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Black Muslim Trump Supporters; How to Con Black Law Students; The Magic of Black Hair

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GATHERING AFRICANS

Alpha and I have been honored to be invited to speak at various talks and conferences including those at Wharton and Harvard Business School. It’s a special thing for me to be a speaker for my alma mater at this year’s Columbia University Africa Economic Forum. It’s this Saturday, April 1. Get your tickets and come say hello.

Even at our best, it’s probably not going to be as interesting as the BWIJ Conference–a 1,500 member group of black women married to Japanese men holding their first major gathering. I imagine those sistahs have been mesmerizing their beaus through the magic of their Black hair.

What events and gatherings are you checking out? What about African Narratives would you like me to touch on at the conference?

Keep those comments and questions coming. Share your stories, comments, and suggestions with us at stories@znewsafrica.com.

Cheers,

Michael

YOUR STORIES

I Was Supposed To Have Good Hair: “I was the only black girl in my grade, and at sleepovers my white friends and I would do each other’s hair and I would die inside of embarrassment as their flimsy barrettes burst under the strain of my frizz and as the brushes with ball ends would get hopelessly entangled in my coils. I hated my hair so much.” (The Establishment)

Exploring Ethiopia’s Past and Future Through Body Painting: The prevalence of decorative body painting in her images — stark whites, vibrant reds, azure blues, monochromes sometimes delicately dotted with black — are rooted in Ethiopian tradition and custom. Against a backdrop of globalization, this waning tradition is revived and celebrated as a form of a contemporary self-expression. (The NY Times)

How Diversity Branding Hurts Diversity: The mere presence of diversity policies, diversity training, and diversity awards cause white people to be less likely to believe racial discrimination exists and cause men to be less likely to believe gender discrimination exists, despite other data and evidence. (Medium)

The Emergence Of The White Troll Behind A Black Face: Black Twitter has noticed an increase in the number of white trolls creating fake Twitter accounts in order to take “revenge on Twitter” and to “create a state of chaos on twitter, among the black twitter population, by sowing distrust and suspicion, causing blacks to panic.” (NPR Code Switch)

 

HEADLINES

A. Affairs

Meet the black students and Muslim teenagers backing Trump (Metro)

Smartphones are making Kenya’s gambling problem even worse (Quartz)

Bootstrap myth exposed: White inheritance key driver in racial wealth gap (Channel 3000)

Why Black Families Struggle to Build Wealth (The Atlantic)


B. Business

This Ghanaian Woman Just Introduced the Sponge, “Sapor” to Americans and They Are Going Crazy Over It  (OMG Voice)

Diddy’s Revolt TV Is Being Sued for Reverse Discrimination for Alleged ‘Animosity Towards Caucasians’ (Vulture)

Fading oil industry brings economic uncertainty in Gabon (Reuters)

U.S. airlines are cutting seats and flights to Cuba, amid a glut in capacity (Philly.com)

 

C. Culture

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on transgender row: ‘I have nothing to apologise for’ for’ (The Guardian)

This Virtual Reality Experience Shows Black Women As The Pioneers of Brain Modulation Technology Through Hair Care (Quirktastic)

Who are the Brazilian black and indigenous women in technology? (Olabi Makerspace)

Colin Kaepernick Is To The NFL What Black People Are To America (Huffington Post)

 

D. Development

How to Con Black Law Students: A Case Study (The NY Times)

Science-Loving Teens From Ghana And D.C. Geek Out Together (NPR)

London’s black male graduates less likely to get jobs (BBC News)

Google Hopes To Hire More Black Engineers By Bringing Students To Silicon Valley (NPR)

 

E. Entertainment

Historical dramas ‘limit UK black actors (BBC News)

Racism entrenched in India’s pop culture, with help from Bollywood (Hindustan Times)

Amazon Picks up ‘Moonlight’s’ Barry Jenkins’ ‘Underground Railroad’ Series- Adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Novel (Shadow and Act)

NUMBERS

$4 million – $5 million

The amount Halima Aliko Dangote hopes to raise as the new board president of the Africa Center, a Harlem institution devoted to African art and policy (NY Times).

$75 billion

What Mckinsey estimates Africans could be spending online by 2025 (CNN).


RESOURCES AND OPPORTUNITIES

The Red Bull Amaphiko Academy is a launchpad for grassroots social entrepreneurs who are making a positive difference in their community. Over the course of 10 days, participants receive inspiration and mentorship, as well as the practical skills and tools needed to take their projects to the next level. Started in 2014, the Academy has been hosted in South Africa and Brazil; this year it will touch down in the US for the very first time, taking place August 11-20 in Baltimore, Maryland. Applications close on April 30, 2017.

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) Scholarships reward talented students and STEM organization members with the opportunity to attend this year’s conference. Developers selected for a scholarship will receive a WWDC 2017 ticket and lodging free of charge. WWDC 2017 takes place June 5-9 in San Jose, California.

Sankofa: Investing in Africa in the Rising Era

“I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.” – First Prime Minister and President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah

Africa has been painted with a negative perception by many, which has created a distorted, one-dimensional view by individuals in the West. In multiple scenarios, members of the African diaspora sometimes partake in this deception, telling narratives that catapult negative stereotypes and in turn, harm the growth of the continent.

Africa has been perceived through a prism of disease, starvation, corruption, poverty, and war. Author Chimamanda Adichie coined this “a single story.”  Even after the celebration of more than 50 years of independence in most African countries, the manacles of ignorance and the portrayal of the media still sadly cripple the continent in the perspectives of many.

For myself, pursuing a westernized education was a driving force in shaping my identity as an African. It provided me with a macroscopic view of the continent and propelled me to comprehend the bottlenecks faced by generational leaders.

There is a popular word in Ghana called Sankofa, which loosely translates to “go back and get it.” Growing up, I never understood the potency of the word, but as I look back today, this word alone has imbued in my ethos a reasoning to not look past Africa as the ultimate destination to grow, harvest, and sell my crops.

This past weekend at the annual Wharton Africa Business Forum, the agenda was to explore the diverse business opportunities that lie in the intersection of the public, private, and social sectors across Africa. Throughout the conference, professionals exchanged ideas, pitched initiatives, and expressed both their excitement and frustration about the state of the continent. It was both awakening and inspiring.

As Richard Branson said, “Finding something frustrating and seeing an opportunity to make it better is what entrepreneurship is all about.” Based on Branson’s quote, it could be argued that almost every attendee present embodied an entrepreneurial drive and possessed a burning flame in their hearts to make a difference on the continent. However, the apparent roadblock seemed to be “How, when, and why do I even begin?”

The first keynote speaker, Ambassador Herman Cohen, President and CEO at Cohen and Woods International and Consultant on Africa at ContourGlobal, advised attendees to look at Africa as an investment destination as opposed to a humanitarian destination.

In her book – Dead Aid – Dr. Dambisa Moyo echoes this statement by making the case that overreliance on aid has stagnated the growth of developing nations by leaving these countries in poverty, leaving their leaders more dependent on aid, and funneling corruption.

According to the World Bank, there is a trillion dollars of African money not sitting in Africa. For this money to circulate the continent, it’s imperative members of the African diaspora put an end to exporting commodities and importing foreign goods. To fill the missing components in the enigma, Ambassador Cohen highlights the lack of technological advances and storage as the problem. For example, 40% of African food goes to waste due to lack of storage and innovative technologies to catapult its longevity.

Leading thinkers, such as Sangu Delle, have created more sustainable ways of growing the continent and produced more jobs through local investments. By investing in the agro processing company Stawi, the company has leveraged economies of scale to create value for people on the African continent. Stawi – like most successful businesses – was born out of frustration.

The founder, Eric Muthomi, noticed the over 400,000 banana farmers in Kenya who produced too many bananas, which eventually went to rot. He then decided to take the bananas and make banana based gluten-free flour and baby food. Today, Stawi foods are sold throughout the Kenyan market. But this is just one success story.

One third of food, beverages, and similar processed goods consumed in Africa is imported. This goes to show a plethora of problems go unsolved on the continent every single day, which creates an opportunity for working members of the African diaspora to play an integral role in enhancing the growth of the continent.

In most African countries, there has been a recent influx of foreigners – particularly from Asia – who gradually invest in the abundance of resources such as infrastructure and agriculture. Unfortunately, most Africans on the continent are unable to take part in their endeavors because of their limited knowledge and experiences in comparison to their Asian counterparts. Foreign investors have compensated for this disparity by bringing thousands of their own laborers and businessmen; this group represents a new face of globalization.

While foreigners are able to benefit from these emerging industries, members of the African diaspora still remain disadvantaged, with only 10% of trade occurring among Africans. However, on the fortunate end, independent court systems have been established to operate fairly in a number of African countries. Regional groups, such as The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have also made it simpler for Africans to trade among themselves.

All these practices contribute to making it simpler for commerce to exist between African nations, thus making it increasingly difficult for foreigners to sell cheaper to Africans. As Ambassador Cohen added,

“The key is not Foreign Direct Investment, the key is African Investment.”

Often times, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes may have the resources, skill-sets, determination, and commitment to succeed however; the missing ingredient boils down to capital. Keynote speaker Sacha Poignonnec, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Jumia, shares that finding the money to execute on an idea is not the hardest part of investing in Africa, the challenge is finding the right investors to hold the rope tight as you climb mountains.

Simply put, the worst thing an entrepreneur can do is to train an unseasoned investor about the continent. Poignonnec proposed for entrepreneurs to do their due diligence before committing to any capital, no matter the scenario. To emphasize this point, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Co-Founder of Andela and Flutterwave, believes that positioning yourself in the right circle makes funding inevitable. He added that investors are averse to risk-taking and unless an entrepreneur has the right track record or a Co-Founder with the experience to complement her skill-set, it is best not to approach an investor right away.

Different experts have varying opinions on the subject however; funding is not the most important hurdle. Poignonnec advised participants to have an idea that is relevant to the people. Often times, entrepreneurs looking to invest fail to conduct a thorough market research on the ground prior to execution. Having so much belief in an idea to the point where you fail to fully comprehend the problem is a setback for many.

Joe Gebbia, Co-founder of Airbnb, proposes “Enlightened Empathy” as the solution to this. According to Gebbia, “Enlightened Empathy is the process of seeing the world so closely in the shoes of the person you are creating for to the point where you see the world the way that they see it and you bring those insights back to the drawing board, combine it with your own design point of view, to create something new.” When channeling your ideas to fruition, Poignonnec encourages participants to strengthen the intersection between three things; talent, brain, and heart. Aboyeji, on the other hand, proposes that it’s best to burn bridges. He believes for an entrepreneur to have one leg in and another out will most likely result in two of many things: cash burn on flights and dwindling profits.

Fred Swaniker, Founder & CEO of the African Leadership Academy, also offered his perspective on the conversation. His formula is simple; pay early employees less than the salary received from their past occupations. This is the mark of true commitment. The recent trend of moving back to Africa has been closely associated with obligation. Swaniker challenges members of the African diaspora to move back not as a sense of obligation, but because it’s an opportunity of our lifetime. He also added,

“We, as black people, will never be fully respected until we have economic power. The reality is this happens in Africa.”

As you look into strengthening the economic pillars of Africa, a few of many sectors to consider include Agriculture, Power, and Payments. Today, approximately 60% of the African population is in the agricultural sector. However, the most talented individuals are leaning towards more conventional sectors for the sake of prestige. Although agriculture has been perceived through a dark lens for many years, the problem is the definition.

Agriculture is more than planting and cultivating, it is every little thing we touch. This includes the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the cement used in building our homes, et al. Power, on the other hand, has recently tickled the fancy of well-read African Millennials. However, there is still potential for growth because 5-10% of annual sales on the continent are lost from electricity outages in Angola, Egypt, and Nigeria. An increase in talents and investments are definitely needed in this sector to fuel enterprises to amass on the continent. As the continent grows and as power plants and innovative renewable energy products are prioritized, manufacturing of local goods will be prevalent.

As highlighted in “Lions on the move II,” McKinsey Global Institute’s widely acknowledged report on Africa’s economic prospects, anywhere between 6 million to 14 million stable jobs could be created through increased manufacturing output. In addition to that, there will be a $326 billion increase in annual revenue by 2025 possible for African manufacturers targeting domestic markets. To make trade between villages, cities, and countries as seamless as possible, Payments will play an integral role. Incredibly intelligent members of the African diaspora are creating some of the most powerful APIs to enable local vendors to accept payments, build, and scale their businesses across the continent. It is no wonder six of the fastest growing economies are currently in Sub- Saharan Africa.

“Lions on the move II” discusses that the continent will profit from rising global demand for natural resources; boast a consumer market of 128 million households by 2020; and see its labour force top 1 billion people by 2040. In addition to this analysis, it is important to keep in mind that investors love transformation. They want to get into spaces that are going through a major transformation from being seemingly horrible to being very powerful. Sankofa. But before that, ponder and you may realize the opportunity you may be overlooking.

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Jephthah Acheampong is an Entrepreneur, Writer, and Storyteller based in New York. Equipped with a background in Economics, Jephthah writes as a millennial voice on social justice, women equality, and education. He currently serves as Director of Sales & Marketing at Esusu. Jephthah also founded Anansi Global, a non profit empowering youth in Ghana by providing quality education and mentorship.

View his work at www.jacheampong.com or find him on Linkedin.

For editorial inquires contact: stories@znewsafrica.com

The Fashion Designers to Watch

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

By Eric Acquaye

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

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

Aprelle Duany

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

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

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

Sammy Abdella

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

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

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

Ami Shah

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

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

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

Mahlet Afework

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

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

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

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

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

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

For editorial inquires contact: stories@znewsafrica.com

Powered by Passion: An Investment Banker’s Journey to Build Social Good

By Michael Rain

At close to the end of a humid spring New York day, Laurel Djoukeng arrives in Brooklyn full of energy, and fatigue. The investment banker traveled from Midtown Manhattan to Flatbush in central Brooklyn after an already long day, but his workday is not over.

He projects a warm enthusiasm. His eyes are slightly weary, but his smile is bright enough to disguise most hints of weariness. His tie is sharp and his suit is freshly crisp, as he heads into a parent-teacher night at Erasmus Hall High School. He is attending the event to inform students, parents and educators about a free summer program offered by the non-profit organization he co-founded, Catalyst Network Foundation (CNF).

In the midst of an era of Black Lives Matter campaigns, adverse statics about the future of young African-Americans and reports on millions of missing Black men, Djoukeng has built a smart social impact enterprise that has benefitted hundreds of Black lives. His non-profit helps high school sophomores and juniors of color develop academic and professional skills through a variety of fellowships, programing and workshops.

CNF was launched in 2011, guided by the wisdom of experienced African-American elders and powered by a team of young and educated professionals of color. The organization operates in both New York City and Washington D.C. and maintains three cohorts with over 65 Fellowship Scholars who have moved forward to earn acceptance and attend selective colleges and universities.

CNF offers career workshops, SAT prep sessions, and college admissions events by partnering with Ivy League schools including Columbia and Harvard, as well as, top historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) including Spellman, and Djoukeng’s alma mater, Hampton University.

CNF has also exposed young people to corporate careers and industries through internships, company site visits, and special programs provided by financial leaders, tech titans and media powerhouses including, Google, Goldman Sachs, Nike, LinkedIn, HBO, Microsoft, Essence Magazine, Bloomberg, FOX News, BET, and NBC ‎Studios.

As Mr. Djoukeng’s prepares to introduce himself and CNF to faculty and parents, he reminisces about how this all began. This social impact venture wasn’t originally his planned path. His passion for community and several encouraging mentors led toward a journey to build it.

Djoukeng was born in Washington, D.C. His parents emigrated to the United States from Cameroon. They were from the same village, but met in the U.S. as students at Howard University. He moved to New York after graduating from Hampton University.

“What are you doing to help the community?” a gentleman about 60 years old would ask Djoukeng every day for two years as he walked home from work. He answered the man by sharing his contributions as mentor with iMentor and volunteering with other social good programs.

“No, what are you doing for this community?,’” the man would reply, referring to the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn Mr. Djoukeng lived at the time. Finally he asked the man what he needed to do to help out “this” community. He was directed to attend a meeting at Community Board 8, which covers most of the Crown Heights neighborhood.

At the meeting Djoukeng joined a committee and met Priscilla Maddox (whom he refers to as Miss Priscilla) who offered to drive him home. During the ride she asked him why there weren’t more Black professionals, entrepreneurs and famous people involved in community building.

“I think we learn how to give back when we had a base of support giving to us. Most young African-Americans just don’t have that platform,” he assessed.

“Then why don’t you build it?,” Miss Pricilla inquired. She planted the seed. She stressed that there needs to be a platform that gets young people of color from wherever they are to rise toward their goals. Reaching their potential takes a cultivation of a lot of things. It takes guidance, mentorship and a support system from the earliest stages of development.

The two spoke for over two hours and by the end of the conversation Djoukeng promised that he would work to build that platform.
“I just met her that night. I shook her hand and gave her my word that I would build this platform, even though I had no idea what I was committing to build,” he remembers.

Djoukeng assessed his experiences with non-profits he worked with in the past and thought about how he could recruit a committed team. He knew he would need to find people who were naturally passionate about the organization’s mission and their role in making the vision a reality. “I never reached out to someone blindly,” he says. “I engaged people, then figured out what they loved to do and then asked them to do it for CNF.”

The organization has been run by a team of passionate volunteers. There are no salaried employees atCNF. Djoukeng himself holds a full time job while operating the venture, as does his team, who all retain 9 to 5 employment.

ldjoukeng_rooftop6_mjr

“Passion is the only thing that will make you want to get involved and do anything. We have volunteers who stay up until 2 and 3am to get work done even when I tell them not to do it. They go in that hard because they are passionate about it,” he shares with a proud grin.

Djoukeng began by working with his team to design an approach that helps young people identify their strengths and interests. They then receive guidance on how to pursue building a career based on their assessment.

“We feel like the most important thing is self-motivation. Once you’re self-motivated, you don’t need anything but the resources so you can go to where you want to go. We feel like the only way to get them to be self-motivated is to get them to feel like they are pursusing their passion. So we’re doing everything to help them discover what that is,” he shares.

The program gives students a head start to try a variety of interests and discover what they are good at and what they don’t like. CNF then cultivates their youth, provides a base of resources and then partner with organizations to facilitate that exploration.

One example of CNF’s approach is their summer intensive program. It guides the students in the discovery of their passions. They then learn practical steps on pursuing a career aligned with what they enjoy.

Strengths Finder 2.0 is used to assess the student’s character traits and leadership skills. Once the organization has identified what student’s have an aptitude for, the team then figures out which professional sectors compliment them.

Students’ soft skills are developed through workshops improving their public speaking, presentation ability, writing and resource skills in the two-week intensive program. They then work on a special project to hone their practical skills. Their hard skills grow through internships and hands on training.

“We create that ecosystem to help draft that roadmap for them to go from point A to point Z,” says Djoukeng. “It is always going to be fine tuned, because there is no way to do it perfectly.” He stressed, “We as young professionals are still trying to figure it out. We’re just ahead of the students at point F or point G. Going from point A to point Z is a never ending journey, but it’s critical to continue.”

While in college, Djoukeng saw his fellow classmates compromise on their dreams out of consideration of financial pressures and desires. It influenced him to set a framework for CNF to encourage students purse their passion and become aware of innovative ways to monetize on it. The goal is to provide them with the necessary recourses so they don’t have to conceed when they leave college.

Djoukeng just happens to love capital allocation and business development so he works in the sector that aligns with his interests, but “I’ll be damned if somebody told me I better learn illustration because what I love to do doesn’t pay the bills,” he says with a defiant eyes and smirk.

Much of what motivates the volunteers and partners of CNF is their sense of community, particularly as African Americans and people of color globally. This is something Djoukeng feels is prevalent but underreported and remains largely unacknowledged.

“Blacks want to see other blacks succeed. It’s not highlighted enough but they do” he shares as he remembers the support he received from Community Board 8. One board member was an attorney who helped him file a 501(c)(3) for free. Others donated their time and money to get the organization off the ground.

“The elders in our community have the wisdom and they want to help. They know where the bones are buried, but they don’t have the energy to execute anymore. Young people have ideas, but lack the capital. We need to keep that bridge together,” he says in a hopeful tone.

The public high school Djoukeng attended was predominately filled with Black and Latino students. There was a magnet program so the school had an influx of student from wealthier areas, which guaranteed that there were college prep resources available. He took AP classes and other challenging courses that helped him get into the schools of his choice when he became more serious about college.

“I was a jokester in high school. Some of my Black teachers saw me as that but once they found out I was applying the college they were some of the first ones to offer to write my recommendations and assist me through the process. These were teachers who had kicked me out of class or sent me to detention for being a jokester, but they became some of my greatest champions,” he shared.

Djoukeng’s assistant basketball coach, a proud Hampton alum, took him and a teammate on a tour of the University. They connected with a current student who was a senior and whom his coach took on the same tour of Hampton a few years prior. His coach then pushed him to complete his college application and get his recommendations in on time. “I didn’t know how big that was until now, when I’m doing the same thing for CNF students,” he says.

Between a finance driven day job and his social good organization, it might not be clear what Djoukeng’s passion is in his life. “I love to bring new ideas into fruition,” he says with a childlike smile. “I love coming up with new ideas and then working with people to make something that wasn’t there before exist.”

Djoukeng thinks back to that two-hour conversation four years ago with Miss Priscilla and says, “ I didn’t even know what I was committing to, but you don’t always know where things will go.”

He adds, “I always thought I would be the person who allocated capital to non-profits when I got older for initiatives that I liked. I never thought I would be running one. Never. You never know where ideas will lead you, but as long as you are still be pursing your interests, it will be a good place.”

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Michael Rain is the editor-in-chief of ZNews Africa. He communicates ideas through written and visual stories and has an ardent interest in expanding the perception of people of color. His editorial intrigue includes design and technology, and their relationship to culture. Say hello on Twitter @michaeljrain.

For Editorial Inquires: 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.

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