I was born in raised in a paradise that is San Francisco and I attribute much of my success to being born there. I was surrounded by all kinds of well-established cultures, subcultures, social movements, and of course unbeatable nature. It’s a strange town and I’m so grateful for that. I was raised by a single mother along with a village of women including aunts, teachers, and coaches. The majority of my youth, I was the only or one of few black students in elite single-sex private schools. While my experiences were rarely negative (-at least not relating directly to race), I certainly deal with residual implications of that environment, especially when it comes to not fitting into the preconceived categories of blackness. In school, I got good grades, played almost all sports; I participated in drama, the highlight of that being my role as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables at 14. I also sang and still do, sometimes well, sometimes not. On top of that, I caught the photography bug, which I learned with a pinhole camera and a minuscule dark room. Behold the bizarre but enriching circumstances of private schooling.
My focus is not chasing this concept of happiness, but rather fine-tuning the skill of co-existing with my darkness.
The time for high school came around. I went to boarding school by choice and expanded my international exposure as we were required to have “foreign” roommates. Over the years I had roommates from Taiwan, Macau, and China and was immersed in a 50% East Asian student body, often the kind you might find in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians…Hermès Birkin Bags used as school bags types of girls. Regardless of it being a catholic all-girls school, I was an absolute fashionista, dressing up every single day, with Lady Gaga bows, fingerless gloves, red lipstick, and above all causing quite a bit of mischief in the classroom. I always challenged authority in school, but mostly out of entertainment for other classmates and for myself. However, my good grades ensured most teachers that I wasn’t a problem student per se. At 16 I spent the summer at Oxford’s Oriel college studying Psychology & pop culture. It was my first time leaving the country, I was set on living my British teen fantasy of freedom & dramatics, and instead, I was plunged further into elite academia and the desire to be apart of it. That was 10 years ago and I’ve never stopped traveling & studying abroad since.
After being expelled from HS a few weeks into its senior year, for running a blog about female sexuality, I went to public school for the first time in my life and was academically miserable. The challenge which I was so used to was nowhere to be found. Just old textbooks, mediocre extracurriculars, underpaid teachers doing their best, and lots of students being educationally neglected.
I applied to universities in the US & UK and settled on the New School in Manhattan. I chose NYC because I had that travel bug and wanted to experience something beyond California. I also secretly hoped I’d casually run into Daniel Radcliffe near his NYC apartment and become his life partner. Reasonable. I studied Psychology & history at the New School, and initially roomed with an outright brat, whose father is a major Hollywood producer; but, on the better side, I also found my best friend, Emma who is still my best friend 8 years later.
I got lost in that city. Not always in a good way. During this time I dated a lot of different types of men, some too wealthy for their own good, some too artistically consumed to function, some out of touch enough to think that making homemade hummus in a sweaty basement apartment and then proposing sex is a swell first date. I found myself in some dark situations, didn’t party a lot though, modeled for some notable photographers, wandered often from Union Square to Bowling Green at 2 am just to see the city nearly asleep. It’s my preferred way to see any city.
With fashion week approaching, I casually applied to a Craigslist videographer gig listing with limited videography experience. I got the gig and worked as a documentarian at NYFW for a low-key loser of a guy who was an influencer before influencers were a thing. I followed and documented model life backstage, and drank in the rare adrenaline of sitting at the end of the runway in the photographer’s pit, flanked by pricey camera lenses labeled Vogue, WWD, Getty Images, etc. photographing models as they struck a pose at the end of the runway. Of course, I was also meant to capture my influencer sitting front row as he pretended to be important.
I lived this rich girl poor girl life of bumping shoulders with the elite, but still being a complete nobody in a city that can make or break someone. Through all this, my grades never slipped. But after 2 years I was in fact broken by NYC to a degree. The lack of nature and friendliness that I found in SF made me severely depressed. So I took my entire junior year abroad; not typically permitted but I found some loopholes and again challenged authority. I made my own rules just on the perimeter of the real rules. Started with a summer in Verona, Italy living with a local family who spoke next to no English and had a vacation home on Lake Garda. While there, I studied Literature & Italian language and got acquainted with the stereotypical passion of Italian men & constantly melting gelati. Classes finished at lunch, so most afternoons I wandered Verona or took hasty train trips to nearby towns & cities.
Immediately after, I was off to King’s College London studying history for a semester alongside Emma and fell in love with London in a way I didn’t think possible. Those were some of the best days of my life. The academics in the UK were a real challenge for me, and I spent a lot of very late nights at a pub in Camden with a band of international misfits who all ended up finding each other in that pub somehow. I don’t know how I did it, as in retrospect I feel that true sobriety was rare in those days. Since then London has been my happy place. I thrive off the endlessness of culture and of the physical city…as well as the anonymity.
The next semester was Paris. I went with Emma again to the American University of Paris focusing solely on psychology. I had the most complex emotionally distressing but deep relationship of my life with an Italian guy in my French class. To this day I am sure that he’s my soulmate but in a very odd platonic sense. I learned that semester that even the strongest willed, independent type of person can fall into emotional abuse. While I don’t recommend keeping those types of people in your life, I’m glad I did because to this day he’s grown up a lot and has become a life partner to me in some ways.
I then scrambled back to NYC to finish my degree and visited Asia for the first time for a graduation trip. Three girls in an excessive luxe villa in the jungle of Koh Samui, Thailand. On the way, we tickled Hong Kong & Singapore during some painfully long layovers. After that incredibly reviving trip, I was back in SF and took a year off to work for Lush Cosmetics. My skin thrived, but I felt stuck.
I decided I still needed more jet setting so I decided to pursue my master’s degree in Paris again. This time following a lifelong passion for studying Fashion, Design & Luxury Management in a two-year program. Year one I spent in Paris, as one of two Americans in a class of 35 girls and one guy, almost married a French man who made a living trading Tahitian pearls, spent his days between his mess of an apartment in Paris’ 16eme, Tahiti & Brazil. Can anyone blame me for wanting to be the brainy arm candy of his life? I found myself acting desperate to capture his heart. It all went wrong when his best friend died suddenly and we broke up via text while I was visiting Brussels for the first time. A spiritual advisor recommended that I find a summer fling to distract my senses. I found my current partner immediately after that advice was given. I expected him for the summer and 2 years later we’re still here in our strange pairing. I’m African American, 26, and a true millennial, he’s Italian, 2 years younger than my mom, has 3 daughters around my age, and is very much a Baby Boomer who’s often cooler than me. It’s difficult being an interracial couple, with an age difference, different nationalities, and some mismatched languages, but we have fun and we actively reject the daily judgment and looks of disgust we receive. Those around us can see that what we have is real.
After year one of the degree, I went to Florence for a fashion buying internship and I completed my thesis on Gucci & LVMH and their reinventions of Italian culture. After that, my man asked me to live with him in Paris. I agreed and lived blissfully as an over-educated, Parisian housewife collecting lots of miles on airlines out of Charles de Gaulle. I regret none of it, even referring to myself as a housewife after all that academic prowess. It’s frankly an ideal life and I wouldn’t have exchanged it.
Last November, my aunt who helped raise me, the sculptor of my life & success, passed away. She left me with the power of education and with the financial cushion that has made me very fortunate during this global pandemic. I am convinced that the timing of her departure was not a coincidence.
Nowadays I’ve just started my own business, Crown & Compass Travel. I do curation, with a focus on affordable luxury travel for millennials & study abroad. It’s given me the flexibility that I simply cannot forfeit for a standard office career. I peruse job listing for fashion internships during Paris fashion week for fun, having the chance to break my back in buyers showrooms for international brands, I travel almost every month even if it’s just to London or Amsterdam, and I spend most of my days in museums, smoking Dutch weed, strolling along the Seine with my favorite ice cream from Berthillon, playing video games, dressing up, taking photos, and running a new business. Some may feel that it’s a waste of an education, but I feel like I’m in the right place. Besides traveling & fashion, my biggest passion is investing in my comfort & in myself. I take pride in the beauty, and style, but as a black woman it’s important to show that I can be very well educated, worldly, eloquent and still be sexually free, outspoken, and authentic in a world where women, especially black women are very much expected to fall into preconceived categories.
The Madonna & the whore dichotomy is outdated trash but is still very much applied to how black women are viewed. I want to serve as an example of an aspirational black woman, to show that you don’t have to marry well or compromise yourself to be successful. But more so, if you do want to marry into success or monetize your sexuality, that doesn’t make you any less aspirational than me. There are options.
My life goal is to be on the cover of Forbes & Playboy so perhaps it’s clear that I don’t care much what others think about me, as long as they have something to think about after coming across me.
So here I am, in the middle of the pandemic, having just traveled from California all the way to Marbella Spain, sitting on the terrace of a post-surgical recovery villa video chatting with my man who’s in his hometown of Bergamo. Just earlier today I had several women online bully me for being with him, implying that I am paid for and that I am delusional for being with a man much older than me, which is an assumption we deal with every single day no matter where we go. But seeing his excitement just to talk to me, seeing the respect that my peers and our families have for our relationship confirms to me that I’m in the right place, with the right man supporting me.
Now here I am in Sevilla, editing this a few weeks later having spent the month of July traveling responsibly through post-lockdown Andalucía. It’s scorching hot, but stunning without heavy tourism. Since the travel business is a bit slow, I have time to work on my new podcast, Queen & Compass, and to scramble for my next visa so I can keep journeying.
My mental health issues, the heavy beating that I take just existing as a black woman in this world, the complexities of being an immigrant and trying to find my way as a defiant millennial in a world that isn’t too fond of us….all of those things don’t detract from the undeniable force that is me, Ebere.