It was freshman year in the fall semester of 2003 during an Islamic art and architecture class at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). I was too distracted with a man I considered to be the ‘Black God’ on campus to give too much attention to anything else but I did shyly admire an outspoken badass from afar. Her name was Coco and I knew we were kindred spirits.
Coco sat three rows directly behind me at the back of the class. She managed to go on cigarette breaks and still be the most involved in an 8 am, 3-hour snore-worthy weekly lecture. I credit Coco for my barely passing the class, which was a blessing considering my personal life felt like it was in shambles. She made the class more interesting and I’d snicker quietly at her comments and strong opinions as I found her to be the true teacher.
I am a black American woman born in Washington DC and raised in a Maryland suburb known as Prince George’s County aka PG County aka ‘Pretty Girl County’. PG County is a community that is 65 per cent African-American, where the closest ties any of us had to Africa would have been on a slave ship five generations prior. My skin complexion is fair and I have what most consider an exotic look. In fact, people rarely believe me when I tell them I am quite simply a ‘Sista from DC’. I was raised primarily by my Virginia-native single mother who placed me in a visual and performing arts school at the age of nine. As a creative, my personal community was amongst other artists, writers, dancers, musicians etc. But my soul tribe were few and far in between and I often felt like an outcast.
Our twenties were a variety of trials and tribulations. As a fresh graduate, the recession hit hard.
Coco is of Kenyan descent from the Kikuyu Tribe and was bred in British boarding schools. She was born in Wisconsin and raised primarily by her mother who works for UNICEF. When my antennae went off around Coco, I knew she was different from the rest. I was aware that I liked her, but never moved beyond. It wasn’t until seven years later that Coco and I really began the journey of friendship.
Our twenties were a variety of trials and tribulations. As a fresh graduate, the recession hit hard; those who had been ‘Best Friends Forever’ bailed; bad relationship choices were made; resources were low; no health insurance; debt piled up; deaths in the family. Layoffs, loss of appetite, stress, no sleep, uncertainty, high competition, broke, broke, broke etc. Through this never-ending uphill climb was the strongest desire and angst to finally have a big break in our careers, a healthy love life and FUN!
I struck up a conversation, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Coco has a colourful way of expressing herself just as passionately through social media as she does in person, and I found this refreshing. After months of seeing, hearing, laughing, and identifying with her frustrations of life, I felt as if Coco was reading my journal. I struck up a conversation, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Coco and I had been going through similar ‘thangs’ as any woman (especially of colour) with pent-up creative blocks, financial conflicts and dreams of passion would tell you and it was through this vessel that we formed a sisterhood.
In 2012, Coco was fresh off the boat from Italy after a dizzying five-year spell in the fashion world and a series of failed love affairs. All of which left her anxious, tired, and OVER IT. Lucky me, because she was back home in Westchester County, NY and our adventures were soon to begin. Our first meeting took place at Eataly in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, which was the perfect backdrop for two women who love wine, seafood, carbs and talking shit! I felt overwhelmed with energy and excitement to catch up and truly get to know her for the first time as adults.
I became a part of her life. I absorbed her spirit, her strength, her sassiness.
With Coco, it’s about moments. Like the time I invited her over my Bedstuy, Brooklyn apartment and we went out on my balcony in the pitch black to drink wine and smoke cigarettes. I showed Ms ‘Westchester County’ where the back alley crackheads like to party and she recited Katt Williams stand up verbatim for five minutes straight. Thug life.
‘How can you possibly remember all this??! Have you been rehearsing?!?!’
I thought, ‘I heart you’ as I beamed with utter amazement. By the time I reached my hundredth episode of career ups and downs, Coco and her family were there to invite me over for Christmas after I decided I needed a break from my old-fashioned Southern Baptist family. On Christmas Eve, we all sat around the fireplace drinking red wine, smoking cigarettes, dancing to music, talking about anything and everything. I woke the next morning to find Coco sketching the beginning stages of her bridalwear collection. I was part of her life when it mattered.
#christmas #family #love #merrychristmas A photo posted by Coco (@misscocomasloco) on
There was the time, I introduced her to a very important professional contact of mine at a hip West Village restaurant full of celebrities, models, and socialites. He loved her instantly and, by association, she made me look that much cooler. Even when we ended up at his nightclub full of influential contacts, and I found myself vomiting gracefully in the corner five-feet short of the toilet, there was Coco to the rescue guiding me to the restroom, holding back my hair, always looking out.
‘My ride or die chick…’
To me, she embodies a WOMAN. And the trail of men eager to be in her world would agree. It’s her fire that captivated, challenged and attracted them… the friction gave them life, the romance and compassion calmed them down, and it all seemed to balance itself out hence the phrase ‘Being Rick-Rolled by Hurricane Coco’.
Hurricane Coco starts off subtle and before you know it, the storm has taken over… car alarms are beeping; static is everywhere; frequency is HIGH; money is flowing in; strangers become friends who are laughing and smiling… energy is born. It’s a supernatural spiritual sensation that goes in all directions but ends up back home safe at least 24 hours later. By the end of the adventure, you just feel REBORN and appreciative of no broken bones, no STDs, no massive credit card debt (because she gets everything for free), no regrets and a sense of addictive well-being after hours of sleep to recover.
I feel like I am Coco on a really good day.
But I am particularly fond of well-spoken, nurturing, honest, relatable and brave women; the kind of women who ‘call out the elephant in the room’ or who have the balls to say exactly what everyone is thinking. On a superficial level, Coco’s British accent gave her automatic ‘well-to-do’ cool bonus points but her apparent passionate nature and intellect is what gave her authenticity, character and respect. She is a proud first generation African woman who is sharp, extremely funny and underneath it all REAL. She is raw, sexy, full of dynamic presence with the best taste in shoes and a genuine love for LOVE. She has an appetite for knowledge, speaks four languages, fights for human rights and loves pleasure. I feel like I am Coco on a really good day. Dabble in a bit of grace, charm, and finesse and I feel like you’ve got a powerful combination of expression and influence. Deep down, this is the kind of woman I dream of being.
When she left NYC to return to Italy we both thought it would be temporary. She started the agonising process of launching her bridalwear company and came across several typical setbacks. Two years later and she’s still at it.
And there have also been unexpected blessings….
Coco found a loving Italian man and I am now the godmother of their first child. A girl name LaraBella.
When she asked if I would accept, I asked:
‘Are you sure you want me?’
‘Yes.’ She replied. ‘Absolutely.’
I felt honoured and I accepted.
Throughout the years, I have absorbed her spirit, her strength, her sassiness and experienced her relationship to her sister and mother. I felt grateful. And I have found myself in the company of more African women. As a current New Yorker, the friends I have made from Nigeria, Somalia and Kenya reflect the same endearing qualities as Coco. These women all have elements of a strong work ethic and family dynamic, elevated education, regality, grace and pride that shine through them. Their mothers continue to work well into old age, they all dress to impress and they provide a home that is welcoming of a feast and festivities.
Our commonalities allow us to bond and fight adversity together.
Our similar struggles in the workplace and dating scene help us to relate but, more importantly, our commonalities allow us to bond and fight adversity together. My hope for the next generation of African-American women is that we empower ourselves by defining our own values and take control of how we are seen, and see ourselves, in media, art, music, tech and business. But whatever happens, we know we can do it together.