by Imani Crawford
When I first came to Philadelphia, about three years ago, I couldn’t seem to figure it out.
It was a complete paradox to me, so much so that every time someone boasted Philly pride, I argued with them. I couldn’t at all understand what there was to be proud of in a city that seemed to be full of despair, that even the city officials didn’t seem to care about. The years passed and still looking from the outside in, I began to understand that it was a city full of stories and resiliency unmatched. I began to understand that while what I saw was a city of cracked sidewalks and abandoned homes, what made it beautiful were the people and their stories.
Although, I learned this over my time here, when I met Alnika Elizabeth Lovello, she personified it for me.
On June 11, 1992, Alnika E. Lovello was born to Alan Lovello and Tulsa Wills. No idea at this point what she would go through and all she would become. She had no idea that 3 and half years later, her eldest brother would pass away and 10 years after that, so would her best friend. She was unaware she was being born into one of the most tumultuous times in American history, the height of a crime epidemic and the crack era. She had no idea that she was being born into one of the most hyper segregated cities in America, to mixed parents.
Alnika was born the third child out of five to her mother and the first of her fathers. A year later, she was followed by her younger sister Sade. She had no idea that the first tragedy would hit her at the tender age of three. After a second failed heart transplant, her eldest brother Keyiron Edwards, died at the age of 16, an occurrence that took a tremendous toll on the entire family. “It’s like I was three at the time, so I didn’t completely understand, but I do remember the funeral,” Alnika explained. But the person that seemed to be most affected by the death was her mother Tulsa.
Tulsa, a recovering drug addict at the time explained in a 1996 Philadelphia Inquirer article that she credited her son for getting her straight, and keeping her there. Saying that he had “constantly built her up and had made her see her value to both her family and the world.” Alnika explained that although her mother was clean for about 4-5 years before her brother passed, after the tragic death, she relapsed.
After Keyiron died and her second oldest brother Elijah, being taken away by DHS (Department of Human Services). Alnika was left as the oldest sibling in the house, which left her with lots of responsibilities growing up, which as many older siblings know, can make it seem like you’re growing up a lot faster. She found relief in her friend group; Nina, Dana and Ikram. Her best friend was Nina, which was the heart of the team who kept everyone solid. The girls were more like sisters than friends, they had known each other since they were young. “We had no money, but we always had fun,” Alnika explained.
So imagine her surprise on Friday, November 17th, 2006, when a mutual friend of her and Nina’s, came running to her house to tell her the news. There was an ambulance in front of Nina’s house and she was taken to the hospital, but nobody knew what for. They ran to the hospital where they were told they would not be able to see Nina because visiting hours were over. So they made a phone call back home to the mutual friend’s mom and said they need a ride home, as visiting hours were over. The mutual friend’s mother responded, “She didn’t make it; she didn’t make it.” Her mother sobbed on the other end of the phone. Initially, she didn’t understand, the voice at the end of the line didn’t seem to be making any sense. Alnika eventually explained to me that she believed the fact that her best friend killed herself hit her at the wrong time; and hard. “I blamed myself and everyone around me for a very long time,” she told me.
After Nina’s death, Alnika became more quiet and reserved. As she drew back from everyone, they began to do the same. During the time of Nina’s death, Alnika attended CEP (Community Education Partners), an alternative school, that she described as more of a jail than a school. What she didn’t know is that she would soon be getting her release papers and would once again be able to attend school with Dana and Ikram. When she got to South Philly High School, she tried to get back on point, attending every class, not fighting. She was well known at school as “the light skin girl from 15th St.,” who’s best friend had died. Unfortunately, she got knocked off her square being back in school with her friends, so she had to attend night school in order to graduate.
Night school is where she met a girl named Regina, who asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up because her last name sounded like she should be famous; a statement she’ll never forget. Alnika had no idea, she always knew like Regina said, that she would be someone, something, but didn’t have a specific plan to get there. After graduating high school, she attended community college for a year before deciding it wasn’t for her.
After spending some time working different odd jobs, Alnika decided to focus on her plan for life. She always dreamed of the spotlight she wanted her name that "sounded so famous" in. She thought of modeling, along with thoughts of music producing, due to her love for music. "I like music more than people", she expressed. There was no doubt that she always knew she would be something and always wanted a better life for herself and family; she continued to work and figure out what that thing would be.
In 2013, when she saw that everyone was making t-shirts with meaningless words plastered across them she said, “I can do that,” and so, she did.
Going back to the love of her last name, she decided to put it on a shirt. When she noticed that people liked it and shirts were selling out. She quickly recognized that she was more than just these shirts and decided to take it even further. Lovello Elizabeth is now a recognizable clothing brand in the East Coast area. With her current collection showcasing contemporary men’s and women’s wear. The brand has seen much success with celebrity client and press, such as Dej Loaf, Yes Julz and more.
“I never once thought about fashion, it was never in the plan.” Lovello explained to me.
She continued to work on what she believed in. Although she never followed any business plan, she continued to follow her dream to make something more of herself. Alnika thinks even bigger now. She wants something bigger and one of a kind. She has aspirations to someday open her own luxury fashion boutique and venture away from what she knows in order to expand her brand.
After speaking with the woman that describes herself as stubborn, silly and determined. Who is described by her friends as goofy, free spirited, outgoing, hardworking and hardheaded, only one word resonated with me; resilience. Somehow, she had not let all the things she had been through determine her fate. She didn’t have a plan, but she followed her dreams.
Her dreams are now taking her to places she never imagined and she continues to keep following them. She personified the city she is from, a city that is not clearly understood until you peel back its layers, a city of love and resilience. A city that Alnika, a woman who embodies it says, “I love it here and I love seeing everyone doing their thing here, but its not for me, I want bigger.”