Your Unique Cultural Lens: A Guide To Cultural Competence

Layer 4: Capability – Including abilities and disabilities


Please notice how the following UCL reflection goes beyond exploring her authentic self. Beautifully, it also includes an example of how the author made herself accountable to others based on her life experience, for the benefit of many.


A contributor’s example of Layer 4:

When I was a year and a half old, my parents argued over how to feed my newly-born brother. The argument turned violent, and my father, consumed with anger, struck my mother and then me in the head with a hammer. My mother woke up several hours later and managed to call the police. It took more than 10 days for me to wake up from a coma after neurosurgery.



My head injury and the resulting neurological condition became my first framing for my intelligence. In my early years of education, I was in special education classes. There was an assumption that my poor performance was a reflection of my ability, when in fact I dissociated throughout the school day and put little effort into my studies. I felt shame for my poor grades and still hold a deeply ingrained story that I am deficient, damaged and less intelligent than most other people. My experience in school, I believe, was amplified by my ethnic identity and social status. Being the daughter of an African immigrant and raised by a single mother impacted how my capabilities were perceived and how I have been treated throughout life. If I had been a white child from a higher socio-economic status, I believe I would have been treated differently, perhaps with more compassion and hope.

I barely passed eighth grade, and when I got to high school, I was exposed to new ways of learning. I began to understand my own learning style, and I had mentors who fostered my self-confidence. My guidance counselor pulled me out of class after my first semester and said, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. There is no excuse for some of the poor grades you got. You are very bright, so I don’t want to see any more poor grades.” I was shaken by the experience because I was now fully accountable to my performance and couldn’t hide behind my neurological condition or my suffering confidence.



Understanding my own unique gifts began a pivotal journey that transformed how I viewed my intelligence and how I could leverage it to overcome perceived obstacles to my success. Cultivating my emotional and group intelligence continued to serve me as I began traveling abroad. Whether it was visiting the killing fields of Cambodia while studying the psychology of forgiveness or serving as an HIV/AIDS capacity building volunteer in Botswana, living and working abroad awoke my consciousness around cultural difference and the value of emotional intelligence.



My intelligence is framed with far more self-love nowadays. I believe that every person has their own unique genius, particular gifts that only they can bring to this world.


An example of accountability:

When I lived in Botswana, I met many students who were struggling academically not because of their intelligence but because of the way in which they were being taught, mostly through rote learning. With a fellow volunteer, I created a camp that incorporated the arts in the teaching process for students from seven villages who had interest in the arts and were having a difficult time academically. The camp engaged local artists and musicians and reflected the local culture. It was meant to be a full celebration of the students’ gifts. I will always seek to see the greatness in all people, to witness their capacity to push beyond the limits imposed on them by themselves or others.