Senior Speak: My name is my courage


My heart pounds at a blistering rate inside of my chest, the crowded halls only becoming more so with each pair of unfamiliar eyes that contact mine. I scold the tears threatening to escape, bite down on my quivering bottom lip, and try to deaden the deafening hateful words aimed at the target on my back.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or “ISIS,” is a group that immediately reminds the average American of terrorism, violence and fear. I am reminded of this every single time I introduce myself.

Prior to 8th grade, before ISIL emerged in the media in 2014, my name was the well of strength that powered me through each day. Whenever I met someone new and a non-generic, non-westernized name popped out of my mouth, I was often met with compliments that lifted me up. It was strangely marvelous to receive admiration for something as effortless and simple as the name I was given.

My whole life, my parents taught me that my name is my fortress of protection. The Egyptian deity, Isis, is the goddess of healing, fertility, wisdom and magic, and I aspired to embody these characteristics that reminded me so much of my African roots. Having a name that represents something bigger than myself was my superpower, something that I did not think anyone could take from me.

Like most children learning to navigate life, I was wrong about the challenges that awaited me.

After 2014, instead of being greeted with praise, I was faced with reactions my bubble of privilege, comfort and liberal, like-minded people had not yet alluded to me.

I soon began to experience microaggressions, blatant ignorance and hatred directed at me.

I could not walk through the hallways without complete strangers calling me a terrorist. I could never walk into class without one particular teacher reciting the newest “ISIS” event and asking why I decided to commit such horrors. I could not place an order at my local Starbucks without one barista yelling at me about my insensitivity in front of a speechless, silent and unavailing crowd.

It was strange how I could be built up or completely broken down with one word, my name.

It wasn’t until I dove deep into my roots that I began piecing together the slivers of courage that lay dormant inside of me.

In 2015, I visited my grandfather’s birthplace for the first time and it was there, in the hazy, water-polluted country of Nigeria that I discovered spirituality like no other at the Osun river.

There, in a country where one often cannot turn on the tap and take a drink of water, was this mighty river, ever-flowing, present and supportive. Amidst violence, colonization and tragedy she continued to surge forward. As I stared at my reflection in her waters, an extreme feeling of pride and peace bubbled up inside of me. The resilience of the Osun river in the presence of any challenge provided the necessary clarity to construct my final pieces of courage.

To conclude the trip, my great uncle, now the head of the family, worked with my father to give me two Yoruba names. From that point on, I banished the old, defeated Isis and evolved to become Isis Sekai Olusola Wuraola Amusa, each name becoming the super glue to my puzzle of courage.

Today, I am still occasionally struck with the uncomfortable skip of the heartbeat, rising anxiety when assumptions are made about my name and frustration when I have to continuously explain myself.

But I now know that Isis is the wisdom that strings together pieces of self-knowledge and with a deeper understanding of myself, I have finally solved the puzzle of my courage and identity.


Contact the writer, Isis Amusa, at