Culture/Arts

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.

The Design Conference That Brought Wakanda to New York

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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.

For editorial inquiries 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

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 FemiAgbayewa.com and follow him on Twitter @femiagbayewa.

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

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 GypsyJaunt.com; 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

For editorial inquires contact: stories@znewsafrica.com.

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

 

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

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.).

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