|Black Studies homegirls, Cindy, Kacee, and Aiesha at the Strand in NYC|
Over the years, I've tended to refer to several of the young black women associated with our black studies programs I work with as "lil sister," and there's a smaller core group of black women whom I refer to as "homegirls." On a larger level, the phrases 'lil sisters' and 'lil brothers' allow me to establish connections with the African American students, many of whom often express feelings of alienation at the larger (white) university.
The young folks I work with will tell you that my voice inflections and different contexts of the phrase carries meaning. It's a good thing on the greeting when I go "Yooo, lil sister, what's the word?" It's not so good, they all know, when I go "Lil sister, hold up, lil..sister." (But that rarely happens; it's rarely not so good, if you ask me.)
The older undergraduates seem to like the "homegirl" title, as they know I only use it around folks that I've worked with on extended projects. My graduate students, however, say that they know I'm checking or editing them when I open with "homegirl," as in "ok homegirl, we'll have to rethink this..." They sometimes joke about how they know it's really serious when I touch their shoulder and say "ok homegirl..." (But that rarely happens; it's rarely really serious, if you ask me.).
It's funny that I began using "sister" and "brother" back in day in undergrad when I was hanging out with the conscious, well, sisters and brothers. Years later, the words (and concepts) have stuck. They've become integral to the daily vocabulary of my black studies work.