to keep a daily journal to gradually help me develop as a writer.
I first wrote about being bullied in elementary school for being bigger than all the other kids. Those painful entries turned into middle school love songs, which transformed into high school poetry and eventually became college news articles.
Writing has been a format that has never judged me for my views or feelings. It's not just a creative release — it's a way for me to document emotions and events my amnesic mind would have otherwise forgotten.
So, all my years of jotting and expressing have led up to this: a column that eyes other than my own will see. I plan to deliver what I once delivered strictly to myself: a platform for readers to find comfort and connection through my personal tales. I want readers to be able to live through my pain, happiness and confusion, certainty and uncertainty.
It's imperative that I touch on the ups and downs of relationships. Of any topic I could talk about, love is one that will remain relevant. There will always be someone (especially in the 18-30 age group) bewildered, fascinated and allured by the topic. It's only right that I talk dauntlessly about it.
This journey will be astonishing, yet will require an immense amount of honesty and hard work. So, are you up for taking it with me?
Zahara Johnson's relationships column will appear regularly in b.