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  • Writer's pictureCary Martin Shelby

What Beyoncé Has Taught Me About Radical Confidence as a Former Foster Youth

Cary Martin Shelby and former foster youth at Beyoncé concert

Euphoria enveloped the nation when Beyoncè’s Renaissance tour was announced to the public. Conference calls were immediately scheduled by Black women across the globe. Determining when and where to see Queen Bey was an absolute must. Yet rumors of fake tickets infiltrating the marketplace haunted our efforts. Decoding the updated Ticketmaster procedures for securing valid tickets became a high priority task. After a series of late-night calls and group texts, a small group of my close friends finally decided to splurge on an international trip to London. Afterall, seeing Queen Bey perform “across the pond” was fitting for the occasion. Our group descended upon London in early June, and her concert was worth every modicum of effort. It far exceeded our expectations in true Beyoncé fashion. I am still processing the many moments of joy and rejuvenation that we each gained from this epic trip.

This Renaissance experience has compelled me to further reflect on the depths of my identity as a BeyHive member. Her artistry has given me much more than an extravagant night of my favorite tunes. Most importantly, Beyoncè's rich catalogue of music has provided me with a roadmap for pursuing radical confidence as a Black woman who has experienced foster care and chronic poverty. Navigating these identities had of course forced me to start from ground-zero in terms of learning major life skills. When it came to budgeting, I’ll never forget one of my foster mothers attempting to teach me how to make $50 dollars last as long as possible. When it came to cooking, I learned by watching multiple group home staff, foster mothers, as well as their relatives cook decadent meals over the course of several years. Cobbling together a mosaic of wisdom from countless external sources became a skill in itself. But when it came to my confidence, surviving foster care seemed to decimate the core of my self-worth. It left me feeling worthless and astray. I then had to extend my reach to more abstract sources such as art and music in repairing this devastating damage to my self-esteem. Beyoncè's music was a core aspect of this journey in the many ways described below. And when it comes to Beyoncè, simple confidence will not suffice. It must be radical and bold.

Freedom to be great. In watching Beyoncè’s career unfold, it goes without saying that she does not limit herself by the confines of what others expect from her. This freedom to explore the sheer depths of her greatness while shattering predefined boxes is the essence of who she is. She brazenly asserts in “Formation”, “Sometimes I go off, I go hard, Get what's mine, I'm a star, Cause I slay, I slay, I slay, I slay.” Hearing these words normalized the art of pulverizing through the negative statistics associated with my story. I also do not have to make others feel comfortable for the sheer audacity for doing so. Joy and prosperity were well within my reach despite the horrors of my past. Even after reaching unparalleled levels of success, the example she set has taught me that I could keep going beyond what I could possibly imagine. Raw energy of power will continue to drive me forward. Knowing that I can keep rising, despite the pull of others’ expectations, is the greatest source of radical confidence.

Leaning into your essence. Beyoncè pursues her greatness in a way that embraces precisely who she is. The essence of her womanhood, motherhood, and her Blackness radiates through every song. In “Alien Superstar”, she proudly declares that, “I'm one of one, I'm number one, I'm the only one, Don't even waste your time trying to compete with me (don't do it), No one else in this world can think like me (true), I'm twisted (twisted).” These lyrics have given me permission to pursue my greatness in a way that embodies the intricacies of my identity. My differences have become my greatest superpower. I no longer feel obligated to hide the very things that make me unique in pursuit of my dreams. The so-called “ugly” parts of my story have become my most valuable assets, which has infused me with indescribable levels of confidence.

Perseverance over pain. She acknowledges that while she faced hardship and despair, she knew that she was entitled to freedom as a self-proclaimed winner. She defiantly proclaims in “Freedom”—"Singin', freedom! Freedom! Where are you?, 'Cause I need freedom, too, I break chains all by myself, Won't let my freedom rot in hell, Hey! I'ma keep running, 'Cause a winner don't quit on themselves.” Her albums have always provided profound streams of motivation during particularly difficult times. Her “Lemonade” album was the gift that kept on giving in that regard. When her “Renaissance” album dropped in 2022, the world was still healing from the horrors of the Covid-19 pandemic. I was also experiencing an intense grieving process after losing my father, having a severe case of Covid-19, and undergoing emergency surgery for a life-threating condition—all within a 9-month period. Her album was nothing short of a cosmic gift from the universe. It became the literal soundtrack for my physical and mental healing. It snapped back my confidence despite the dire hardships that threatened its existence once again.

Dreams require hard work and discipline. Beyoncè has always been completely transparent about the hard work and discipline that her dreams require. In “6-inch”, she references how, “She grinds day and night. She grinds from Monday to Friday, work from Friday to Sunday. She gon’ slay, she too smart to crave material things. She pushin’ herself day and night.” There are numerous quiet periods of tedious diligence associated with the behind-the-scenes work of propelling your dreams. Contrary to what others may assume, these periods are far from glamorous. The resulting loneliness can threaten your patience. My career path towards becoming a law professor required years of sacrifice and cultivation that others would recoil from. However, the sacrifice was well worth the effort given the ways in which this career has gifted me with the freedom to synergize, deploy, and optimize the various aspects of my identity. Radical confidence will forever be backed by intense layers of hard work.

Twirl on your haters. For those of you who know—you know. Many will hate you for your courage to keep shining. They may reach unimaginable lows in attempting to conceal your talent. It can feel heartbreaking when it is “your own people” doing the most damage. Despite the pain of their repeated attacks, you must remember that “twirling on your haters” as Beyoncè gallantly instructs us to do in “Formation”—is the sweetest revenge of all. Having faith that it will someday happen, that you will twirl your dress with glee over their misery, will give you the necessary power to keep rising in your pursuit of radical confidence.

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