Femi Agbayewa: Making Universal Films from an African Perspective

Headshot of Femi Agbayewa taken for Enodi series, in Midtown New York.

By Ayesha K Faines

The gates of Hollywood rarely budge for outsiders, but they are notoriously impenetrable for film makers of color. Of course, it’s always been this way, hence the reason most prolific Black filmmakers have possessed an uncanny combination of creativity and pluck.  From Oscar Micheaux to Spike Lee, 20th century film greats created a template  for Do-It-Yourself filmmaking before DIY was even “thing”.

Today, the path of marginalized filmmakers is a bit broader, thanks largely to social media which gives creatives alternative methods of circumnavigating Hollywood’s gatekeepers, and bootstrapping their own projects. Indie filmmaking is far from easy–Hollywood remains shockingly homogenous in spite of America’s shifting demographics. But as more “indie” films reach mainstream success, take Dear White People and Selma as recent examples, it is  evident that there is an ever-growing space for trailblazing storytellers of African descent.

Femi Agbayewa, founder and creative director of Real Livin’ Films is one of those trailblazers. The Nigerian-born, Canadian raised writer and filmmaker first received acclaim for God’s Own Country, short film that highlights the challenges facing African immigrants attempting to start a new life in North America. He followed up with Brooklyn Shakara,  a romantic comedy he wrote, directed, and screened at festivals around the world.

Femi recently spoke with ZNews Africa contributor Ayesha Faines about his entree into the world of film, what it takes to survive as a independent filmmaker, and his latest project, On The Rise Africa, a series profiling African entrepreneurs.

ZNews (Ayesha): How did you get your start in the film industry?

Femi: I was working in an immigration center that helped immigrants who recently left their country  to come to Canada and a lot of times I’d find that a lot of these immigrants were very educated in their country but then they’d come here and be forced to drive a cab. So for me, I was like wow, this is a story that I keep hearing and hearing.  I started writing a script. I went on the internet, learned, and asked my friends who are in the industry. I had a rough apprenticeship.

I wrote a script called God’s Own Country and that was the story of a young African immigrant. He was a lawyer back in Nigeria. He came over and when he arrived, he just couldn’t find work. He started falling in between the cracks. So we made that film and that was really what sparked things for me.

Ayesha: Your film Brooklyn Shakara also received ample acclaim. How did that come about?

Femi: After God’s Own Country was finished and the hoopla died down, I had to figure out what was next. I realized that I needed to have a team that was within the film world, and skilled. I started making sure that I was making the right connections.

That culminated in the film Brooklyn Shakara, which is probably one of the works I’m best known for. It is a romantic comedy. We had some amazing actors. The team on the production side was amazing. We went to festivals in London, we showed in Harlem and pretty much all over the world.

Gbenga Akinnagbe (HBO's The Wire, 24) and Esosa E. (An African City, Mother of George)
Esosa E. (An African City, Mother of George) and Gbenga Akinnagbe (HBO’s The Wire, 24) in a scene from “Brooklyn Shakara”

Ayesha: One of my primary interests as a journalist is the concept of “cutting out the middle man”. I think that’s what distinguishes our generation from those in the past. We are constantly finding ways to bypass gate keepers. What inspired you to chronicle entrepreneurship for your latest project, On The Rise Africa?

Femi: It took me a while to really recognize that I was an entrepreneur. I used to go to a lot of events  in New York City that were surrounding African business and what not, so I had the opportunity to really engage. One of the things I was walking away saying every time I’d come from these meetings and conferences is, “Wow, a lot of these guys and gals are doing some amazing things”. And that to me was inspirational, but the film maker inside of me is always looking for a story and I saw that common thread running through it. It was a thread of excitement, innovation, and progress.

From entrepreneurs, one thing I kept hearing is we don’t have a platform. In addition to that , as a community, we don’t always have opportunities to inform each other.

Once again, I wanted to cut out the middleman and become that platform and say hey look, here’s an opportunity for you to stand out among your peers. These individuals are at the tipping point. Within two to three years  you’re going to be reading and hearing a bout them on the mainstream level but I wanted to get to them before they reached that level . I felt it would have a trickle down effect. You’re that young kid that’s growing up in New York or Nairobi and you’re watching someone who looks just like you talk about all these great achievements and hurdles they’ve over come.

Femi Agbayewa on the set of Brooklyn Shakara
Femi Agbayewa on the set of Brooklyn Shakara

Ayesha: For most of us with an entrepreneurial vision, money seems like the greatest hurdle! How do you find money to finance your film projects and “keep the lights on” while you chase your dreams?

Femi: Access to funding or sponsorship is constantly changing. What may have worked in the past may not work today so you have to keep yourself aware. Apart of that is establishing relationships and contacts. When it’s all said and done, yes, [social media] is great, but this is still a people business.

The other side, keeping the lights on– I don’t think you’re ever comfortable. It’s one of those things where you work three of four jobs, what ever it takes to keep those lights on because you have the understanding that, no, we can’t live off a dream only. You’re living in a real world.

Ayesha: There seems to be a renaissance of Black independent filmmakers right now, aided perhaps by the advent of social media, and non-traditional methods of building a platform for your content. What are your feelings about this?

Femi: As filmmakers, we don’t have to wait to be chosen from the crowd like “You, you and you—You’re allowed in”.   We don’t even recognize there’s a door to walk through. We’re just walking. And that’s what excites me about some of the work I’m seeing.

And when you look at it, it’s global now. There’s a global market. A lot of times people just focus on one market, Hollywood, but then there’s Nollywood which is massive and  Bollywood, and all of these different film industries that are saying hey, we can survive without telling stories that are tied to [corporate interests] or anything else. We can tell stories we can tell that reflect our audience.

Myself, I want to take it one step further. I make universal films from an African perspective. I want to arrive at the  point where you don’t have to be African to watch my movies. I’m taking an African perspective of universal themes. So at the end of the day, you just have to be a human being enjoy the content I’m producing.

To learn more about Femi Agbayewa, visit and follow him on Twitter @femiagbayewa.


Ayesha K Faines is a television journalist and writer who contemplates culture and millennial entrepreneurship. Follow her work at and

Experts discuss the politics of hair and identity in Harlem

From left to right: Brittany M. Walker, Diane Da Costa, Adeola Adejobi, Esq.; Derick Monroe, and Ayesha Faines

On Thursday, July 30th, ZNews Africa hosted its first hair and identity event, “We Are Our Hair,” at ImageNation’s Raw Space in Harlem, New York City. The series is a collection of community conversations about topics important to the global African diaspora using hair as the lens.

The panelists at the event included Brittany M. Walker, the editor-in-chief and founder of; Adeola Adejobi, Esq., the managing member of the Avant-Garde Network and co-founder of the Worldview Realty Group; Diane Da Costa, the creative director of the hair salon SimpleeBEAUTIFUL; and Derick Monroe, a freelance Hairstylist who has worked with prestigious magazines such as Essence. The moderator was ZNews Africa Contributor, television journalist and writer, Ayesha Faines.

The topics discussed by the panel ranged from personal hair to the complex nuances of navigating one’s hair in the black community and greater community at large. One of the first themes to emerge was the ability of the current natural hair movement to endure.

WOAR07302013 Ayesha Fanies copy

ZNews Africa contributor Ayesha Faines

“It’s definitely not a fad or a trend. This is a movement that has been here since the sixties, the blackout movement started all of this,” said Da Costa. “Now this millennium movement, I call it the curly revolution, what we’re in right now, is only going to get bigger and expand more than anything. London, Paris, Japan, and Africa are all embracing natural hair and you’ll see more and more. It’s really moving fast.”

Da Costa also talked about necessity for education and research in caring for natural hair. Though she advocated for patronizing natural hair salons, she acknowledged that they are not accessible for everyone in every location.

“Of course in the major cities, there are so many stylists that specialize in natural hair; however, across the country there are not as many who specialize and can do natural hair, expertly,” Da Costa said. “You have to go on and google things to research it.”

Monroe also discussed the lack of education even within the general cosmetology community.

“When I look back on my cosmetology experience, you’re whole discussion in ethnic hair is the relaxation process. It’s never been that this type of hair texture needs moisture, or it needs this. Or that these type of hair products work well, etc.” he said.

“Do you see a problem in the way the media glorifies black female features including our hair as long as they’re not attached to a black female?”

Walker said that the media was at fault and referred to this problem as an “illness” in America.

“Serena Williams has been in the media for quite a bit, ever since she started her career. And the demonization of a beautiful black woman like Serena Williams is disgusting, and it comes from the media. These are the ways people continue to perpetuate these stereotypes discussed about black people,” Walker said. “But you go in the media and you see Kylie Jenner or whomever injecting their lips or the hair or whatever is the case to look like us. Of course I have a problem with that. That’s the illness in America.”

The discussion also touched on the perceptions of class and its relationship to hair texture or hair styling.

“Even though we have this natural hair explosion, we still haven’t been able to divorce it from colorism,” said Faines. “We still have to deal with good hair politics even though we are in a natural hair revolution.

Adejobi shared her own experience with good hair politics telling an anecdote in which a man on the subway told her that she had “good hair” meaning to pay her a compliment, even though she was offended.

“The hair that God gave me is the best hair,” said Adejobi. “People make assumptions and judgments within our own community about you just based on your hair, and it’s very superficial.”

Adejobi also spoke about her experience with hair politics in interviewing for jobs as a lawyer. Though her own hair was relaxed at that time, she said that many of her friends felt conflicted.

“People that had their hair natural, they were very concerned about how their appearance would affect their opportunities to get into a firm,” Adejobi said.

WOAR07302013 Crowd shot 2

Audience member eagerl to join the discussion

An audience member raised a question concerning segregation within the natural hair community, where some might consider those who wear a weave or have braids with natural hair underneath, to not be truly natural. Monroe jokingly referred to the more extreme natural hair advocates as “natural hair thugs.”

“When people come out of relaxing, when they come to the self-discovery that, ‘I kind of like my hair the way it is;’ it sort of bothers them to see other people don’t have that same outlook,” Monroe said. “That’s where that divide comes from. It becomes kind of militant and you end up turning people off or coming off as aggressive to people.

Walker emphasized that health is a very important aspect of hair care.

“At the end of the day it’s really about what’s going on with you, and it’s about your health,” Walker said. “You decided not to put chemicals in our hair because it’s unhealthy for us and unhealthy for our bodies.

“We Are Our Hair“ was held at RAW Space, via the ImageNation Cinema Foundation, a media arts group dedicated to highlighting progressive media by and for people color based in Harlem. The foundation bought RAW Space with the intention of converting it into a cinema cafe to provide Harlem with a venue for appreciating black independent films, music, and other culture. ImageNation is currently raising the funds to turn Raw Space into Soul Cinema through the #iLoveSoulCinema fundraiser.


Danielle Smith is a senior at Columbia University studying English and History. She is currently the head of the news department at WKCR 89.9 FM NY and a freelance contributor to various news organizations. You can reach her on Twitter at @daniellesmithny.

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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

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

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

Mahlet Afework

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

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  


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, follow him on Instagram at @ericacquaye and Twitter at @ericacquayeNYC

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The Design Conference That Brought Wakanda to New York

Processed with VSCO with a9 preset

Photography by Dania Reyes

By Priscilla Alabi

The hard work of four organizers and ten volunteers sold out Afrotectopia’s inaugural festival, with roughly 200 humans of all shades of brown in attendance from places as far away as Toronto and North Carolina.

The two-day event was held on the 4th floor of the Tisch School of the Art’s Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University (NYU). The conference centered new media arts, culture and technology being produced by people of color who are artists, designers, technologists and activists.

“It looks like y’all are in Wakanda,” said one social media commenter under a picture featuring Afrotectopians during lunch break.

It was by design.

“I came from a place that’s predominantly black and was very spoiled by the culture of the people surrounding me and all the things they produced,” said Ari Melenciano, the founder and producer of Afrotectopia.

Photography by Dania Reyes

Melenciano, 24, is a current graduate student at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) working toward her master’s degree in Interactive Telecommunications. She was surprised to experience culture shock in her first year at ITP which “deeply affected” her, she said. She desired to bring conversations around race and activism into the school where one was lacking in the space, she said.

While attending the Black In Design conference at Harvard University last year, Melenciano saw a space she was lacking at her graduate program and decided to bring that energy back to NYU. “It’s very ingrained that this isn’t a place for black people, and I wanted to make sure that black people know that it is an option for us when we are looking at grad programs,” said Melanciano.

In fact, one Afrotectopian, a perspective ITP student Ashley Lewis from Toronto, Ontario in Canada attended the festival precisely because she wanted to get insight into the environment of the program. Lewis, 28 said she “found a community I am akin to and a new framework for defining what it means to be black.”  

Panelists at Afrotectopia. Photography by Dania Reyes.
Attendees at Afrotectopia. Photography by Dania Reyes.
Attendees at Afrotectopia. Photography by Dania Reyes.

Though Lewis chose to attend sessions during the festival that were in the vein of afro-futurism, there were dozens of panel discussions with titles like, ‘Speculative Exploration on the Future of Blackness’, ‘Music, Technology and Activism,’ ‘Building Black Agency” and so on.

There were also ‘Think Tank’ sessions that were designed to “allow people to communicate about their passions, get together, collaborate and find solutions,” said Jaycee Holmes one of the organizers of the festival.

During a panels titled ‘Black Resistance of White Algorithms,’ Rashida Richardson, a lawyer at the ACLU of New York and Vincent Southerland, the executive director of NYU Law School’s Center of Race, Inequality, and the Law discussed issues people of color face and possible solutions to instances when technology developed by “CIS white men” is deployed in the justice system.

Both Richardson and Southerland impressed on their audience that the incorporation of technology to the justice system will not solve the problem of racism and discrimination. A possible solution is to continue to encourage young black and brown people to pursue careers in tech and the arts, so that they can go on influence how the technologies operate.

Beyond finding solutions right now, Ari Melenciano said she looks forward to bring back Afrotectopia for years to come.

Priscilla Alabi is a Writer, Aspiring Radio Rockstar and Journalist. Follow her @Priscilla_Alabi.

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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.


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.


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

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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.).

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,, 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.


I Ain’t Christian No More

(Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash)

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

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.


“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.


“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,, 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.

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