By Erickka Sy Savané
“You look sexy!” exclaims my neighbor to my 6-year-old daughter.
I laugh uncomfortably because though I know she’s showing some knee, I’d never call her sexy. She’s cute. Kids are cute. They’re not doing anything to warrant sexual attention. My daughter looks at me confused because we’ve had conversations about the word “sexy” in the past, and I tell her that it’s only for adults. Now she’s wondering if she is sexy because that’s what the neighbor just told her.
Once she leaves, I immediately begin lecturing my daughter on how people are different, but “sexy” is still a word that should never be used on kids.

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A few hours later, I’m still thinking about it, wondering if I should say something to my neighbor. The truth is, I work hard to keep my daughter in a kid’s world. I don’t let her watch Barbie: Life In The Dreamhouse because Barbie is dating Ken, and little girls don’t need to be drug into the dating world. She doesn’t watch or play with Monster’s High dolls because those girls wear miniskirts and shoes with 5-inch heels. I’m team Doc McStuffins all day because she’s a 6-year-old doctor who is not even thinking about dating or wearing clothes that make her look “sexy.” When I think of my neighbor getting another opportunity to plant the sex seed in her brain, I start breaking out in hives.

Should I tell my neighbor it’s inappropriate to call my daughter sexy? I ask psychologist Dr. Kristin Carothers, the following day via email.

After confirming that kids should NOT be called sexy—”We don’t want to encourage children to be sexual beings before it is developmentally appropriate because they may become confused about the word and meaning”—she tells me that I should definitely speak up if I don’t like the term she’s using to describe my kid.

“It might be helpful to provide the person with more appropriate terms that you prefer such as cute, beautiful or pretty that could convey the meaning for children and do not have sexual overtones,” Dr. Carothers said.

That makes a lot of sense. I suppose the real issue is not whether I should speak up or not—of course I should, especially since this woman spends time with my kids when I’m running late and can’t pick them up from school on time—it’s about not wanting to hurt her feelings. I’m thinking that in her world—we’re talking about a mom of five in her early 50s who started having kids when she was just 13 years old—calling a kid “sexy” is a compliment. Perhaps she grew up being called sexy herself.

A few days later, when my neighbor and I were walking home from dropping our kids off at school, I bring up the subject.

“You know when you called my daughter ‘sexy’ the other day?”
She nods.
“Well, I like words like pretty and cute. I don’t want her thinking about being sexy at this age.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” she says, getting a little defensive. “That’s just how we talk. I call my grandson sexy all the time, and he’s 2.”
“Yeah, I know,” I answer as casually as possible. “But we’re all different and that’s just how I feel.”
“Okay,” she says, and we walk the rest of the way home in silence.

Were her feelings hurt? Maybe. But as a mom, my first commitment is always to my kids.

Do you think it's appropriate to call kids sexy?  

Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of CurlyNikki.com, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in Essence.comEbony.com, Madamenoire.com, xoNecole.com, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or  

Director Nzingha Sterwart at the 17th Annual Image Awards
By Erickka Sy Savané

 “For the longest time, when I would show up places people would expect to see an Asian woman, not a black man,” says my friend Sekou, one day in conversation. It's been argued for years that the ancient Japanese migrated from Africa, so why not? Now I'm thinking about African Americans with African names, and how their experience must differ from the rest of us. I do a Google search to read up on the topic and there's nada. Guess I gotta research it myself...

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SekouWrites
"Early on, I didn't know that my name was different," says Sekou. “At the private black school I went to in Boston, we sang the black national anthem, celebrated Kwanzaa and everyone had names like Nzingha and Kumba.” His world got turned upside down when he found himself at an all black middle school in Atlanta where teasing him was a favorite pastime.
Knock Knock.
Who’s there?
Sekou
Say Who?!
It got so bad that he asked his teacher if she could start calling him by his middle name. The teacher told his mom and then it became a big deal, so the name change never happened, but it was ultimately good because things shifted again by high school. Now at an international school, Sekou recalls his name being a source of fascination. He found himself explaining that it means ‘scholarly’ or ‘fighter,’ depending on the translation, and he also got to talk about Ahmed Sekou Toure, the President of Guinea. For the first time in his life, he felt ‘name envy’ by other students. By college, he attended the historically black Morehouse, where there were Sekous around every corner, including a direct relative of Ahmed Sekou Toure! Looking back though, would he give his kid an African name? I ask him.

"Yes, because it's important to have a name that means something," he says. "It gives the person a level of gravitas." 

If an African name can imbue someone with a certain sense of gravitas, imagine if your name is actually Africa. Such is the case with Africa Angel Martin, who runs the kitchen at my daughter’s preschool, and has gravitas by the ton. “My father, who was a black panther, let me know from an early age that I’m a woman of culture, and I have an image to uphold no matter what my age,” says Africa, now in her early 40s. Like Sekou, she was also teased growing up. “I found that having the name Africa caused me to be rebellious, because I was always ready to come back at anyone who was trying to antagonize me.”

Ultimately, it did affect how she felt about the name, and even though she knew people were just being ignorant, she chose not to give an African name to her daughter. “To get teased like that so young can cause you to feel like a little mouse in a corner. I didn't want her to go through that.”

So today, how does she feel about the name? “Oh, I feel special. I feel unique. I know that I'm a Queen and the name carries a lot of power,” says Africa.

Next, I reach out to a woman I met a few years ago, "Love By The 10th Date" director Nzingha Stewart. Turns out, she didn’t grow up with the name, she chose it some 20 years ago after a trip to Senegal where she visited 'the point of no return’ in Goree Island.

“The tour guide explained that once you crossed this line you were property and couldn’t have your name anymore. If anybody called you by that name, their tongue would be cut out,” explains Nzingha. “The fact that they took away these people’s identity was so heart-wrenching to me that I changed my name to honor them.” She was eighteen.

“It means ‘from the water,’ and since I’m a water sign and from Jamaica, it felt right. Also, there’s the story of Queen Nzingha and how she fought the Portuguese and kept Angolans from getting taken as slaves. It’s awesome!”

And how did her family react? I'm curious to know.

"My mom’s side was much better with it, my dad’s side wouldn’t call me Nzingha for a very long time, my grandmother still doesn't, and my father calls me by a nickname. Friends learned to use Nzingha once I stopped responding to anything else," she says. "More than anything, I love that it gives me an opportunity to educate people about how systematic the programming of slavery was."

Ultimately, what I learned about African Americans with African names is that the saying is true, "behind every name there is a story."

Are you an African American with an African name?

Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of CurlyNikki.com, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in Essence.comEbony.com, Madamenoire.com, xoNecole.com, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or  
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New City Kids










By Erickka Sy Savané

Located on the front of a small building on a beat down corner in Jersey City reads a sign that says, ‘New City.’ Every time I pass it I make a mental note to inquire within, but like many things, that day never happens. Until…
My neighbor, a bright 8th grader who uses my computer to print out schoolwork, knocks on my door. “Can you help me write my resume?” she asks. Resume? What’s she applying for, President? Turns out, she has enough accomplishments to make me feel like I’ve wasted my life. Suffice to say, she got the job! A few weeks later, her mom invites me and my kids to a barbecue being held by her future employers. Whatdoyouknow? It’s in that building on that beat down corner.

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The place is bursting with urban teens my neighbor’s age and older who are right in the middle of a festive program. They’re talking about dating, peer pressure, and things that your five-year-old is too young to hear. I go outside to leave, but get stopped by the smell of chicken on the grill. Might as well have a seat. Or two.
Next thing I know, I find myself talking to a tall, skinny white guy named Gabe who is the development director of New City Kids, a leadership program for at-risk teens. Basically, teens in grades 9-12 become interns who teach and tutor kids in grades 1-8 in an after school program.
“There are lots of statistics about what happens when kids don’t have things to do afterschool,” says Gabe, “So there’s a real need for programs where they have a creative outlet and help with homework.”

They actually employed 70 teens last year, and will employ 78 this year, which is amazing when you think of it. Even more impressive is they’re investing in them academically by giving one-on-one assistance filling out college applications, tutoring for their SAT’s, and conducting college tours for sophomores and juniors over Spring Break.
The real humdinger is for seven years in a row, 100% of the teens they employ have gone on to college.
Clearly, they’re doing something right. I end up talking to 23-year-old college grad and now production manager Greg Nelson and he tells me that being at New City made him want more for his life. “It’s more than punching a clock in and out, it’s a place where people actually care.” He says that when it came to applying for college they made sure he never missed a deadline, which is more than he could say for his high school counselors. Though he adds it’s not their fault. “Counselors at school have 200 students a day so it’s hard to give that kind of attention. It’s a broken system.”

Broken perhaps, but if anything, New City Kids may have a healing energy. After all, it was founded by Pastors Trevor and Linda Rubingh of Michigan. I speak to 20-year-old Kean University student Ashley Field and she gets emotional talking about the life-changing effect that New City Kids has had on her life. “Before New City, I didn’t know what college was about. But alumni would come back and New City would celebrate them and I wanted to be a part of that community.”
It was a stark contrast to what she had lived at home, where for years an aunt who was on drugs raised her and her younger sister. If anything, New City was a light to guide her to something greater. “When you go home and you’re crying because you don’t understand how to fill out financial aid papers and no one understands, New City does. They become your family.”To say that she’s already giving back to the community is an understatement. Just recently, Ashley put on a charity hair show to benefit New City Kids, and production manager Greg says that he’s always there if they need him. It’s this type of passion that keeps New City Kids alive.

New City  Kids learn to sail 


Do you have programs like this in your community?

Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of CurlyNikki.com, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in Essence.comEbony.com, Madamenoire.com, xoNecole.com, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or  
Marc C. Nappy.co
By Erickka Sy Savané

“I've been friendzoned,” said my friend L.
“Oh, no, how did that happen?” I ask.
“When we first met I wasn't really ready for anything so I didn't step to her in time,” he explains. “Now she's all booed up with a new man.”
“That's too bad,” I say.
“But I could get out of it if I want to,” he says, confidently.
“How?”
“Patience,” he says. "First, you have to believe there's a chance, and then you have to be willing to be her friend despite the new man. Then when there's an opening, you pounce."
Hmmm...I want to be optimistic, but this is tricky. Past experience says once you've been friendzoned, that's it.


Most women know within seconds of meeting a guy if he can get it. So I'm not sure that L. ever really had a chance. Women don't throw a good guy with potentially good D in the friendzone. And what if patience doesn't work? He sits around waiting for a time in the future when she and her man break up so he can wiggle his way in, just to realize that she wanted nothing but friendship all along.

But at the same time, I'm reminded of an earlier relationship...
He was a wealthy banker, and I was modeling. He wanted to date, I didn't really see him that way. Maybe it was the Michael Jackson Beat It jacket in his closet. I began dating someone else, and he acted fine. He even listened when my man and I were having problems. But all the while, he was wining and dining me and my girlfriends at fancy NYC restaurants. He turned up the heat when my boyfriend and I broke up. Eventually, my girls started asking me if I was crazy, and out of fear that one of them would snag him, I decided to give it a go.

It was wonderful. We toured Le Louvre museum in Paris, gained 10 pounds in Jamaica and listened to the most beautiful ocean waves outside of our bedroom window in the British Virgin Islands all in one year. Yet I was still not physically attracted to him. Sex was always a chore, and we eventually broke up. No amount of money or fun could pull him out of the friendzone. In the end, his patience won me, but did he ever really win?

In what could be perhaps the worst case of #friendzoneship ever recorded, is my friend who I recently discovered friendzoned her husband for the past 10 years. She said she realized less than six months into their marriage that he was not a lover, but her best friend. They talk, laugh and kee-kee like nobody's business, and she trust him with her life, yet he is in the #friendzone. Sometimes I think about the fact that he can't get none from his own wife, and I wonder if he's being patient? #nowinsituation

But then again, I can't act like there aren't any cases where the #friendzoneban was lifted. In fact, one of my besties married a man who had #multiplefriendzone bans going against him. To explain, he was that dude who would come to all the get-togethers by himself- no date. After a while, we all assumed something was wrong with him- nobody wants the guy nobody wants. Well, it just so happened that he was there for this friend when her mom died, giving her the most solid rock to stand on. From there, a deep friendship developed, and the next thing you know we were all at their wedding. And let her tell it, their sex life is the best, made even better by the closeness of their friendship.

Come to think about it, there’s even my own case where my husband was put into a temporary #friendshipholdingzone when we first met. By that I mean, I was always attracted to him, but I had to put that aside to see if there was a real friendship. I had grown weary of dating dudes who would come and go. So, I got to know him, he got to know me, and before long a friendship developed that brought us close. That friendship has sustained us through 10 years of marriage and I have no complaints in the bedroom or otherwise. It's kind of  backwards the way may of us view the friendzone. We blame it for killing a potential relationship when it's really the best shot we have for a relationship to actually work. Think about it, she's not putting on a show for you and since you've already been zoned the pressure is off of you too. You can actually be yourselves. We should start calling the friendzone the #inzone because that's where all the real moves are made. 

So in this case, L. is right. He just might make it out of the zone after all. 

 Have you ever gotten out of the friendzone? 

Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of CurlyNikki.com, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in Essence.comEbony.com, Madamenoire.com, xoNecole.com, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or