My “Girl Next Door” Story
I’ve written about the challenges I’ve faced growing in Miami, Florida in the past. But I would be remiss not to share the fond memories I have of my childhood there—the love from my parents, the tight knit Nigerian community that still remains, the steamy hot weather year round that reminded us that paradise was in our backyard.
My family started out living in Opa Locka, an area some would describe as a low income community. I never noticed. Our apartment complex was filled with spirited kids. We did hand clapping games and taught ourselves how to tread water in the pool on the compound. On regular days we frequented the “candy lady house” to buy $.25 frozen cups that we flipped upside down to eat the juicier part first. My parents would take us shopping at the mall and sometimes indoor flea markets because shopping at outdoor ones was considered whack. At the markets, my mom would hunt for gold jewelry. I’ll never forget my first “diamond” nameplate. I felt real “hip-hop” whenever I wore it.
Speaking of hip-hop, back in the late 80s, I thought every rapper I saw on jukebox was from Miami, especially Rob Base. There was something about the “It Takes Two” video that felt familiar—like it was shot down the street from where I lived. Miami was my world. I only saw beyond it when my mom finally took us to visit Nigeria in 1988.
Eventually my family moved to an area called Norwood. Buying a home was every immigrants dream and it became a reality for my family by the time I hit 5th grade. Sometimes I pictured what the aerial view of our street looked like. I could just see the blue, yellow, pink, and white bungalow houses lined up on our street like Lego pieces. I remember sitting in my parents’ front yard picking moth shells out of the soil and crushing them with rocks. The ice cream truck would roll around and I’d buy a hot sausage and chips and watch Ricki Lake until my parents came home to make me do homework.
Years later I formed close-knit friendships that were instrumental in shaping who I became. Like when my dad would cart my best friend Tosi and me to the mall and modeling competitions and I started dreaming of a career in fashion. When I eventually relocated to New York after months of plotting, I remember finally seeing how the world works.
About The “Girl Next Door” Series
The girls next door I’ve encountered along the way were different, but we shared similar stories when it comes to being a black girl growing up in a white supremacist world. Many were very much like the ladies we featured in this series. Their beauty went beyond a simple label. They were complex and had complex life experiences. They had dreams and hopes and talent. The world tried to render them invisible. It hurt a little but it never stopped them from dreaming. It never stopped us from BEING.
Our “Girl Next Door” photo series is not about associating black women with the stereotypical definition of “the girl next door,” it’s about celebrating our neighbor—the actual girl who might have had big dreams of one day being seen, or of falling in love, or one who might have had to take care of her siblings because her mom needed her. We couldn’t capture every story, but we dedicate this to every little black girl who eventually became a beautiful and confident black woman—one whose life experiences were both joyous and complicated, but not complicated enough to break her.
All photos by Lola Ishola
Ankara dress by Demestiks New York via Shirley and Alice
Jeans- Vintage Banana Republic
Denim top- Zara