Culture/Arts

What Sepp Blatter and I understand about FIFA

When the corruption scandal broke, I was initially shocked that the derited States was prosecuting and the first thoughts on mind were akin to Imperialism (please read through before you judge).

I didn’t really pay much attention except to count how many times Loretta Lynch and her henchmen repeated “soccer, soccer…” at some point, it sounded like “sucker.” It was okay for me, but I could imagine watching in Nigeria and other parts of the world and wanting to tell them “no, it’s football”!

Anyway, when the facts came out, I realized that the U.S. had jurisdiction etc. And, who better to probe corruption – especially in a body like FIFA – than the U.S.? In spite of her “deflategate,” multiple steroidal Olympians, and Mayweatherisms, the U.S. is still better than most parts of the world corruption-wise. It’s like a whirlwind compared to a tornado. So I was glad that the U.S. was prosecuting, but my thoughts still lingered.

Now it is a fact that all the countries that have won the World Cup since inception have hosted it before (I realized this in the last decade when deliberations were going on about an African World Cup).

Of course, these two may not be related but I know that when you get to those heights, where preparation and talent are only basic requirements, several other factors come into play – confidence, psyche, fan clubs, referee united, winning mentality, limbs of God etc. And if you know what I know, you’ll understand that any advantage is an advantage.

So was I expectant and happy when South Africa got the nod? Of course! And to prove my point, it would have been the best outing of any African country to date except for the intervention of the Mike Tyson of football. There are several other examples to support my hypothesis (e.g. Japan/South Korea – 2002, etc.).

Meet the Model and Athlete Launching ‘Tinder for Fitness’

Two-time Golden Gloves Champion, Ngo Okafor poses in his boxing gear.

(Photography by Eric Acquaye)

Written by Michael Rain

Ngo Okafor entered his crowded apartment. It was filled with tall stacks of boxes. The boxes contained thousands of copies of his modeling calendar. His friends encouraged him to produce it but disappeared when it came time to market and promote it.

The boxes consumed his bedroom. They were blocking him from moving forward. They marked a physical representation of failure caving in on him. The calendars were now collections of wasted time.

Ngo went through a mild depression, wondering what he would do. “I said to myself, either you’re going to throw them all out or figure out a way to sell them all,” he recalled.

He decided to sell them. He bought a collapsible table, filled his backpack and duffel bag with 200 calendars and hit the streets. He set up shop in the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, New York, where he offered the calendar for free. He invited people to donate any amount they liked. He gained traction and eventually worked his way over to Times Square, where he would start his day at 5 a.m. doing his best to get people’s attention and to sell every copy.

“People would just walk by me. Some people would laugh at me. Others would be like, ‘who the hell does this dude think he is?’and all kinds of verbal jabs,” he remembers. “And then other people would come at me and say ‘wow, amazing work!’ And I would sign a calendar for them and take pictures with them.”

When tourists discovered Ngo, that’s when things changed. They’ve never seen anything like him. A 6’5” striking and fit African man selling a high-quality calendar in person. They would buy several calendars at a time, and eventually, Ngo sold every, single, one.

This hustle and determination have helped Ngo garner a range of achievements in fashion, sports, fitness, and entrepreneurship. This Nigerian-American has defied expectations throughout his life, and now he is betting on the success of his startup.

Ngo is a 2-time Golden Gloves Boxing champion, winning at the ages of 33 and 34. He’s graced the covers of top-line publications as a fashion and fitness model for FORTUNE, VOGUE, W, ESPN Magazine and The Source. And for over a decade he’s been the top celebrity fitness trainer in New York, working with some of the world’s best-known beauties, including Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Jennifer Lopez.

FitMatch founder, Ngo Okafor shares a smile on a rooftop in New York City. Photography by Eric Acquaye.

Today, he is focusing his hustle as the founder of FitMatch, a social fitness app that he describes a “Yelp meets Tinder.” The app connects people who are looking for workout partners. Many of Ngo’s clients travel frequently and often lose motivation to exercise when they are away from home.

FitMatch uses geolocation technology to connect people worldwide, giving people the option to connect with someone else anywhere. FitMatch is also a solution for beginners looking for a workout buddy that is at a similar fitness level. Once users have found and connected with each other, they can keep one another accountable on their fitness goals, and provide inspiration and motivation.  

After interviewing loads of his clients and others, he determined that the disconnected offline world needed a simple way to connect with people for exercise and support.

“A lot of people don’t deal with humans anymore. You can wake up and have all of your services done by an app. You get on your phone you order an Uber. You get into work, sit in your cubicle, put your headphones on, you don’t talk to anyone. You order your food from seamless your food gets there. You go to the gym, get your headphones on, you work out you go home and the cycle starts all over again.”

“You don’t have to interact with people if you don’t want to. And when you want to interact with people you have Tinder, you have OK Cupid and now you have FitMatch when you’re looking for someone to workout with. That’s where the world is going. Make it as easy as possible for people to connect, and for people to get what they want.”

Founding FitMatch is a culmination of Ngo’s fitness, sports, and entrepreneurial past. He has a habit of setting his mind on new goals, learning what he can, and working his hardest to achieve success. Following this path has never been easy. As any African-immigrant knows, careers that fall outside of law, business, medicine, and engineering are not met with the most supportive reactions.

“My story has always been if a human being can do it, I can do it. No matter what it is,” he shares confidently. “People laughed at me when I said I was going to train as a boxer. I started boxing at 31, and I won my first Golden Gloves at 33 and won it again at 34.”

Ngo Okafor, founder of FitMatch. Photography by Eric Acquaye.

“So for me, I just focus and I learn. I just read a lot. I read about how other people did it and wonder how I could do it better.”

This approach is what kept a young Ngo together when he arrived in the U.S. from Nigeria, adjusting to hardships and pursuing what made him happy, despite not initially receiving support from his family.

“I left home when I was 18 and came to the U.S. Originally I studied computer science and I worked in IT for a while. I loved computers. I loved technology. But I loved so much more. I wanted to do so many other things. But you know what African parents are like, ‘You have to get that job. Get that insurance. Make money. You cannot make money from entertainment’. And I get it. It’s all they know.”

“I wanted to play sports. African parents don’t support that. I loved the arts. I got into modeling and I was doing pretty well at that. It wasn’t until people started saying ‘oh I saw him on this or I saw him on that’ that they started saying ‘oh you know congratulations’ or ‘you’re doing well.’”

“Before then they were like, ‘what are we going to tell our friends that our son is a model? What is that? Their son has come to America and now he is lost,” he says humorously.

His parents do not completely understand where he’s going with this startup, either. Nor do they understand how it could make him money, or the implications of its success. “They are like, well as long as you’re still training people and making money,” he laughs.

Ngo doesn’t worry about the people who do not support him or do not understand his journey or path. “People are out there waiting for you to fail because it makes them feel good about themselves. ‘How dare you succeed,’ because you if succeed that means they are not taking risks to do their best.”

He’s also not afraid of failure. “You learn from your mistakes. You can’t learn if you’re only winning all the time.”

“Work ethic is what gets me through anything,” he says with conviction. “That’s what helped me with boxing. That’s what helped me with this app. I’m not going to give up until it becomes the true success that I know it should become.”

Even if you don’t have your family’s support, and there is no app available to give you supporters of your dreams on demand, Ngo suggests taking your own journey and focusing on your talents and gifts.

“You don’t have to travel the beaten path. Trust that you have been given a gift that nobody else has. Believe in that gift.”

You can download FitMatch in the iTunes Store

For more about FitMatch visit: http://www.wefitmatch.com

Michael Rain is Chief Editor of ZNews Africa. Follow him on Twitter as @michaeljrain. 

For editorial inquires contact: stories@znewsafrica.com

The Fashion Designers to Watch

Aprelle Duany with her collection of bags in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.

By Eric Acquaye

It’s no secret that there is a new wave of African designers that are making a major splash in the world of fashion. We already know and love many clothing designers that are breaking the mold on the Continent, but there’s also a bevy of new accessory designers that we have our eye on to be the next big thing in fashion.

We recently stopped by the Nolcha lounge during New York Fashion week in New York City to shed light on some of these talents. We discovered some of the hippest accessory designers in the business today. These four designers are doing everything from handbags, to shoes, to jewelry design–are are doing it big and very right. Each one with a different style and story, they are without a doubt the ones to watch.

Aprelle Duany

Aprelle Duany stands with her collection in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.
Aprelle Duany stands with her collection in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.

The first designer that caught our attention was Aprelle Duany. Aprelle is a New York City raised, Kenya based, handbag designer, and her brand boasts the best of both worlds. She says that the calling to create her brand stemmed from her being unsatisfied while working her 9 to 5 job in New York City. Cautious, but craving change, she saved her money, quit her job and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology where she graduated Summa Cum Laude. Just as she was ready to take on the big city, she decided instead to relocate to South Sudan so that her husband could also live his dream of helping his home country.

After doing well to establish two successful children’s organizations there, they suddenly found themselves in the middle of a war. Aprelle says it was then that she prayed for protection. She promised God and herself that if her and her family were to make it out alive, she would no longer take her gifts for granted and make the most out of life. In 2014, she got the chance to make good on that promise and launched her brand, APRELLEDUANY. Since then she has been making beautiful custom leather handbags for the modern woman. Handbags we adore! You can find them and more on Aprelle at www.aprelleduany.com

Sammy Abdella

Sammy Abdella in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.
Sammy Abdella in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.

The next designer we met was Sammy Abdella. Hailing from Ethiopia, Sammy and his company strive to strengthen the local communities there. He spoke to us about how passionate he was about preserving the country’s long history of weaving while trying to infuse it with new inspiration and styles. He hires local weavers, embroiderers, cotton spinners and dyers to ensure that the local talent is utilized and employed. His company’s mission has been to empower and employ marginalized groups while ensuring the production of quality products. One of which we admire very much.

Having started the company in 2007, Sammy, handmade in Ethiopia, has grown tremendously. They have now expanded to making a large range of scarves, bags, throws, pillow covers, runners and even curtains. If you are the kind of consumer that appreciates local handcrafted goods, then Sammy is the brand for you. You can find Sammy, handmade in Ethiopia, in many stores around the world, including Africa, Asia, Europe, The UK and The USA. Even high end department stores like Barney’s have picked up the brand and Sammy hopes that this is just the beginning. He plans to expand the brand with more product ranges and added artisan efforts. You can find out more about Sammy, hand made in Ethiopia, at www.sammyethiopia.com.

Ami Shah

Ami Shah in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.
Ami Shah in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.

Words like chic and luxurious should be no stranger to our third designer, because that’s exactly what her brand exemplifies. Ami Shah is a Kenyan based jewelry designer that is setting a standard for the best in her field. Her sleek, contoured designs are undeniably chic, and they take after their designer! This comes as no surprise seeing as though Ami holds a degree in jewelry and silversmithing from the Burmingham School of Art and Design in the UK. She was also the recipient of the Goldsmith’s award for best design in 2001. Then after taking a 14-year detour to work in advertising, she decided to return to her passion of jewelry making, and that’s when IAMI was born.

Ami describes her collections as pieces for the design conscious woman or man that have an adventurous and eclectic sense of style. Since the brands conception, IAMI has won several other awards, been featured in two books and has been exhibited in multiple venues around the world. The future of IAMI may include new design products including lighting, home accessories and furniture. All with the continued theme of sourcing and producing locally in Kenya as her collections currently are made. We see big things in this brand’s future and we’ll surely be watching it in the years to come. You can find more information on IAMI at www.amidoshishah.com

Mahlet Afework

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MAFIMAFI by Ethiopian designer, Mahlet Afework. Photo by Eric Acquaye.

The last but by no means the least on our list was MAFIMAFI by Ethiopian designer, Mahlet Afework. Some may recognize this brand, as this designer is no stranger to the fashion industry. A formal model and musician having transitioned into a clothing designer and now taking on a shoe line with the same drive and individuality, MAFI is definitely one on our list to watch. Using only hand woven fabrics and materials made by women, she has created a company that not only compliments her stylish clients, but also one that uplifts and empowers women in her community.

Shoes are not usually an accessory that you associate with weaving, but let us be the first to tell you that MAFI is breaking the mold with their new woven shoe collection! So beautiful and unique, you purchase a piece of Ethiopian tradition and art with every pair. We’re not too surprised as Mahlet has shown at Africa Fashion Week and has already won several awards. This brand is a well-oiled engine that is not set on stopping anytime soon–a train we are happy to jump aboard anytime. Find more on Mahlet and her brand MAFI at www.mafimafi.com

So there you have it! These are my picks for ZNews accessory designers to watch. We expect big things from all of these brands in the seasons to come and we encourage our readers to look them up and support their brands. You can find more highlights on these designers and many other great brands by visiting www.nolcha.com  

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Eric Acquaye covers fashion and travel for ZNews Africa. He is an award-winning fashion and celebrity Photographer, Writer and Creative Director based in New York. His editorial work and commercial campaigns have been featured in a variety of international print and digital publications. He is a GQ Magazine Insider, with a degree in styling and fashion from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

View his work at www.ericacquaye.com, follow him on Instagram at @ericacquaye and Twitter at @ericacquayeNYC

For editorial inquires contact: stories@znewsafrica.com

Art meets wealth in one Nigerian-American’s vision for a community

Shimite Obialo founder and CEO of Anoko

“You must kill it,” her parents would tell her. Killing it signifies putting your best foot forward, having the “doer mentality,” as some may call it.

Her father and mother left Nigeria for America, with the vision in their eyes, to provide for their kin a much more prosperous life than they had. They made the hard choice to uproot from their native land, which is filled with their families and friends.

They arrived in America and with them, their culture. Nigerian culture is built on hard work, dedication, a strong resolve, all of which cannot fully be utilized without education rooted at its core. So when they had children, they instilled all those core values deep within their minds.

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Shimite Obialo took that “kill it” mentality from her hardworking mother and father. She’s a lawyer who works sometimes 80-hour weeks, sings at events with a beautiful voice that captivates souls, and works tirelessly on as  founder and CEO of Anoko, her social networking business.

Anoko is a new members only art social club based in New York, that connects professionals with arts, culture and culinary experiences. Through a diverse set of partnerships, with arts institutions, galleries, performance venues and more, Anoko provides its members with discounts and VIP access. The group was selected to curate the VIP section of the 2017 VOLTA Art Fair happening in March.

The meaning of the word “Anoko” is wealth, in the Nigerian language, Igala.

On Saturday night, I attended the private launch party in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn. Once there, I was blown away by the creative ingenuity and uniqueness that presented itself in the portraits hanging from the wall. These were Afroprofessionals expressing their creativity outside of the confines of their daily, standardized lives.

Attendees viewing artwork at Anoko's lunch event in Brooklyn, NY
Attendees viewing artwork at Anoko’s launch event in Brooklyn, NY

After having a drink or two (probably more) and waiting for the event to commence, I parlayed with some of the creative professionals about the event, and why they were drawn to attend. Most knew Shimite on a personal level; others were guests of her guests. They all genuinely believed in the mission of sharing their creative artistry with the world–that true art is communal. The professional creatives wanted to be apart of the space, the feeling of transparency that art provides to the soul.

Shimite walked out from the back room–commanding everyone’s attention. She is a striking woman, tall and elegant, with laid back eyes and a beautiful smile. She walked around the room, greeting her guests, before proceeding to kick off the event. Her demeanor exudes a quiet, yet commanding presence.

After some performances by fellow creatives, Shimite, an artist herself, captivated every person’s’ soul with the cadence of her voice, rendering them speechless.

Jeremiah Ojo, art consultant at Anoko speaks with attendee.
Jeremiah Ojo, art consultant at Anoko speaks with attendee.

“There is a multiplicity in us, we don’t have to be just one thing. I can be everything I want to be; we can be anything we want to be. It’s with that vision in mind that led me to starting Anoko,” Shimite said.

Shimite is also building a strong team to help build this community. She brought on Jeremiah Ojo as an art consultant at Anoko. He brings a dynamic experience traveling globally to curate and project manage a variety of exhibitions, working with artists studios, galleries and museums.

He shares, “I decided to work with Anoko because of the mission set forth to educate our generation about the importance of pursing and attaining cultural wealth. Anoko is the first company I have seen to successfully blend the social & cultural capital of the arts and cultural sectors, with immersive educational experiences, built around people and community, not institution.”

Shimite and Jeremiah have built real careers doing creative work. As Afroprofessionals, we don’t have to just be pragmatic. We can be raw and unfiltered in our capacity to express ourselves; we need to share with the rest of the world a bit of who we are through mediums such as photographs, paintings, writings, singing, and all other creative outlets. It shows the world us, the way we would like to be defined: multifaceted individuals with beaucoup identities.

There’s a voice inside of us that can only be emulated through the art that we create.

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Kamar Foster is a contributor who covers events and writes the stories for ZNews Africa. He narrates the cultural stories of the African diaspora as he experiences them locally and globally. Hit him up on twitter @KamarFoster and on instagram @definitionsarerealyall

For editorial inquires contact: stories@znewsafrica.com

Black Travelers Are Still Treated Differently Domestically and Abroad

Photo by Ryan Tang on Unsplash

By Brittney M. Walker

Remember when Airbnb’s discrimination issues blew up? Rohan Gilkes the co-founder and inspiration for Innclusive, experienced a cancellation based on what he believes was his race. So he and Zakiyyah Myers founded Innclusive because of the Airbnb’s lax handling of discrimination issues prevalent among many travelers of color. In fact, I experienced some discrimination of my own on Airbnb’s platform.

And when I looked into it more, so many African-American travelers are affected by their ethnic background, skin color and hair texture when they travel. Some people say they’re stared at awkwardly, followed, taken pictures of, refused service, called names and more. I hadn’t really registered this as part of my travel experience before (simply because it’s just a part of my everyday life as a Black woman). But it is.

The issues are so prominent among Black travelers that we are going within our communities (Nomadness Travel Tribe for example) for survival tips, looking for Black-friendly destinations, asking about what type of discrimination to expect and more.

What ‘main-stream’ travel service provides that kind of information for us? I suppose that is the beauty of being niche.

This is why I founded Beyonder. I want to address the discrimination problem travelers like me face and provide a service that does actually help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety many of us have when we go places.

Through Beyonder, we are creating safe spaces and experiences that allow Black travelers to move about the world with a little more ease and less anxiety, at least during the experiences we curate. We want to experience the world and all of its beauty and not have to always worry about whether or not our Afro’s will be inappropriately groped or if someone is going to take a photo of us because we look like a caricature or get cursed out in a different language because the locals are disgusted with the entire Black population.

Beyonder wants to be that local friend, the go to resource and platform that helps Black travelers connect with local Black communities in the new cities they visit. We want to make it easier for travelers to discover those cute, hole in the wall spots only the locals know about or those fun cultural events and gatherings Black travelers want to experience.

Imagine this Itinerary. A half-day experience that includes a beautiful yoga session with a curvaceous Black yogi who is nothing like the typical yoga instructor. Then walk a few blocks to a local juice bar where they will enjoy a ginger beer tasting and chat with a woman who has been healing and helping locals through natural foods and juices. You will end your journey at a local urban farm where otherwise disenfranchised residents are empowered through agriculture.

These and other immersive experiences are what we curate for travelers. It’s about connecting Black travelers with local Black communities, services, business owners and practitioners to create a safe, Black-friendly travel experience.

Beyonder wants to be that local friend, the go to resource and platform that helps Black travelers connect with local Black communities in the new cities they visit. We want to make it easier for travelers to discover those cute, hole in the wall spots only the locals know about or those fun cultural events and gatherings Black travelers want to experience.

Let’s explore the world unapologetically.

Brittney M. Walker is a journalist, hommie and founder of Beyonder, a venture that creates elevated experiences for travelers. Her experience includes journalistic work for CBS Radio, EURweb.com, NV Magazine and the Amsterdam News. She’s a native of Los Angeles and when she isn’t experiencing the world outside of the U.S. is based in New York. Find her on Twitter as @BrittneyMWalker.

 

The Empowering Beauty of Travel for People of African Descent

Photo by Besir OZ on Unsplash

By KalaLea

Some of you may understand me when I say that there’s something empowering and even invigorating about seeing your people, in my case, people of African descent, in positions of power and play. People who look like me…smiling and laughing in an ocean inherited by them from Mother Nature.

Before European-led colonization, there were many vibrant coastal cultures with traditions tied to the ocean and seas. I often imagine my ancestors basking in the sun then refreshing themselves in the cool waters.

The majority of my travel experiences have landed me on various coasts around the world. It’s where I feel loved and connected to all living beings. After landing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the first move I made was to remove my leggings and dip my toes in the vast Indian Ocean. I looked around at the brown-skinned beauties and wondered when it became safe again to frolic, to linger, to float, to be free.

This second trip to the continent immediately felt different because the ocean is healing, it pushes and pulls me to higher spirits. The ocean grounds me on my worst days because I know there is something to run into, nature’s enormous retreat.

It’s been nearly two weeks in Tanzania and our time has been truly wonderful. I couldn’t possibly share everything here but I wanted to mention some highlights and lessons learned thus far.

Traveling grows you. It molds and bends you in unexpected places. My traveling partner aka my boyfriend has remarked a few times how great of a traveler I am. I’ve had years of practice but I was still flattered. He’s been great too.

We made a list of a few main characteristics needed to be a cool traveler and I added some explanation to give you a sense of how we prepared for our trip:

Stamina – it took us 48 hours exactly to arrive in Tanzania. Two weeks before leaving, we made fresh green juices every day and took a multivitamin twice daily – we also exercised more than usual and took plenty of naps so that we were particularly ready for the 12-hour layover in Dubai. Remember: the cheaper the flight, the longer the layover. Not sure we’ll ever do this again.

Patience – we created a code word so if we were getting on each other’s nerves we could simply say the word without offending the other … I’ve only had to use it once thus far and he used it two times for me, or vice versa. Either way, it’s working!

Flexibility – Our first day in Dar, the power went out for the entire day. We had planned to run a few errands but plans change. We spent the full day at the beach with friends who made a bonfire while we listened to someone’s mp3 player under the brightest of stars.

You’ll also need to practice your bargaining skills, exercise non-judgment, pay attention to small signals, use your intuition and embrace being alienated, foreign and different. Everywhere we go, we encounter the Tanzanian Stare Down. It’s intense and usually subdued with a casual greeting of “Mambo!” We may be brown but it’s obvious we are not locals and this garners a great deal of attention.

KalaLea is the founder of Why Did I Eat That? (WDIET), a wellness site where you will find inspirational stories, news, her favorite things and educational resources. WDIET’s goal is to improve the well-being of anyone who eats — especially busy creative professionals.

I Ain’t Christian No More

(Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash)

Editor’s note: The following article was originally published on Brittneymwalker.com.

By Brittney M. Walker

The deacons are passing around Communion cups, the prepackaged ones with the non-alcoholic wine shots and Styrofoam crackers attached to the top protected with a cellophane wrapping. I am sweating a little in my armpits, nervous about what she’ll say when she notices that I don’t take one. For several Communion Sundays I had been purposely sitting out of her eyesight so she wouldn’t see I’ve been skipping it for the last few months.

The silver disk comes around. It looks like one of those wheels people put on their low-riders, except with a bunch of identical holes evenly dispersed all around. There are a few empty holes where Communion cups used to be.

The person to my left, a relative of mine, passes it to me. I take it and pass it to my right, to my mother. I don’t grab a church shot glass. She notices and asks, “Why didn’t you take one?”

What am I going to say to this God-fearing, God-rearing woman who pushed me out of her vagina that perfect March morning, a miracle, her first-born. What am I going to say to this woman who delighted in seeing me worship at the feet of Jesus those other times in church, wailing in tears. What am I going to say to this woman who swears “holy men” made the Bible. Her words, not mine.

“I just don’t want it,” I manage to blurt out, unconfidently hoping the conversation would end there, but confidently knowing it wouldn’t because I know this woman.

“But why?”

I want to avoid this loud whisper discussion. This private matter will quickly turn into an all hands on Brittney because the devil is in her moment at the altar, with some slobbering preacher trying to force my head back so I could fall on the floor. That has actually happened to me before. She doesn’t know how to let things go. She definitely doesn’t know how to whisper.

If you know anything about Black church, Communion is a time of respect, but it’s only moderately quiet because the preacher is talking about the meaning of wine, the sacrifice of Jesus, the blood and all that stuff. The piano player and organist are strumming some random hymn. And the mothers of the church are humming loudly with a little vibrato in their voices.  Fortunately, there is enough background music and buzz in this tiny church. If it was quiet like a Catholic church…ooh chil’e…  everyone is nosey and a quarter of the membership is my family.

Fuck!

“Mom, I just don’t want to take it.”

“But why? You’re not telling me why?”

“We can talk about it later.”

Do you still believe in Jesus!!” she basically yells, nearly having a heart attack.

Sigh

“Do you pray!” Not a question.

“Yes mom, calm down jeez,” only answering the second question.

This was years ago, when I still lived in California with my mom. We didn’t talk much about my beliefs during that time. Maybe it was to keep the peace or maybe my mom wasn’t ready to deal with an unbelieving child, bound to corrupt her other spawn or even shake her own foundation.

There were attempts at conversations but they always ended up with, “I’ve heard all that stuff before. It’s about faith and I know Jesus is the only true way to heaven.”

But a few weeks ago, we had the straight up conversation.

………………..

Sometimes I dread picking up the phone when she calls because I know she’s going to ask about my dating life. She has some fantasy of me getting married or something. And at the end of our conversations, she tends to say something like, “Everyone has to answer to God. Jesus is the Son of God and is the only way to heaven. You have to learn that for yourself. I love you.”

I listen. But don’t respond.

Before we actually had the conversation, which was primarily over a group text with two of my siblings, I suspected she suspected I wasn’t a Christian anymore. She was just waiting for confirmation or maybe was in hesitant denial.

Conversations leading up to that moment were an accumulation of asks about whether or not I go to church or pray to God. I always thought they were weird questions. Something about them felt like she was trying to inspire me through guilt to repent and “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25).”

I tell her church is an infrequent thing. Praying is a regular thing, but probably not anything she has in mind. You know, bent knees, closed eyes, clasped hands, fervent grumbles. That hard core, come to Jesus kind of prayer. Though that was what I used to do, my prayers had morphed into conversations with myself. The kingdom is within (Luke 17:21).

So this ‘I ain’t Christian no mo’ conversation was brought up by me celebrating being in love again. I told my family on the group text that I hadn’t truly imagined myself building with someone like this before and I even want kids. My family was convinced up until this point that I wouldn’t have children. But this guy has done something to me.

Anyway, mom says we should get married. I say I’m not so fond of the whole institution. Then she asks if we would have a ceremony in the church. I kindly write, “No,” I pause during the text creation, debating whether or not to say it. But I do. “Besides, I’m not Christian.”

And we’re off.

“What are you then?”

My sister inserts her humor, “Muslim.”

“I’m non-religious, like your pastor warned you about [devil emoji]

“Everyone has to answer to our father in heaven for themselves.”

OMG Mom, is what I’m thinking. But this is the opportunity to be vulnerable.

“It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God.” But if I was atheist, I wonder how this conversation would go.

Then somehow she suggests that the family’s pastor marry us. My thought is “Hell Mothafuckin’ nah son. Not in a million years would that be necessary. The man has some wild n’ out ideas I can’t get with, even if I was Christian.”

I write, “Nope.”

“Wow okay.” She responds.

I feel judged. Then I get it. she hasn’t accepted that I’m not Christian.

We chat more about my thoughts around my decision not to be a Christian. I explain to her that I only know what I know and I know that I know nothing at all. I am learning daily and things change daily. For me, I find it arrogant and limiting to confine God into an institution or singular idea. Christianity teaches that God is all-powerful and omnipresent and the creator of all things, but for me, Christianity creates these limitations in which I am supposed to engage God. Why?

I don’t particularly like authority. But I like order and things to make sense in my life. And this thing, Christianity, or religion for that matter does not make sense for my life.

She seems fairly clear about my stance on the whole topic. But I think she thinks I believe Jesus is my savior, but I have, however, denounced the institution of Christianity. That is not the full truth. I am not even sure Jesus existed. But that doesn’t really matter.

………………..

My mom’s mom, the boss matriarch of the family, has been a Christian as long as anyone can remember. She raised my mom and my aunts and uncle to fear the Lord and pray over everything, rise before the sun to lay prostrate in prayer, to read the Bible, to keep them legs closed and wait for the husband God ordains for them (that part didn’t work for most of the women in the family lol). She even taught everyone to say “Praise the Lord” when answering the phone.

I respect my Grandma. She’s been through a lot and has instilled us all with some principles I’ve grown to respect and practice on my own. I was Christian for most of my life this far, I suppose. I even went to a Christian college, on purpose. For years of my life I made decisions based on what I thought God wanted. Or what Grandma wanted. I feared doing things because Grandma didn’t approve. Frequently I felt guilty about stuff because guilt meant I was getting closer to repenting and being saved or some bullshit.

My faith, I learned as a wayward Christian, had primarily been based on my Grandmother’s teachings about what it means to be Christian and what it means to be a child of God. I was beginning to model my life after hers in some ways, interfacing with the world and dealing with myself with fear and censure.

While I had always questioned the concept of God I was given, it wasn’t until I started to seek my truth that I seriously challenged my paradigm.

In my search, I utilized my responsibility for the religion and spirituality section at the newspaper I worked for in LA. I took that opportunity to explore different practices, including African spirituality. The deeper I swam into it, the harder it became to reconcile my Blackness and my curiosity with Christianity. At some point, it became apparent that with what I was being indoctrinated didn’t fit me. It didn’t make sense to the vastness in which I was starting to see the world and the way I experienced God and humanity… If they’re even separate.

I discovered that this faith, Christianity, is limiting. It limits the way God “works.” It limits the way God manifests. It even restricts where God dwells and how God is worshipped and who can worship God and God’s name and gender. Everything that isn’t Christian is pagan and is of Satan with residual likenesses of God’s truth. Church people say, “Even the devil knows the Bible.”

Christianity says the world must be saved. But it moves through the world like a colonizer, using religious indoctrination. It strips people of their identities and replaces it with dogma and this inevitable association with sin. It speaks of love but alienates through condemnation and fear. This is how I experience Christianity.

Christianity didn’t actually save me from anything. Some have been saved from their bad past and found redemption or refuge from the terrors outside the cloak of Jesus. No hateration here. Mo’ power to ya. But Christianity limited me. It limited me from discovering the power of the Creator, the God within. It limited me from discovering the God within others.

This was a gradual, years-long journey. I learned Christianity had enslaved me and made me believe that my humanity was disgusting and always in need of a bleaching. My life had been predicated on what my Grandmother taught me, what the preacher taught me, what my Mom reinforced. I had to create my own relationship with God. I had to learn what it meant to be truly free.

…………

I started traveling internationally in 2011. I started immersing myself in other cultures, eating delicious authentic foods, worshipping creation in various temples, churches, mountains, waters, homes, at dinner tables, at homemade altars, at bars, everywhere. The more I traveled and took moments to reflect and absorb what people were sharing through their experiences, the more I could see God for myself. I learned about love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal. 5:22-23).

I learned what it meant to be a child of God. I started to grasp that my brothers and sisters are God. I started to worship nature because it is God. I started to pray to myself because I am God. For me I decided that to know God is to know the world. To know God is to acknowledge it in all things. I accept that I cannot grasp all that there is and I cannot qualify God in my limited understanding. Whatever God is or what I think or have experienced it to be, is beyond the simplicity of a religion or a book. I am not a Christian. But I am a believer.

___

Brittney M. Walker is a journalist, hommie and founder of Beyonder, a venture that creates elevated experiences for travelers. Her experience includes journalistic work for CBS Radio, EURweb.com, NV Magazine and the Amsterdam News. She’s a native of Los Angeles and when she isn’t experiencing the world outside of the U.S. is based in New York. Find her on Twitter as @BrittneyMWalker.

For editorial inquires contact: stories@znewsafrica.com

 

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