Hadiyah Collins grew up with a complicated relationship to her curly tresses and cocoa-brown skin. But now, as a senior in high school, she has fully embraced her black identity and is helping her peers to do the same.
Collins was brought up in a predominantly white San Francisco neighborhood, where she was teased for looking different.
"I got made fun of because of my hair, because it wasn't straight," she told HuffPost Rise. "I didn't like my skin tone. I didn't like my hair. It was just them putting me outside of the box and making me feel like an outsider."
But Collins' mother, who passed away unexpectedly in 2005, was the ally she needed and encouraged her to embrace her blackness.
"She was always throwing knowledge at us, throwing books at us," Collins said. "She would just talk to me and tell me, 'your black is beautiful,' and I've grown up to know that. It's just a part of me, and who I am."
Now Collins is passing on her mother's inspiring words to the rest of the black student body at San Francisco's Academy of Arts and Sciences High School. As a senior, she reopened her school's Black Student Union. Through the BSU, she helps black students understand their history and identity -- subjects rarely covered in their school curriculum.
"As young black students speaking about these problems, I just want people to be more awake and aware and realize that there are things we can do as a community to change them," she said.
Learn more about Hadiyah's story in the video above and check out The Future Project here.