One of Our Kind

Nicola Yoon

June 17, 2024 
The following is from Nicola Yoon's One of Our Kind. Yoon is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of Instructions for Dancing; Everything, Everything; and The Sun Is Also a Star, and is a coauthor of Blackout. She is the first Black woman to hit #1 on the New York Times Young Adult best-seller list. She is also the copublisher of Joy Revolution, a Random House young adult imprint dedicated to love stories starring people of color. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the novelist David Yoon, and their daughter.

The first thing Jasmyn notices about the older Black woman on her front doorstep is that her hair is relaxed. Not natural. Meaning that every six to eight weeks or so the older woman goes to a hair care salon and sits in a chair while a hairdresser applies a chemical that some people—Jasmyn among them—call “creamy crack” to her hair. The chemical transforms her natural, kinky, and beautiful hair into bone-straight locks.

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Jasmyn studies the woman’s hairline. It’s funny how much hair can tell you about the kind of person you’re dealing with. To Jasmyn’s mind, using creamy crack is a sure sign of being an unenlightened Black woman. She finds that the practice is more common among the older generation. They steadfastly believe that taming their supposedly wild hair will make them more respectable.

Even her own mother hadn’t been immune. Right after Jasmyn graduated from college, when she decided she didn’t want her hair relaxed anymore, her mother warned her off.

“Let me tell you something,” she’d said. “Nowadays, you young ones think times have changed. You think you can be Black as you want, but I’m telling you, your white bosses will judge you behind your back. To your face, they’ll say how nice your hair is. Meanwhile it’s the girl with straight hair or the weave getting promoted. You mark my words,” she said.

That had been one of the last conversations they had. Her mother had a heart attack and died a few months later.

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Jasmyn feels the familiar grief as an expanding thickness in her throat like she’d never again take a full breath. Even then she’d known that her mother was trying to protect her, trying to make life easier for Jasmyn than it had been for her. But she also knew that nothing changed if someone didn’t change it. She’d stopped relaxing her hair and grown out her Afro.

And those bosses her mother had talked about? They had no choice but to promote Jasmyn. She was excellent at her job.

Jasmyn touches her short Afro and pulls her eyes away from the woman’s hairline. She reminds herself not to judge the older woman too harshly. She came up at a different time.

“I’m Sherril,” the woman says. “Think of me as your one-woman welcome committee.” Her smile is innocent and broad. Jasmyn can see all there is to see of her elaborately white teeth.

“Well, thank you,” says Jasmyn. “I don’t think I’ve ever been personally welcomed into a neighborhood before.”

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Sherril waves her off. “I’m sorry I took so long to stop by. I know you all have been here for at least a couple of weeks now.” Her accent is southern, Mississippi maybe. “We like to let folks know they’re right where they belong.”

There’s no denying the kindness of the gesture. Jasmyn feels a slight wash of shame over the way she’d judged the other woman. Not for the first time, she reminds herself that Black people exist on a continuum from Uncle Tom to Black Panther. Some folks come to enlightenment later—sometimes much later—than others. Some folks never get there at all.

“Would you like to come in?” Jasmyn asks.

The woman shakes her head and Jasmyn watches her hair pendulum around her face. Not a curl or a coil or a kink is anywhere in sight.

“Maybe another time,” Sherril says. “Besides, I’m sure you have a world of unpacking to do.”

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She doesn’t correct Sherril’s assumption. Despite the fact that they’ve been here for only two weeks, they’re already settled in. King had hired a moving company that did it all: packed up their old apartment and unpacked and moved them into their new house.

“I stopped by to give you some welcome to Liberty treats,” Sherril continues.

She hands Jasmyn two boxes. The first is a simple cardboard one with what looks like shortbread cookies.

“I made them myself,” Sherril says.

“Thank you. This is very nice of you,” says Jasmyn with a smile. “Funny enough, these are my son’s favorite. He’ll devour these in one swoop if I let him.”

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The second box is larger than the first and tied with fine gold ribbon.

Liberty Wellness Center is embossed in cursive across the lid. “Oh, you didn’t have to do this,” Jasmyn says.

“Of course I did, sugar,” Sherril says and smiles. “Go ahead and open it up.”

The box itself is exquisite: teal blue, velvet soft, and shimmering. Aspirational packaging, the advertisers call it. It smells faintly herbal. Jasmyn tugs at the silky ribbon. Inside, she finds a small bouquet of sage and lavender twigs tied together with gold thread nestled against white satin. Below the bouquet, there’s a dark blue silk sleep mask and a heavy black card with gold printing. At first Jasmyn thinks maybe Liberty has its own credit card, but when she turns it over, she sees it’s a membership card to the Wellness Center. Next to the card are delicate glass bottles with facial cleansers, toners, and moisturizers. All the product names are French and written in cursive so ornate, they’re barely legible. Combined with the sumptuous blue and gold of the box and ribbon, the whole package is definitely reminiscent of eighteenth-century European royalty. Jasmyn traces a finger over the looping letters, slightly frustrated that, even here in Liberty, Eurocentric standards of beauty and luxury reign.

Still, it is a beautiful package and so thoughtful of the other woman to bring it to her. Jasmyn says as much.

“Self-care is important,” says Sherril. “Everybody needs an escape from the world every once in a while.”

Jasmyn nods, though she doesn’t much agree. There’s always so much work to be done, especially for their community. Community care is self-care.

Pregnancy heartburn kicks in and Jasmyn rubs at her stomach. “Take it easy in there, sweetie.” She smiles up at Sherril. “This one got me burping.”

“You’re pregnant,” Sherril says. She takes one step back, and then another, as if this discovery is unexpected and, somehow, alarming.

“Fourteen weeks along.” Jasmyn waits for the woman to ask the usual questions: Is it a boy or a girl? Have you already chosen a name?

But the questions don’t come. Sherril looks at her stomach for so long it makes Jasmyn think maybe she has some tragic maternal history. Maybe she hadn’t been able to have children of her own. Or maybe she lost one to gangs or to police violence. Or maybe she was simply lamenting the passing of her childbearing years.

Sherril’s eyes drift up from Jasmyn’s stomach to her breasts and up to her trim Afro. “That’s quite a shirt,” she says.

Jasmyn checks to see what she’s wearing: a T-shirt with a raised fist and the words Black Power in cursive below.

“I didn’t know they still made those,” Sherril says.

Jasmyn frowns her confusion. Of course they do. Why wouldn’t they?

“Well,” Jasmyn says. “Thank you so much for these. I can’t wait to eat the cookies.” She stacks the gifts against her stomach.

“Yes, it sure was nice to meet you. Welcome to the neighborhood again and be sure to visit us up at the Wellness Center.” Her eyes drop to Jasmyn’s stomach again. “It’ll do you a world of good, especially in your condition.”

Jasmyn smiles and promises she’ll visit just as soon as she finds the time. Which will be never. She’ll never have the time for something so extravagant and so fundamentally unnecessary. Not when she could be using all that time and money helping people less fortunate than herself. Jasmyn walks them out to the driveway and watches as Sherril makes her way to her car. As she opens the door, sunlight flares in the side-view mirror, haloing her hair, her face. It has the effect of making her look paler than she had before. Jasmyn squints, trying to see through the light to what’s really there, but Sherril closes the door. The side mirror shifts and the illusion is lost.

Jasmyn walks slowly back to the house. A fine shiver feathers its way across her skin. She frowns up at the sky, searching for something to explain her sudden chill, but the spring sky is a wide-open expanse of cloudless blue. Still, the air feels charged and full somehow, as if it’s readying itself for a release.

Back inside, she rubs her hands up and down her forearms to warm them. What was the silly thing her grandmother used to say about goosebumps? That it meant someone had just walked over your grave. The first time she’d said it, Jasmyn was just a little girl and she’d cried, inconsolable. She remembers Ivy making fun of her tears and her mother scolding her grandmother for “putting morbid nonsense into the child’s head.”

Jasmyn huffs a laugh at the memory and shakes off the odd feeling of foreboding. She replaces the lid and reties the bow on the Wellness Center package. It really was thoughtful of Sherril to bake cookies and bring welcome gifts. No one had ever stopped by with presents in her old neighborhood. Truth is, she didn’t even know the names of any of her old neighbors.

She texts King and tells him about Sherril’s visit.

They really do believe in community here, she types.

Just make sure you save me some of those cookies, he texts back.


Adapted from: One of our Kind by Nicola Yoon. Copyright © 2024 by Nicola Yoon. Published by arrangement with Alfred A Knopf, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC

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