Nicole and Hey Auntie! community members celebrate the program's first anniversary at the home of supporter Auntie Tonie in September 2022. (Courtesy Hey Auntie!)

As a West Philadelphia native, I believe we are a city of limitless possibility. But despite our promise, we often carry the weight of negative stories that do not reflect who we are. For some, it leads us to accept the status quo. For others, it tempts us to give up on progress entirely.

Yet our communities have infinite unrealized ability, and investments of time, resources, and capital can help Philadelphia reach its true potential. 

I know this because I am an example of how your personal and professional future can change when business, nonprofit, and community leaders share new stories of possibility.

In 2015, after years of stress and anxiety, my emotional, mental, and physical health was at an all-time low. The weight of navigating a world where Black women are often overlooked and underestimated became unbearable. I was burnt out and lacking hope at 32.

Over time, with the support of my community, including the Black women in my life — my mom, my biological auntie, and other devoted mentors, whom I also affectionately refer to as aunties — I was nursed back to health through the power of their stories. Their stories were the vehicle to share their experiences that validated mine and to provide guidance, support, and tools to survive and thrive despite being doubted, dismissed, and misunderstood. At every turn, my aunties reminded me that I come from a rich legacy of people whose strength lies in knowing that our mindset is always our mind to set.  

This experience inspired me to radically reimagine replicating my support system for Black women experiencing a similar journey.

I realized that the best remedy for being in places that overwhelm with stories of who you are not, is to be in places that remind you of who you are, and better yet, who you can be.

With new resolve, I launched Hey Auntie!, 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 networks to thrive at home, work, and everywhere in between. 

The effort got noticed: In 2021 I won $50,000 in the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia’s inaugural Well City Challenge, “Millennials and Mental Health.”

Launched by Independence Blue Cross and the Economy League, the Well City Challenge was created to improve the physical and mental health of underserved communities in Philadelphia by helping participants access the city’s best resources through private and public networks.

In addition to the potential financial investment, the Well City Challenge attracted me because it advances a different kind of story — those that show why innovators closest to the challenges should be closest to designing the solutions. And that true innovation is not perfection but learning, creating, testing, failing, and trying again.  

The ‘everyday innovators’ participating in this year’s Well City Challenge, “Community Solutions for Heart & Mind Health,” exemplify the drive and dedication to community-driven problem-solving that our city so desperately needs. This iteration of the challenge focuses on proposals that can help to advance health equity in Philadelphia communities — Accelerate Health Equity joins Independence Blue Cross and the Economy League as a key partner in guiding the innovators as they compete for the grand prize.

Today, the stories we believe — about ourselves and this great city — may be more critical than ever. It is true that we face incredible social challenges and inequities. However, it is also true that in each of us and our communities lies the ingenuity, creativity, and resilience to rise to the occasion.

This is the story I am excited to tell. Thanks in part to programs like the Well City Challenge, I have so much hope for our future.

Nicole E. Kenney is the founder of Hey Auntie! Hey Auntie!, a private social network platform connecting Black women with real advice for real life. She is also the founder and CEO at It Starts With Me,...