Zion Stands Firm

By: Wes Annan

There haven’t been perfect days since we left the garden,

The day we trusted in man over God,

And chose to bear a larger burden.

But I believe in the perfect moments,

Those devine seconds when the gates swing open,

When what’s alive never dies,

And the crooked becomes less broken.

Those are the moments He reminds us He’s still there,

That though we forsake Him He will always care.

Through flood & fire

Storm & situation dire

From valley to peak

From beginning to end of every week

He never leaves us

It is in those fractions of time where the surreal combats real

Where we seem to be battling titan & trojan alike aiming for our heel

It is in between the drops of sand that fall in the glass

That we are brought to our knees to espy mass

It is the Light show in the North.

The redeemer in the South.

Zion standing firm in the East.

Chomolungma towering tall in the West.

Everywhere the needle has made a revolution about its rose,

That is where deity shows.

We can’t build our own garden,

We’ve planted too many seeds bearing bad fruit.

There’s no replacing Allah,

the only One making rich what we’ve made destitute.

But He is still there.

In the midst of the fray

The dog fights above sea.

When the clouds open to the kingdom,

When we open our eyes to actually see.

So don’t worry.

We may build up walls and tear down bridges because we fear each other, pain, and horror

But there are always days when those feint trumpets sound…

On those days look at your feet for brick and mortar.

 

Behind the Vibes: Bijah B

Abijah is a Freshman at Stanford University, working on making music that centers on neo-soul and reggae, while also tackling problem sets for computer science. He’s performed as a DJ, killed a few Open Mics, and is a strong activist for the Stanford Community.

On finding music

Well I was born in Jamaica, so obviously reggae and dancehall was always a part of my life growing up, when I was in the car, that music was always playing. I’ve always had a deep interest in it. I’ve always interested in how music was used as a political tool, or as a tool of relieve. It became a cathartic experience for me, to relieve yourself of the stresses daily. So I started making music as early as the 9th grade, producing records and writing raps. From there it was something I know I should keep pushing for.

I made music with a group of people called Unknown Creatures. The mission of the group was to be confident in being unique, original, and different. Especially with the music scene now with people on the same vibe and producing one sound of music, we wanted to do something original and be confident in that.

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On his style

Unknown Creatures style was experimental & original, it’s soothing to the soul at times and other it’s rallying. There’s a wide variety of subject matter and it shows sonically as well. We take pride in that.

I’m tryna stay involved in music as much as possible now. I’m trying to find a band, with a focus on a  neo-soul vibe is what I’m working. When I make music solo it’s on a hip-hop tip, but I want to get together to transcribe music, and work with vocals. That’s a huge part of my musical interests

On his inspirations (Top Five…)

I’ll say Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, you can’t really forget Bob Marley or Jacob Miller (and many other reggae artists), Aretha Franklin. I’m always trying to find a way to incorporate these different genres through a hip-hop scene. Many people don’t know that a lot of hip-hop today had a lot of jazz influence and at this point, you can take any form of genre and infuse it in a hip-hop vibe.

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On his direction of music

I come from a ton of different backgrounds and it’s reflected in my music. I’m biracial with a white mother and a Jamaican Father, and I’ve always lived amongst people who are very wealthy and also people who are not so wealthy, people who are white, black, all different backgrounds and it’s had an influence on my music.

The EP is out now, check it out and thank us later.

Follow Abijah on Twitter.

Introducing Greo, the New Social Justice Platform

Written By: Team Greo

Black people and people of color are creative geniuses. We invent the world’s most compelling trends, score the most popular music, generate the most powerful cultures, and build the most innovative social movements. However, when it comes to technology, we tend to be the biggest consumers but the rarest producers. Why is that?

Our team of conscious-preneurs is especially motivated by the concept of social media and how it has been such a great educational and coalition building tool for people of color from Cairo to Chicago. But the social media outlets out there currently don’t cater to our needs. Twitter is not a safe space, as it lets racism and misogyny flow unchecked. And Facebook creates unhealthy echo chambers and contributed to the election of Donald Trump. So we are on a mission to architect the next generation of social media–social-impact media, if you will.

Greo is a social media app for conversations that matter, ranging from #BLM to environmental sustainability to Beyonce’s Lemonade. These conversations are facilitated by 60 second or less videos made by users. It’s like Medium meets Vine, but is a brave space for people to speak their truth.

Each of us has had experience as a founder before Greo. From education non-profits to learning software, we each love building things that matter. Between us, we have worked at places like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Mozilla, Pinterest, and the White House. But this is our first foray down the traditional startup road.

The reality of Silicon Valley is that it’s a jungle. The white male dominated space presents many challenges for a team for four people of color, two of whom are women of color. We’ve been told that we are not diverse enough in our thought and that we need to hire a Trump supporter to balance us out. We’ve encountered people who have doubted our ability to produce a world-class product based on race and gender. However, we learned that while it’s important to be aware of the often cut-throat and exclusive nature of the tech space, we don’t have to play by those rules. We can operate from a place of inclusivity, generosity, and empathy. If we want to build ecosystems of empowerment and innovation for marginalized people, then we have to begin imagining different parameters to the status quo we want to live in.

We were fortunate to raise $200,000 from Sheel Tyle at New Enterprise Associates before we even had a product. We are currently in our Beta phase, with about 70 people using a trial version of our application before we go live in Winter 2017. We are also blessed to have incredible advisors such as Jason Mayden, former global lead of Jordan Brand at Nike and Troy Carter, former John Legend manager and an Uber and Spotify investor.

Ultimately, we know it takes a village to raise an entrepreneur. So many people have poured into us, from our parents to our professors, to our friends. We want to pave the way for more Black innovators and makers of marginalized backgrounds to be able to bring their dreams to fruition.

Furthermore, there has never been a Black tech company valued at over $1 billion, and we aspire to be the first. But we want to deliver value beyond a market cap. We want to more than a for-profit company, and be a for-progress company. The world needs far more solutions than a social media startup can supply, so it’s important not to overstate the potential impact of our work. However, we do know that technology in the right hands can spur cultural change. And cultural change eventually produces political change. That is our theory, and we are working night and day to turn it into practice.

Team Greo consists of Stanford Alumni and Students. Founders: Tre Kirkman, Elizabeth Davis, Estefania Ortiz, Brandon Hill

To learn more about Greo, check out their website. Feel free to email them at hello@greo.com

A Letter to Hate In America

Image: Reuters

On November 8th, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States of America. This election, for numerous marginalized groups of people, represented an unforeseen regression in American history, potentially erasing decades of social progress. In the wake of such turmoil, it is important to acknowledge that our feelings of anger and frustration are valid. It is important to acknowledge and discuss the fear we feel for the future, and the uncertainty that characterizes tomorrow. If America will not say it with their vote, let us be the first: we acknowledge you and we care for you.

Over these past few days there’s been an eerie, quiet spell over campus. Yet, in our most uncertain moments, the greatest gift we can give to one another is our love. Love one another today, tomorrow, and more so than ever before as we enter the next four years.

A massive perspective gap foreshadowed the shock that characterized Election 2016. Over the past eight years, a majority of white rural Americans have felt as though their voices were unheard, and their needs unmet. The purported stagnancy of the middle class made recovery from the economic recession a difficult task. Government focus on the suffering lower class, although warranted, brought with it a feeling of neglect for other economic and social classes. These feelings of neglect transformed into action this week, as this unhappy base voted into office a man who claimed to be their only hope. His seemingly innumerable sexist, racist, xenophobic and generally discriminatory comments became secondary or tertiary issues. Granted, there is a population that wholeheartedly believes the rhetoric that Mr. Trump espouses. Simultaneously, there exists a population that simply believes in voting for the issues that concern them and them alone. The ramifications of electing Trump in office have been felt worldwide and he hasn’t technically took office yet.

Now, we move forward.

And herein lies one of the greatest obstacles to face during these next four years: understanding. To the democratic voter: one may be quick to label Republican voters as sexist, racist, xenophobic, etc… but perhaps time would be better spent educating them on why the beliefs of Trump’s Administration would present problems for our respective communities. There may be teachers, neighbors, and old high school friends who you know supported the other side for a variety of reasons– it may be that these circles are an ideal place to begin.  To the republican voter: Despite your personal motives in voting, please do not ignore or deny the existence of malicious supporters of Trump, rallied during his campaign, who are now directing explicit hatred to our communities. Personally, you may not believe yourself to be racist, sexist, or xenophobic, but you must understand that you voted for a man whose campaign relied on fear, hatred, and prejudice. You may have voted for a free market, but that vote came with the perpetuation of sexually predatory behavior and outright disrespect of women’s rights. You may have voted for limited government, but that vote came with the the endorsement of those who discriminately target black and brown bodies. You may have voted for your family values, but that vote came with the denial of the basic rights of our LGBTQ communities, which we are still fighting to protect. Your vote has consequences, whether they be unintentional or otherwise. Now, we must all deal with them, together.

We must all refuse to be complacent in times such as these when our communities are threatened. We must be willing to reach out and have the honest conversations needed to educate one another about issues of importance. We do not always have to agree, but we must all be united against hate. We will do as we always do and fight to ensure our voices are heard, both on campus and in our surrounding communities.

It will not be easy. We will be aggravated, tired, dismal. But it is going to be upon us to bridge the gap. Rest up and mourn, but we have work to do to protect our legacy, the legacy of our ancestors, and ensure that following generations have a legacy of their own to form.

Continue reading

Musila Munuve, “Natural”

From Musila:

In this moment, the natural hair movement is visually and culturally one of the most compelling to me. This body of work is intended to celebrate the beauty of natural hair, highlight the love and care it takes to maintain it and explore some of the reasons Black Women have gone natural.

Check out more of Musila’s Projects.

Behind Ethiopia’s Protests

Written By Stanford Ethiopian and Eritrean Student Association (SEESA)

The protests in Ethiopia began in November 2015 following the announcement of the tenth Addis Ababa master plan. The plan intended to expand the borders of the capital city, Addis Ababa, to incorporate surrounding Oromia regional towns. It promised integrated urban development, as well as infrastructural and social provisions for the people of Addis Ababa and Oromia regions.

The expansion of Addis Ababa, however, was unacceptable to the Oromo people, who make up over a third of Ethiopia’s 100 million population, making them the largest ethnic group in the horn of Africa. According to D/r Gidada, former President of Ethiopia who defected to an opposition group, the Oromos were not opposed to the extension of infrastructure to the surrounding towns, but rather to the eviction of Oromo farmers without proper compensation, and the compromise of Oromo identity. Oromo activists condemned the plan for its covert motive of further dispossessing, displacing, and exploiting the Oromo people, who have been oppressed under successive regimes.

The Oromo poured out in hundreds and thousands into the streets of over 400 towns and villages opposing the Addis Ababa Master Plan. The opposition was met with a brutal crackdown. On May 2nd alone, the government confirmed nine students were gunned down in a protest at Ambo University, although witnesses say the death toll is as high as 47. Mass arrests and killings continued in the dormitories and campuses of Ambo, Adama, Jimma, and Haramaya Universities and several Oromia districts.

By January 2016, the Human Rights Watch reported, over 400 people have been killed, thousands injured, tens of thousands arrested and hundreds disappeared. In over 500 protests that occurred following the master plan, the report lamented that:


“Security forces shot into crowds, summarily killing people during mass roundups, and torturing detained protesters. Because primary and secondary school students in Oromia were among the early protesters, many of those arrested or killed were children under the age of 18.”

The government initially rejected these accusations, labeling the protests as anti-peace ploys orchestrated by “power-hungry” terrorists groups. But, in mid-January, it finally yielded to the pressure and officially repealed the Master Plan. However, Oromia’s fury showed no sign of halting, and was soon followed by the Amhara protests.

On an early July night in the city of Gondar, northern Ethiopia, where the protests have not yet reached, gunshots were heard from the direction of one of the community’s prominent leader’s residence. Colonel Demeke Zewdu, president of a committee that demands the restoration of the town of Welkait to the Amhara region, opened fire against state police officers who came to arrest him. The colonel’s arrest resulted in an outrage across the Amhara region, bringing the second most populous ethnic group under the wave of protests.

Amhara activists accuse government leaders, who are from a minority Tigrean ethnic group, of attempting to expand and enrich their homeland at the expense of the Amhara and others. Welkait was established as a Tigray province, despite the people’s demand to be identified as ethnic Amharas and thus re-join the Amhara region. The government responded by arresting  Colonel Zewdu and several other community leaders on terrorism charges.

In a press conference in late August, addressing the wave of protests across multiple regions, the prime minister named corruption, inequality, and lack of good governance as sources of dissatisfaction behind the unrest. He admitted that his government needs deep and immediate reform, hoping to calm the protests with an admission of wrongdoing. However, the major culprits fomenting the conflicts, according to the premier, were terrorist groups in the diaspora, and state enemies like Eritrea, and more recently, Egypt. A mere promise of better governance and accusation of outside forces could at best delegitimize the grievances of the people and sideline demands for recognition, inclusion, freedom, and justice for the slain.

Conditions further deteriorated at the Irreechaa festivities. ‘Irrechaa’, dubbed as the Oromos’ thanksgiving day, attracts millions of Oromos and other Ethiopians to the town of Bishoftu to celebrate Oromo culture and identity. At this year’s ceremony, as soon as the newly appointed chairman of the State of Oromia grabbed the mic, the crowd began to roar in protest. “Down, down Woyane!” echoed through the millions who gathered with their arms crossed in a X sign above their heads. When slogans demanding the change of government  intensified, security forces fired warning shots and tear gas leading to a deadly stampede. People died falling into Bishoftu river and ditches. The casualties were estimated to be around 50 by the government, and over 500 by oppositions.  

In the aftermath of Irrecha, enraged protesters burned down dozens of foreign-owned factories and flower farms, and destroyed scores of vehicles. Foreign-owned businesses have often been the targets of protesters as protesters seek to discourage foreign companies from working with the Ethiopian government. Besides the effect of depriving the government of revenue, these acts express locals’ frustration over unjust land grabs. A week after Irrecha, the government declared a six-months state-of-emergency for the first time in its twenty five years in power.

In Ethiopia today, you cannot use social media to contact outside forces, or communicate footages and messages that are likely to ‘incite  disturbances’. You cannot watch ‘terrorist’ labelled TV channels like ESAT and OMN, which are operated by the Ethiopian diaspora and critical of the Ethiopian government You can not peacefully protest or organize; you can’t make political gestures such as crossing your arms above your head; you cannot visit a factory, farm or government institution between 6pm and 6am the next day. If you’re a diplomat, you can’t travel more than 25 miles from the capital. Following the decree, this past Monday, a thousand people were arrested near Addis Ababa and more than 1600 were arrested  on Wednesday in the Amhara and Oromia regions following mass demonstrations.

 

Follow SEESA’s Facebook page for updates and upcoming events.

The Center for African Studies: A Look Back During the 50th Anniversary

By: Tesay Yusuf

Home: Solace, Strength, Community from Stanford African Studies on Vimeo.

The Center for African Studies is the home of the African Studies program at Stanford. CAS serves not only as an intellectual space, but also a community space. The 50th anniversary of CAS meant many things to so many people. In order to reflect that, we created an exhibit of photographs taken by a CAS alum of members of the community. People wrote on their hands what CAS meant to them and so it was a chance for students, faculty, alumni, and our whole community to reflect on what it means to us.

 

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What does having a center and a community mean?

To me, CAS means comfort, and that’s what I wrote on my hand for my portrait. CAS is a place where I can feel comfortable in who I am. I have multiple spaces like that on campus, and each provides comfort in a different way. CAS is somewhere I can walk in, request a song, and get into the mood I need for that day. It’s a place I can vent, order ice cream for the whole office when we’re stressed, and plan a party in a matter of hours to get everyone’s spirits up. It’s way more than just a job. It’s a welcoming place, a place where people try to feel for one another. It’s a dynamic space, and I think everyone makes it into what they want for themselves. If you’ve never been, I would definitely encourage everyone in the Black community(ies) to come see it for yourself. Check out the exhibit, request a song that will get played just for you, and feel what’s going on at CAS.

Below are previously unreleased photos from the CAS 50th Anniversary Celebration this past Spring.

The Great Unsettling Of Sophomore Year

By: Astrid Casimire  

My second year at Stanford is in full swing, and I’m feeling more unsettled than ever. In fact, I’m outright struggling to feel at peace here.

It comes as a shock to me more than anything, because I thought that surely, after weathering the ups and downs of freshman year, I’d be well-adjusted and ready to tackle sophomore year like a boss, without a hitch. I’d hit the ground running and stay running for the entire year because I had so much energy and excitement building up in me after three months of rejuvenation and spirit-restoration back in sweet T&T.
Wrong.
So, so wrong.
Nothing is as picture-perfect as it seems

Like I said, this year I find it harder than ever to settle down and feel at home. And as I try to pinpoint the reason, I’m running into all kinds of contradictions. Because I have every reason to be oh-so-happy, but, frankly, I’m just not. Let me tell you why.
I thought, Wow, I’ve got a new dorm + a bigger room + enough space for a couch (s/o to Toyon’s 2-room double) + an awesome roommate! 
I thought, Hey, my class schedule is on point: HumBio Core (which I’m excited about despite its reputation for being difficult) + Spanish + Creative Writing = the perfect mix of classes that slot right in with my academic interests.
I thought, Gee I have this perfect extracurricular mix of things that I enjoy and things that are important to me.
I thought, Wowza, I can’t wait to reconnect with old friends + establish new relationships with dormmates, classmates & clubmates. How fulfilling!
And don’t get me wrong, these have all been positives of sophomore year so far.
In fact, in theory, I felt like I had the perfect formula for navigating sophomore year successfully. I thought, I have so much going for me right now; that darn sophomore slump won’t get to me, that’s for sure. But no matter how many why-I-love-sophomore-year lists I make, or schedules I do to organize my day, or efforts I put out to stay engaged, I cannot force myself to feel fulfilled and settled. In reality, a perfect theoretical formula doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing at all. Because we’re human. We’re complicated. Emotions get in the way. Not everything can be explained by theory.
¡Qué bonita!
In reality, I set my expectations way too high and was sorely disappointed to find out that being back at Stanford just isn’t as exciting as it was Freshman year(this is so hard to admit, because I believe high expectations = high standards. But it’s to be expected though, right? Everything’s not new and invigorating anymore. Why did I think it would be?). I don’t understand it, because Stanford is a fantastic place in so many ways – we’ve got a beautiful, sprawling campus, perfect weather, great infrastructure, the most interdisciplinary classes, excellent and supportive programming, spirited student life, endless ways to engage, and even as I appreciate every moment that I’m here, I just can’t force feelings of excitement.
In reality, I’m learning that I can’t force myself to feel any kind of way, period. No matter how excited, settled, and comfortable I should feel, I’ve long learned that unlike our expectations, feelings are something we cannot really control. They’re karma-karma-karma-karma-karma chameleons – they come and go, they come and gooooo. They change with the wind. But we can control our reactions and responses to our feelings. And that’s what matters. So the faster you accept and acknowledge feelings for what they are (what I’m trying to do now), the better equipped you are to work through them.
View at IAH. Love being in transit but
airports = ew.
In reality, I can’t shake this uneasy feeling of being not quite at home here yet. It’s the same out-of-place uneasiness I always feel in unfamiliar hotel rooms, airports and new places. After establishing a somewhat-solid routine in Trancos (my freshman dorm), I’m thrown into this completely different setting and I’ve gotta find a new routine that works for me. This takes time – time that I don’t have because we’re already 3 weeks in and I’m just going with the motions, mentally sprinting to keep up with this crazy quarter-system pace, with no real routine in place.
In reality, all these constant changes are throwing me the heck off – I’m just ready to settle into my life, and college isn’t giving me the chance to do that. But I’d just as soon admit that it’s these changes that are going to make me grow and learn the most, and I know I’ll finish college a much better, stronger person than I was.

In reality, I’m constantly shifting between having it together and completely falling apart. I’ve managed to be in bed by 11PM one night in order to wake up early the next morning to work (a system that works really well, what the heck!). But two days later, I’ve also managed to stay up until 3AM, swamped with work and little motivation, and wallowing in what a rough night it had become. I go from one extreme to the next in more ways than one – like Rihanna so eloquently sang: it’s 0 to 60 in 3.5. For instance, tonight started off so well – we had the first Calypso practice with our new

Connor and the BBZ (new members)!

members which was great, so great. The excitement was tangible, and I remembered how heartwarming and beautiful it is to share music, especially the steelpan, with others. I left there on a high, and a few hours later, sitting in front of my laptop contemplating things, I hit another low which prompted me to write this post. All in a day’s work, ya?

In reality, I’m barely keeping up with my schoolwork, no matter how many plans I make to stay on top of it. Everyday I pledge to catch up on my HumBio reading, and everydaytime simply runs out. At this point I don’t know where to draw the line between idealistic and delusional because there are just not enough hours in the day, and time is running away from me, and I don’t know if I should settle for this constant hustling to keep up or if I’m actually too busy and need to  do some serious intervention on my schedule.
In reality, these constant ups and downs affect my health and sometimes I feel so out of control. I binge and stress eat. I stay up late without cause. I’m constantly sleep-deprived and occasionally too exhausted to stick to my commitments. My immune system went down a bit and I’m fighting a cold of some sort right now. I’m breaking out every single week and feel the urge to hide my face in public because it’s a constant reminder of the ongoing distresses I feel.

In reality, I miss my room back home and having my own space. Throwing it back to high school, I was perfectly content with seeing my friends in class, and  liming outside of school a few times per quarter. I had a great routine of going to classes, then training, then returning home to work at night in the comfort of my own home, and my own space, resting assured that I could 100% be myself because I was around the people who knew me best and accepted me for all my flaws, grumpy moods and shortcomings (shoutout to my family back home!).

S/o to my family for putting up with me <3

But guess what? College is not high school (surprise, surprise)! From the living situation (having a roommate + living in a dorm + being surrounded by other students 24/7) to classes (I swear every class requires collaboration and sometimes I’m just not down), there is no way to escape the fact that college is a social experience as much as an academic one. Something, as an introvert, I’m still learning to navigate. I’m caught between “I wanna meet new people!” and “No new friends, no no new”, wondering how much effort to put into expanding my circle or instead keeping it small and strengthening current relationships.

In reality, although I don’t feel 100% at home here, I don’t know if I’d rather be back in Trinidad, either. Because despite everything, Stanford is my life’s default state now. Being a student is my occupation. I’m here for my education and home (Trinidad) just doesn’t mean the same thing anymore – although it is where my heart is because it’s where my family is, it’s no longer my default place, but more of a temporary resting spot between academic years. So if here isn’t home, and home isn’t home, where is? (An idea I’ve been grappling with since my first visit back home from school for Christmas Break last year).

 

Pic of me freshman year feeling at home at Stanford, yea?
A picture may speak a thousand words, but it may not always
tell the truth.
In reality, I constantly contradict myself because although I socially feel the need for more space, I’m also discovering that it is the people around me who make me feel like I belong the most. It is going to Calypso practice and just feeling completely at ease with the instrument and with my band-mates. It is going on a CSA retreat and feeling like I can finally be myself because I could relate to everyone on a cultural level. It is going to the 10PM mass and sharing my faith in solidarity with others. It is having a roommate that smiles when I walk into the room and reminds me to not be too hard on myself because just being here at college is an accomplishment (direct quote from the Debz! Simple but true!). It is knowing that there are friends I can call, text or meet up with if I ever need to talk.
Trini-love!
In reality, these contradictions make me feel like a phony, although I know I’m anything but. I think that to be without contradictions, is to lack humanity, because nobody is perfect, and we all contradict ourselves in one way or the other. But that’s a-okay because perfect internal harmony is hard to come by. Maybe that’s why this quote struck me when I first heard it:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Gandhi

Because I strive for that kind of harmony and happiness, but never quite reach it because I can’t really shake these contradictions.
I think the biggest truth of all comes to me now that I’ve let this all out: I’m struggling here, and that’s okay. It’s all part of the experience. Yes, I aim to have a routine, to go to sleep early and eat well and exercise, but it’s okay if that doesn’t always work out. I keep on trying, and that’s important. Yes, I never actuallymade it to my bed tonight (just knocked out on the couch for a couple hours) and it’s now almost 6am, but it’s okaybecause I’m going to do my Spanish homework and prepare for classes tomorrow (today) so that I can start afresh.

 

Here is something I’ve told myself a million times in the past, but I’m only now starting to believe it:

It’s okay to not be okay.

This note to myself from freshman year remains on
my laptop’s dashboard today!

Aṣọ Dára: Expressing Culture through Fashion

By: Tosin Sonuyi

Aṣọ Dára” originates from the Yoruba language and translates roughly to “good clothes”

In Aṣọ Dára know that you are part of a collective consciousness to push the culture forward in spreading love and community.”

It’s hard to say exactly what it was that led me and my 4 older siblings to start Aṣọ Dára. I know that given what the 5 of us do professionally, if you would have asked me last year I would have guessed that we would have started some health technology company since we work in medicine, software, and engineering. Yet the venture that actually made the most sense for us happens to be in fashion. I think that one of the biggest things that drove us to towards this was the fact that our working lives were so far apart and separate that we thought it would be really fun and interesting to do something professionally together for the first time ever.

We didn’t know exactly what each person would do given our backgrounds but somehow, a couple months into it we have each been able to contribute our individual talents towards our collective success and it’s personally been inspiring to see. On a more personal note about myself individually; I’m the youngest of my siblings and it’s a really welcome change for me to be able to contribute equally in an endeavor with people that I’ve spent pretty much my whole life looking to for advice and guidance.

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Something that I love about being a business owner is that we get to make all of the decisions. It’s the difference between having a seat at the table and creating your own table. When the table is yours not only do you have input into decisions but you also choose what decisions there are to be made. I think one of the most telling examples of this in Aṣọ Dára to date, was our decision to sponsor african ancestry dna tests. To make a long story short, we had lots of discussions about how to present the new program, what type of wording to include, which company would provide the DNA tests, what extra information should we provide about DNA testing, etc. The discussions were lengthy and initially full of nuanced and layered back and forths. But, at the end of the day it felt good to be in a position to not only make the final decisions, but also to have something like an African ancestry test up for discussion in the first place. To me, it’s decisions like these that make having and supporting black-owned businesses important.

asodara

“Aṣọ Dára bears responsibility in continuing to connect the dots to show the unmistakable parallels between the style and grace of their sisters in Atlanta to that of their sisters in Eko. To show the parallel between the hustle of entrepreneurs in Detroit and the meticulous daily grind of people in Johannesburg. In bridging the gap, they contribute to the movement of self-love and self-determination as all strive towards becoming the best version of themselves.

Follow Aṣọ Dára on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and check out their website.

app-store

Get it on Google Play

Blasian Narratives: Director’s Note

Director: OmnessenmO

DIRECTOR’S NOTE

For what it’s worth, race continues to be a sensitive and volatile topic, and in many cases, results in fatal consequences. Yet, very few make the connection that racial literacy is linked to self-awareness and emotional intelligence. In addition, as much as race is a social construct, it is also a code. This code consciously and subliminally constructs a major part of our identity, and begs the questions: How do we see ourselves? And how do others perceive us? Therefore, how does this affects how we live, in relations to how they treat us? Ironically, racial awareness is often ridiculed and villainized as people attribute racial (identity) awakening to exacerbating social problems.

I see it differently.

In the age of the Internet, scrolling through careless comments easily posted on social media, it becomes clear that emotional and racial literacy is rarely upheld in school. As a result, artists and activists carry the burden of teaching values that should have been instilled from a young age, resisting a culture and society that does not value self-awareness. As I recognize that racial literacy is linked to emotional growth, therefore, I am passionate about creating works that help hone emotional maturity and accountability. I see racial works of art when done affirmatively, as invitations for personal self-reflections and opportunities for a collective healing. Thus, this project was created with this aspiration in mind.

I studied film and theatre because I understood the power of expressions and representations through performances, images, and symbols. As someone of an Asian American heritage (Cambodian American), I grew up seeing few representations of people who looked like me, and if there was one, it was usually negative. Yet, I’ve found that those who are well versed in racial literacy tend to be more grounded individuals. I see the correlations of healthy self-esteem in the Asian American students who studied their culture; this also holds true for Black students who understood their history. I have also seen how wiser my Native, Latinos, White, “mixed” and “Others” brothers and sisters become once they learn the truth about themselves. As such, this project became a creative outlet for individuals who are interested in exploring the racial and cultural aspect of who they are.

The visual medium of theatre, film/videos, and online media are some of the most powerful storytelling tools of our time. Therefore, combining all three was not an easy task considering the limited time and lack of budget available; I also had to wear many hats as a first-time director. Furthermore, as an outsider to the narratives of Blasian individuals, I wanted to be mindful in how I help others tell their stories without imposing too much of my influence. After all, I am not “Blasian.” However, I was able to use my outsider curiosity to my advantage by asking the right questions. To the best of my ability, I made sure to consult and receive feedback throughout the whole process from Blasians and non-Blasians alike. If someone were to make a narrative piece about people like me, I would only hope that they approach it with care, respect, thoughtfulness, and integrity. I hope that this project upheld these values.

This project has truly been an intensive labor of love. As this is my debut project, I feel blessed to work with many of my new and closest friends who are all spread out in the world–many who are sharing their gifts freely from their personal resources. I have learned a lot from the cast, crew, and audiences through this transformative experience that brought us all together, coast-to-coast. I am also fortunate to have met the individuals who offered a helping hand along the way, whether it was the kind encouragements from acquaintances or our friends of friends, who came in to help cook meals for us when we needed them. This project is also dedicated to them because we could not have arrived here without them.

If I’ve only learned one thing from the cast and crew, it is that we don’t have to live in a colorblind society when we can live in a colorful world.

I hope that the messages of unity in diversity come through. Through exploring our differences, I hope we can see and feel how similar we really are.

Yours truly,

OmnessenmO