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Nine Blocks From Home

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Most of Tiesha’s friends in New York were from Wesleyan or Prep, and many of them lived in Brooklyn not far from her parents. She’d go to whiskey tastings for black professionals and media-world networking parties, IM-ing her friends to join her. D.J. Reach from Carson Daly’s talk show was a Wesleyan friend, and he got her into clubs. “It was always for free,” says Emilia Wiles, a close friend from Wesleyan. “We just walked in, batted our eyes, and got our table.” Men approached her constantly. “The next day I’d get calls: ‘Natalie. Who is your friend?’ ” says Natalie Swaby, who shared an apartment with Tiesha when she started at CSFB.

On her first day at CSFB, Tiesha struck up a conversation with a Guyanese woman who worked in the cafeteria; Tiesha leaned down to hug her, and she drew stares. “Most black executives would look the other way from that little old lady, but that wasn’t Tiesha,” says Ivan Thornton, a black former CSFB executive, who mentored Tiesha when he was at the firm. Within months, Tiesha lost faith in CSFB’s commitment to social change. It says something about her own innocence, perhaps, that she ever believed a bank would be as committed as she was to the cause. “She would take a holistic approach to recruitment,” Thornton says. “Taking these kids and nurturing them, when the reality was it’s kind of a numbers game—get them in, get them out.”

Tiesha knew how many Prep kids wound up in golden handcuffs. She saw how she and her black colleagues worked twice as hard to be accepted and how some became co-opted. She had a boss, a slightly older African-American woman, whose style clashed with hers; where Tiesha was about building relationships, this woman was about benchmarks. Was this her future? She told friends she had no time for her writing, and she’d take a few of her banker Prep friends to task for being just about the money. “Are you happy?” she’d ask.

By August 2005, Tiesha had had enough. CSFB offered her a chance to change jobs, but she decided to leave Wall Street. She called Conde.net and landed a job as a freelance production manager. She loved the hours and the magazine culture. She told friends she finally had time to write. She started freelancing, channeling her Prep sensibility: For Blackplanet.com, she wrote a piece that featured “The WWB (Working While Black) in Corporate America Survival Guide.” One tip: “Recommend your talented, black friends for jobs. If they get an interview and can be successful candidates, you have increased the black population in your office tremendously.”

She also started dating more. In Tiesha’s circle of friends, dating anxiety runs high. You can’t be a professional black woman in your twenties without having been deeply affected by a Newsweek story from a few years ago that declared, essentially, that white women are four times more likely to be married by their mid-thirties than black women are. Tiesha told friends she wanted to be married with a baby sometime in her twenties, not later. The black Ivy social circuit offered a steady supply of I-bankers, and Tiesha was popular. But none of those relationships panned out. “She hated people being judgmental,” says a close Prep friend, Jaynemarie Angbah. “If she met someone, his occupation and income were the last things on her list.” Tiesha never got serious with anyone until she met Keve.

Keve Huggins lived in Crown Heights, about fifteen blocks from the Sargeant house. Like Tiesha, his family was West Indian, from St. Vincent; unlike Tiesha, he actually lived in his home country until he was 8—a stroke of authenticity she came to adore. He told Tiesha that he could have done Prep for Prep, even passed the qualifying exams, but didn’t because he didn’t want to leave home. As far as Tiesha was concerned, that only made Keve more real.

Keve went to Clara Barton High School for a time but stopped showing up and got his GED instead. He worked in a record store, deejayed, did some telemarketing, had a baby girl with a former girlfriend, and at the time he met Tiesha was seeking his fortune in clubland. Keve’s company, Hollagraphics Enterprises, always had a few things going at once, whether it was designing concert T-shirts and nightclub Websites or videotaping dance parties and selling the DVDs. He even P.A.’d for friends’ movies and had cameos in Rap War One and Ghetto Girls Too. A friend of Tiesha’s says Keve also made ends meet sorting bottles in a recycling center at night in New Jersey.

At first, Tiesha had reservations about Keve. “She wasn’t very fond of his business partners,” says Angbah. “She made it sound like Keve had all the talent and the others were going along for the ride.” She and Keve had talked about starting their own business—he had the artistry and club connections, she had the corporate skills and credentials. But she was concerned enough about how legitimate Keve’s operation was to call her old Prep and Wesleyan friend Jason Forde, now a business consultant, and ask him to look over some of the Websites Keve designed for dance parties. What Forde saw didn’t impress him. “Tiesha,” he remembers saying, “these people don’t necessarily look like the type of people I know you to hang out with. How do you feel about that? How comfortable are you with that?”


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