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Hey Auntie!: This West Philly entrepreneur is creating an app to help Black women spark intergenerational connections

“One of the things my auntie would always tell me is whenever you’re in a low place, the last place you need to be is by yourself.”

Nicole Kenney, 38, of West Philadelphia, hopes to launch her Hey Auntie! app in the spring of 2022. The app is a platform to connect intergenerational Black women around mentoring on life, professional, and community development.
Nicole Kenney, 38, of West Philadelphia, hopes to launch her Hey Auntie! app in the spring of 2022. The app is a platform to connect intergenerational Black women around mentoring on life, professional, and community development.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Sometimes nothing can heal like a conversation with an auntie. Nicole Kenney of West Philadelphia is aiming to harness that power in a new app, Hey Auntie!

Kenney has seen the benefits of auntie conversations in her own life. Before she won a $50,000 prize through the Well City Challenge this July, and before she approached the concept of an app altogether, her aunties had helped her get a new start as an entrepreneur.

“I was working with the NAACP, doing work around communications on a national level. And, you know, like many millennials, burned out and came back home,” Kenney said, adding that she returned to Philly six years ago from Baltimore. “It was really just trying to just reorient myself. And it was really my community of aunties — and I use that term very affectionately, right? I talk about it like my biological auntie, but also just women in my community ... who gave me life advice, along with my mom, who really just gave me wisdom and insight or how to navigate that season of my life.”

After attending the North Star Conference in 2018, Kenney began to look for more ways to continue her work for Black women and girls through technology. The app, which is set to launch in Spring 2022 with both free and paid features, will give each user a dashboard to select one-on-one conversations as well as group conversations in forums on different topics. Users will be able to chat with aunties and peers from their same ages around themes, topics that could range, Kenney continued, from how to negotiate a pay raise to how to establish a better work-life balance with kids.

“One of the things my auntie would always tell me is, ‘Whenever you’re in a low place, the last place you need to be is by yourself,’ ” Kenney said. “I think that’s really what the value of intergenerational community is.”

Kenney spoke to The Inquirer about the forthcoming app, her hopes for Hey Auntie! and for Black women’s health. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

Why are intergenerational conversations so important from a health standpoint and a community health standpoint?

First and foremost is because a lot of the challenges we’re facing are generational. What grounds my work is historical context, with historical frameworks, right? And a lot of times we might be experiencing things without having a deeper understanding of the backstory and what led up to it. And so that’s one of the reasons why, I think, just for me as a person, I always know that there’s more than meets the eye.

There’s real beauty and a privilege to be in community with people who have lived very similar experiences as you, experiencing challenges, and is willing to pass that information along with the hopes that you will take that information and go further with it.

I will tell you one of the first things whenever I’m talking to especially older women is they know exactly what I’m going through. They’ve been there before. And so it allows me to identify the problems faster, which then gives me more time to focus on the solution.

I’d say for millennials, one of the things I’ve heard is that we have a lot of information but don’t necessarily know what to trust. And so it can be information overload — you don’t know what’s real, what’s not. Having someone who is trusted give their own experience and can vouch that it actually has worked for them — that in and of itself can eliminate a lot of stress.

I’ve heard complaints in different spaces among Black folk that we could use more intergenerational conversations. At the same time, I’ve heard Black boomers and Black Gen Xers say they don’t really feel fully seen and understood by millennials and vice versa. If that is a dynamic that you’ve seen, how do you see Hey Auntie! as a potential response to that?

I have heard similar challenges, but I think first and foremost it just starts with respect and understanding that we have a lot more in common than we have different, right? We might see it from different perspectives, but understanding that those perspectives are what makes the conversation so rich. So I can say from my experience and from my community, when I’m talking to Gen Xers and baby boomers, for instance, I’m really going there to learn. The platform is really for that millennial who wants to learn, or that auntie who really wants to learn. [It’s] for the auntie who values the millennial, which has really been my experience.

You’ve spoken to some of the hypothetical conversations that could happen on the platform. What are the conversations that you’re really hoping and dreaming absolutely happen?

I want us to have a healthier framework for fulfilling our potential. I want to see conversations around boundaries. I hear that from women a lot, and what does that look like in your workplace, what does it look like in your family? I want to see conversations around identity. When I talk to a lot of women, there’s a lot of self blame.

I would love for us to learn how to show ourselves grace, and compassion for sure. Let’s see what else, and then definitely wealth building, finances, is very important to us.

And stress management — how do you identify it, and then how do you manage it? — and then also, too, the self agency of when to walk away from it.

A lot of millennials are at an age where they might not be an auntie to their peers, but they are an auntie to somebody. How do you see them as actors in intergenerational conversations?

I’m an auntie, so I understand. It’s still kind of wild, but I love it, being called “an auntie.”

For the purpose of the Well City Challenge, [we] really focused on millennial health, but the platform overall is designed to be this intergenerational connector. Definitely, I envision it as being not something that’s just millennial and boomer, but certainly also for the Gen Xer, and also the Gen Zer.

If you’re 33, your auntie might be in her 40s, mid-40s, for the purpose of a conversation. It doesn’t always necessarily have to mean that they have to be a specific age older than you, but more so looking at someone who is more experienced in a certain area than you, so there’s some flexibility around that.

I absolutely also see it as building a pipeline for millennials to be aunties to those Gen Zers, and those who are coming behind them… The large vision is that this will be a platform that will be able to support women and girls at different stages of their life cycle. And that could look like 20, or that could look like 65.

To find out more about Hey Auntie, check out the platform’s website here.