I met Diandra Forrest a few years ago when I first moved to New York City through mutual friends. I still remember being so captivated when her presence I was when my eyes met hers. I tried not to be rude, but it was impossible not to stare. Her features spoke sweet tales of beauty and grace. Her high cheek bones, full African lips, pale skin, bright blonde hair drew my attention, but her soft and welcoming personality was what really struck me. After running into each other a few times at friends’ parties, we exchanged numbers and kept in touch throughout the years.

Being a fan of Diandra’s modeling, I followed her journey as she continued to grow. And each time I saw her accomplish something amazing, I felt like her success was mine. After learning a bit about Diandra’s background as a black girl with albanism growing up in the Bronx who had to deal with bullying because she looked different, I felt strongly connected to her victory. There’s something about a woman overcoming her fears, and stepping over boundaries that really gets me going. Maybe it was her bravery. Or the way she glances around timidly before she decides to open up. Or how she hugs everyone, and actively listens to other people’s stories when she meets them. I also admire how she’s proud of being a Bronx girl and casually mentions her “ratchetness”. (I’m still getting used to that word.)

I cheered on when I saw her in Beyonce’s video, Pretty Hurts. I teared up when I saw her TED talk on beauty and her upbringing. And I continue to root for her as she strengthen her humanitarian efforts on raising awareness on albanism with various organizations. Recently, Diandra and I reconnected because we are both headed to Bermuda Fashion Festival, an annual week long fashion event produced by the city of Hamilton. We spent a few hours in Harlem to discuss the exciting week ahead. She was as excited as I was to hit the colorful, sunny Bermudian streets. I told her about my experience from last year, the connections I’d made, and how I expected to be even more fun this time around!

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