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She’s Tackling Racial Disparities in Mental Health to Help Black Women Thrive
Innovation Fellow Nicole Kenney started Hey Auntie!, an online community offering intergenerational support
What is Hey Auntie! and what inspired you to start it?
Hey Auntie! is a digital wellness platform and community that connects Black women across ages and life stages to learn the rules, gain the tools, and build the network to thrive at home, work, and everywhere in between.
In 2015, I was overwhelmed and burned out and didn’t feel I had a safe space to say I needed help. My conversation with my Auntie made me feel less alone and helped me realize I needed to be in community.
I took some time off and began opening up to my mom, my Auntie, and a larger community of Black women, whom I also affectionately refer to as aunties. As they shared stories about how they navigated similar journeys, I started to have greater hope for myself and what was possible for me. At the same time, I was taking a community media class in filmmaking. So, I decided to capture my conversations with these women as a personal journal. But, I realized after sharing the documentary with others there was an appetite for these intergenerational connections and conversations.
Entering a social impact competition to address millennial health in Philadelphia called the Well City Challenge and ultimately becoming the Grand Prize Winner in 2021 was the catalyst for me to combine my personal experience, professional experience in advancing racial, gender, and economic equity and community experiences to officially launch it as a solution to improve the health and well-being of Black women.
What problem are you trying to solve?
I’m trying to address racial disparities in mental health so that Black women can thrive at home, work, and everywhere in between. For example, women experience anxiety more than men, but Black women are less likely to seek help than White women. I’m on a mission to create a safe and culturally-competent solution that facilitates Black women connecting to seek help, whether that is through exchanging resources, tools or building their support systems. My vision is for all of us to flourish fully – without thinking about barriers or limitations.
How does Hey Auntie! work?
Sign up to be part of our community at heyauntie.io, and you can begin by joining one of our community-building features like our Lela’s Corners. Each month we connect groups of six women – half over 50 and half under – for two to three virtual sessions, each focused on a different topic.
This past month, the topics were: your word of the year, your song of the year, and your growth area for the year. I’ve been moderating them and doing an icebreaker to help women get to know each other, but eventually, the groups will be self-sustaining.
Why choose a cogenerational approach?
Cogeneration is the ethos and cultural legacy of the Auntie. I am the beneficiary of generations of Black women who understood that being in community across ages and life stages, exchanging advice, and supporting each other is not just how you survive but thrive. It’s how you maximize the different strengths that each one of us has. It’s how you ensure no one is left behind.
I really believe in the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far you go together.” It may have taken a couple of hard life lessons, but I am now fully convinced it is the best way to live.
What’s your big, audacious vision? If you succeed, what change will we see?
I want to raise $1.5 million to help us go to market. The vision is to be able to connect tens of thousands of women all over the world, but we are right now focusing hyper-locally in Philly. We already have people joining from other cities, and I’m so excited!
How can people get involved with your work?
You can sign up to join heyauntie.io, email me at email@example.com, and check out my TEDx Talk: “Hey Auntie!: How Aunties Changed My Life.”
What are you most proud of in your life?
I’m very proud of my nephew, EJ. He is the most emotionally aware, kind, and thoughtful person. I’m just excited for his future, for the light he brings into the world, and to pass down everything my Aunties passed down to me. He’s a reflection of not just the best of me, but the best of my family and the values we all hold so dear
Learn more about Nicole Kenney here.