Before a couple of years ago, you would have never heard me say, "I am a woman."My identity was solely based on the statement, "I am black." So I could only say, "I am a black woman." And even though my gender is just as easily seen as my blackness, being black is something I’ve felt way deep inside of me. So I was on a search for my identity…my femininity, my blackness, my masculinity…all the things that make up the distinctiveness of Aria Branch. And I found them. So that’s why when I attended the Baldwin Scholars information session, and one of the program leaders said this program is for people who have a grounded sense of self, I knew that this program was for me for that reason, among many others.

I wanted to be a Baldwin Scholar because I believe in the power of women to change the world. And, really I guess it’s that simple. So I wanted to be around 17 other women who have a similar vision and who want to bring about change in the fabric of Duke’s society and the larger world. I am a scholar, a feminist, an advocate for human rights, an activist, and a writer. But beyond all of these labels, I am committed to a vision that is responsive to the very world we live in which will involve taking risks in order to bring about changes. And I know that this can be done.

Most of my identities are rooted in a passion for social justice. This spirit energizes my work on Duke’s campus and my relationships with other people. This spring semester, I will be a columnist for Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle. Out of my politics, aesthetics and experiences as a black woman and scholar, I hope to become a voice on campus for female empowerment and an advocate for activist thought and action through my column which I’ve dubbed, "Where I live now."

In addition, I am a mentor in the Future Is Now (FIN) program and I serve as a role model for a young, black girl who lives in Durham. Through this program, the Duke University students serve as mentors and are able to help young girls from the greater Durham community develop their self-worth and self-esteem through dialogue and group activities. This experience is very rewarding because I can see myself in the eyes of many of the young girls. I’ve learned a lot from my mentee and I look forward to spending time with her.

I plan to double major in Political Science and African and African American Studies. Ultimately, I want to attend law school after graduating from Duke and I want to become a corporate or entertainment lawyer in the future. In whatever direction my career takes me, I hope to continue working through my passion for social justice and my belief that the powerless can eventually prevail.