Being Noah Tesfaye #9: 2017 — The Year of Self-Exploration and Self-Realization

I didn’t know what 2017 would really become on January 1st. This year was by far the most challenging and one of the most difficult years of my life. Sure, school this year was difficult taking a ton of honors/AP classes, but it wasn’t what was truly challenging for me in life. The hardest part about 2017 was that I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who Noah Tesfaye, the Ethiopian/African American high school student from the Bay Area, was. I would talk incessantly about certain issues in politics following our presidential election, yet I did not have a factual and logic-based reasoning into why I believed in what I believed. I followed blindly the rhetoric that has surrounded my life and rarely ever sought to develop my own unique opinions on how the world works, and in many ways, failed to develop my own self-identity.

Starting 2017, I didn’t know where I would end up in December. So I just decided to become more educated. And I don’t just mean taking my education more seriously, but I mean to educate myself in topics that truly interest me rather than wasting time, pondering how depressing my current situation may have been. The first step I took towards that goal was trying to find some sort of summer program to fulfill my love for learning. That was the Columbia University Constitutional Law summer program that I wrote about a month ago here. I learned through those three weeks that I can work diligently for hours on end learning about subjects that I am passionate about. Learning for the first time in my life was absolute fun. All the work I was putting in felt as though I was progressing towards a better understanding of who I was. And sure, that was based on the class I was taking, but it was primarily because of the candid discussions I had with my peers and most importantly friends. They were able to challenge my way of thinking in hopes of not only sharing why their opinions matter, but did so in a way that helped me learn to form my own opinion. They helped me begin to find my identity and for that I will always be forever grateful.

Following my newfound interest in Constitutional Law and friends, I went to Ethiopia at first only for a vacation. However what I ended up finding on this journey was much more. I discovered the roots of my family. I didn’t realize quite what it truly meant to be Ethiopian until I visited as a true teenager who was ready to explore what the country had to offer. As it turned out, there isn’t really anything for younger people to do in Addis other than party, and realizing that was not for me, I embraced the culture and family I had. I didn’t realize to what extent my heritage, Ethiopia, had truly shaped my life until I saw my family interacting. I saw the profound respect for one another, the enforcement of education. I saw the parental restrictions and lack thereof, the omnipresent poverty and wealth that seemed to exist in such close proximity. What Ethiopia showed me most of all was that I had a place I could always go back to and never feel like I was ever an outsider. I was, for the most part, just like everyone else, and I could just stand, looking across the street, without any suspicious looks.

The day I visited my grandfather’s village, I met family I didn’t know existed. Aunts, uncles, second cousins, and everything in between. I didn’t know it until then, but what set them apart from me was that my grandfather walked a full day straight to go to school every week and walked back home on the weekends. He persevered against all odds to get his medical degree, proving to me in the most powerful way that you could truly accomplish anything against the circumstances you may face. And so, with newfound family and connections, I came back to the US with the sense of purpose. I knew that I wanted to learn as much as I could and take full advantage of every opportunity I have. There was no reason for me to not work as hard as I possibly could because there is no 24 hour walk, there is no barrier than my own mind that can stop me from pursuing whatever I truly want.

During the beginning months of the school year, I became fascinated once again with journalism. I saw how much I enjoyed being a part of my school paper. Shooting videos to report stories was fun, but I knew deep down that I enjoyed writing just as much. I re-discovered and later fell in love with the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates this past fall. There was something about his writing style that captivated me: brutal honesty and truth. For as much as I did read a lot of great news, there was no journalist I had read about up until that point who was able to truly convey the gravity of the issues he wrote about that connected with me on such an elemental level. Coates helped me focus my eye on what is truly going on in the world. I began to read between the lines, think about the positives and negatives of situations around the world, and it helped me understand what it means to be a black person in America.

I also would be remised if I didn’t credit Gary Vaynerchuk for helping sharpen my mindset. Sometimes in life, you really need someone to just yell at you and tell you to just get sh*t done. He preaches about the need to not have any excuses and you need to go out and tackle the goals you want to achieve. No one is stopping any of us in America from attempting to achieve our goals, and with his constant yelling and anger, I was able to sit down and set my goals towards one simple idea: write.

At first I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, or why I was writing in the first place. But if there is any advice I truly appreciate the most from Ta-Nehisi, my current English teacher, and Stacey Marie-Ishmael, it is that you can’t really critique any sort of writing you may have if there is none in the first place. There was no way for me to continue to help find who I am and becoming if I didn’t just start writing about anything. So I started this blog. I didn’t know what it would become, and I still don’t know what this exactly is. The one thing I did know was that I wanted to write once a week, publish on Saturdays, and talk about issues from the one subject I am attempting to master: Noah Tesfaye.

The past two months of writing on this blog has received a tremendous amount of support that I didn’t know existed. I am thankful for everyone that does read and I want to say thanks for sticking around to read every week. But I do want to say that this is the beginning. I am writing this blog in hopes of discovering more of who I am. The idea behind this blog is not to just grant you with a new perspective on issues that are relevant today, but for me to become a better person and citizen of the world. I created this to learn more about the world. My Affirmative Action and Case for Reparations articles guided me to a better understanding of the race I am a part of and what it means to be black in America, regardless if I have the full scope of the heritage or not. Writing about adults and parents was something I believed helped me share my frustration with our inability as teenagers to communicate effectively and respectfully with adults and therefore hindering our ability to build stronger relationships with the older people in our lives.

So for what it’s worth, this blog will continue to be published, once a week, for the foreseeable future. I know I am not the only person who experiences the same circumstances that I do, and I can only hope that they stumble on this blog and realize that they aren’t alone. I will continue to write here because I know that even though I may struggle and deal with hardships in my life, I can always come here and share my frustrations and anger, pouring my thoughts into something that people from all countries and backgrounds can learn about and have something to enjoy every Saturday afternoon. Thank you so much for reading and I will see you all next week for another installment of Being Noah Tesfaye.

Also, since I didn’t want to post this for next week, here are my top ten albums and songs from 2017. Feel free to tweet me @noahbball1 for some candid debate about these lists.


  1. JAY-Z — 4:44
  2. Tyler, The Creator — Flower Boy
  3. BROCKHAMPTON — Saturation III
  4. BROCKHAMPTON — Saturation
  5. Joey Bada$$ — ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
  6. BROCKHAMPTON — Saturation II
  7. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.
  8. Royce Da 5’9″ — The Bar Exam 4
  9. SZA — Ctrl
  10. Sampha — Process

Songs (had some ties(ok, a lot), Redbone didn’t come out in 2017, but if it did, it would be #1 on this list for sure):

  2. Tyler, The Creator — Boredom/See You Again
  4. JAY-Z — 4:44/Family Feud/Kill JAY-Z/The Story of O.J
  5. Joey Bada$$ — BABYLON (feat. Chronixx)
  7. Daniel Caesar — Best Part (feat. H.E.R.)
  8. Kendrick Lamar — ELEMENT./LUST.
  9. Rolling Stone P — Little Do They Know
  10. Vince Staples — Big Fish

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