Starting a New Chapter: The Birth of Our Legaci Press

Our Legaci Press (3)

I started this blog in 2009 with one intention – write about issues pertaining to people of African descent from a place of love. It’s been a long time since my very first blog post and I’m happy to say that along this journey over 2 million people have read the articles on Our Legaci.

Though I’ve had marginal success with this blog. I’ve felt restricted in a way by the digital landscape. Though blogs are great mechanisms for sharing thoughts and ideas quickly – I feel that they are not the best mechanisms for enduring topics that require more in-depth discourse. I’ve also found that while whatever you post on the internet lasts forever – blog posts and their responses are often fleeting. Especially when discussing a hot topic or current event. The internet pretty much goes with the tide.

Additionally, I’ve found that countless Black writers are sharing amazing stories and driving intellectual thought online with little to no historical account or credit. Meanwhile, writers previously approved by gatekeepers analyze/recap these thoughts and reap the benefits of “credibility” and academic acclaim. Though much of the internet’s pool of ideas drives pertinent discussions – physical books published by reputable publishing houses ultimately hold more clout in the long run.

Due to its relatively easy accessibility, the internet has all but trampled traditional literary gatekeepers – except for with print books (though it’s trying). After much research I’ve found that Black voices are at a severe disadvantage in the publishing industry. The literary world is already tough and full of competition for authors. But for Black authors, it’s even more difficult.

Publishers often focus on stories that they believe are most likely to sell. Many people of African descent have stories that often fall outside of the perceived traditional / easy to compartmentalize/ mass appeal boxes. There are Black literary agents that help to soothe this gap by introducing publishers to promising Black writers. However, this is an extremely small pool of agents that are often overwhelmed by a flood of inquiries. Similarly, the pool of independent Black owned publishing houses is also very small and at capacity. Thus, generations upon generations of Black writers go unpublished, unheard and forgotten.

So what is a Black writer to do? Where do we go and who will publish our stories?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

It’s time to take Our Legaci to the next level. So I’m launching Our Legaci Press. The goal of Our Legaci Press is to support, publish and promote Black storytellers from around the world. We will specialize in non-fiction anthologies that showcase various aspects of the Black experience.

Stories by Black writers are essential to the development and growth of upcoming generations. Thus, we need more stories, more dialogue and definitely more books.

I will continue to use OurLegaci.com to promote the initiatives of Our Legaci Press and share information about our upcoming books and events.

I hope you join me on this new journey. I’m looking for potential editors, affiliates, outreach coordinators, partners and of course writers! We’d also love to partner with organizations and initiatives that align with our goals.

Learn more about the next chapter of Our Legaci Press at OurLegaciPress.com. If you have any questions or want to learn how you can support this initiative email info@OurLegaciPress.com.

 

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach Jessica, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

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10 Black-Owned Businesses That Will Bring You Joy

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I’m a huge advocate of Black-owned businesses for a number of reasons.

  1. Because I’m Black and I want to see other Black people succeed. The success of Black entrepreneurs is interconnected to the overall success and upward mobility of our local communities.
  2. Because many Black-owned businesses fulfill needs that mainstream society usually avoids, doesn’t care about or hasn’t discovered.
  3. Read number 1 again.

So, I just wanted to take a moment to spotlight 10 Black-owned businesses (and non-profits) that are making Black joy a priority and part of their core mission. This list includes a diverse set of health, arts, entertainment, entrepreneurial and culturally focused Black-owned businesses. Some are well known. Some are lesser known. But all are amazing. Check them out.

1. Afro Flow Yoga owned by Leslie Salmon Jones
Located in Cambridge, MA
Business synopsis (link):

Afro Flow Yoga infuses electrifying dance movements of the African Diaspora with a meditative yoga sequence of gentle yet powerful stretches. Deeply connect with the soulful rhythmic drums, energize your chakras, gain strength and flexibility and rejoice in the bliss of feeling renewed, grounded and peaceful!

2. Black Earth Products owned by Taliah Waajid
Located in Smyrna, GA
Business synopsis (link):

Taliah Waajid has always been at the very core of the natural hair movement. These days her company is still leading the way in innovation and education. For 20 years Taliah Waajid products have set the standard in the natural hair community. That includes the largest consumer trade show that celebrates natural hair, health and beauty, known as naturalhairshow.org. Natural hair isn’t a trend for Taliah Waajid, it is a lifestyle that encompasses everything the consumer cares about.

3. The Urban Movie Channel created by Robert L. Johnson
Located in Silver Spring, MD
Business Synopsis (link):

Urban Movie Channel launched in November 2014, and was created by Robert L Johnson, Chairman of RLJ Entertainment, Inc. (NASDAQ: RLJE) and founder of BET. UMC is a premium subscription-based video streaming service exclusive to RLJE and is devoted to the acquisition of feature films, comedy specials, stage plays, documentaries, music, and entertainment for African American and urban audiences, with plans to move into future development and production. New titles are added weekly in addition to the more than 200 titles in the UMC library!

4. Compton’s Grocery Outlet owned by Kia Patterson
Located in Compton, CA
Business Synopsis (link):

Grocery Outlet is the nation’s largest extreme value Grocery Store with 270+ independently operated stores in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

5. Shades of Afrika owned by Renee Quarles
Located in Long Beach, CA and Corona, CA
Business Synopsis (link):

Shades of Afrika began with a concept when we noticed that there were too few places that offered affordable Afrikan Art, Afrikan made products, and even fewer book stores. There seemed to be a pressing need to tell our story, establish ourselves in the community,  and provide a positive environment for businesses in our community.

There were lots of Afrikan writers, artists, jewelry makers, seamstresses, and entrepreneurs, in the area and they helped bring Shades of Afrika to life…

 

Shades of Afrika has evolved from being a small retail store to a cultural center that hosts a variety of social and educational events, lectures and study groups.

6. NuVegan Cafe owned by Vernon and Lynn Woodland
Located in College Park, MD and Washington, DC
Business Synopsis (link):

NuVegan Café was created through a process of evolution and change. It started with a union which produced a dream that evolved into an idea that 2 young hardworking individuals could combine their expertise to create the perfect business concept. One would possess the formal training, while the other would bring much of the product knowledge to the table. They met at the age of 19 and knew instantly that they were meant to be together. They were unaware of the extent of this connection or even where it would take them, but it was evident that a power much greater, had already preordained this union.

With a bond that seemed to supersede time, what they discovered, was that a common love for cooking would be the main reason their destinies were intertwined. Vernon’s background in food was more practical, while Mickiyah’s was inherited. His decision to explore the culinary arts was influenced by a school presentation (after hearing the odds for the future of young black males within the arena of sports) that would eventually lead him to advanced studies within the culinary arts program in New England. She would find her “place” in the kitchen by way of upbringing. Born and raised as a vegan, her love for nutrition and food preparation was developed through her involvement in her family’s own vegan restaurant in Bermuda.

7. Afriky Lolo founded by Diádié Bathily
Located in St. Louis, MO
Non-profit Synopsis (link): 

Afriky Lolo, founded and led by Diádié Bathily, is a West African dance non-profit corporation that is committed to bringing West African dance and culture to the St. Louis, Missouri, community through teaching and performing. Bathily is a Master dancer from the Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa. He immigrated to the United States in 1998. He has a strong personal and professional desire to share the beauty, culture and passion of West African dance with Americans, especially African Americans.

8. I Love Being Black founded by Kumi Rauf
Located in Oakland, CA
Business Synopsis (link):

Mission: To increase positivity, awareness and action amongst Black people worldwide.

Established in 2003, iLoveBeingBlack.com entered the fashion scene with I love being Black apparel and accessories. These products are sold online and at marketplaces, festivals, expos and trade shows.

9. Noirbnb co-founded by Stefan Grant
Located EVERYWHERE
Business Synopsis (link):

Noirbnb is a global travel community that provides experiences and events with a focus on including and celebrating travelers of color. Our accommodations take our guests all around the world to popular destinations and events inspired by the African diaspora. Noirbnb was born in October 2015 after our co-founder, Stefan’s experience while booking a stay in Atlanta. We realized Stef’s experience was not an isolated case and more importantly, that there was an opportunity to create a better, safer experience for travelers of color. Joining our community is a pledge to treat all members of Noirbnb with respect, regardless of their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, ability, age, or orientation.

Simply, Noirbnb was designed to be a game-changer in travel, events, and lifestyle by curating authentic experiences for the Black traveler. Whether it’s monetizing your space for additional income, booking a trip, finding your next vibe or connecting with people who share your interests, Noirbnb is your home away from home.

10. Happy Black Woman owned by Rosetta Thurman
Located in San Diego, California
Business synopsis (link):

Rosetta Thurman is the Founder & CEO of Happy Black Woman, a global personal development company dedicated to educating, inspiring and empowering black women to create their ideal lives. She is committed to helping black women all over the world experience happiness, success and freedom in business and in life. Through training, coaching and mentoring, Rosetta teaches black women how to transform their mindset so that they can achieve their big goals faster than they ever thought possible.

Know some great Black-owned businesses in your area? Share them below.

 

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach Jessica, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

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Reflections for the “Other Side”

Medgar Evers

Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers

I really don’t want to spend the next three years writing and responding to Donald Trump. In an attempt to maintain my composure – I’ve opted to take frequent breaks from theorizing our current state of affairs. However, one thing that recently struck me was Trump’s insistence that the violence in Charlottesville, VA at a white supremacist rally was caused by “both sides.” He was referring to white supremacy advocates versus their opponents – people that are anti-hatred.

Throughout American history, people in opposition to progress have always blamed the “other side” for violence that ensues when countering oppression. The issue isn’t that the “other side” is violent. The issue is that the other side won’t be passive, won’t accept things the way that they are and won’t fearfully bide in silence.

Thus, they are labeled trouble makers for their insistence that society must make positive and progressive changes.

Harriet Tubman was labeled a thief and an outlaw.

Martin Luther King Jr. was beaten and jailed.

Fannie Lou Hamer was beaten and jailed.

Angela Davis was labeled a fugitive and jailed.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and labeled a terrorist.

Medgar Evers and countless others were murdered.

They were the “other side.” Today, history is on their side.

Playing the blame game is an old tactic and I’m not surprised at all. So to members of the “other side” – keep dreaming, keep pushing, and keep disrupting.

Keep on being the “other side.” We need you.

 

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

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Remembering George Stinney Jr., Lena Baker and Countless Others When Pondering Dylann Roof

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Recently Dylann Roof, the white gunman that murdered 9 Black church members during a bible study, was sentenced to death. Honestly speaking, my heart felt that anything less would have been insufficient. Yet, the death sentence itself is still unsatisfactory. There is no joy here. No ease away from pain, knowing that the final minutes of the victims’ lives were engulfed in terror as they were slain in their sanctuary.

If it were up to me, perhaps Roof would be sentenced to life in prison and forced to watch an endless loop of family videos and photos of all the beautiful people he murdered every single day for the rest of his life. He would wake up and recite their names, ages, and the number of loved ones they left behind. He would hear their stories. His life would be inundated with their existence, his atmosphere would be permeated with their spirits. Every single day. And it still wouldn’t be enough.

Knowing the evil of what he has done can easily lead many to the rightful conclusion that he does not deserve to enjoy life. And yet with his sentencing, there is a constant ringing in the back of my mind that prevents me from feeling like any justice has been served. There is a Dylann Roof. A man that we all know without a shadow of a doubt is a racist murderer.

Then there is George Stinney, Jr., a young Black boy that was sentenced to death and electrocuted for a crime he did not commit. There was Lena Baker, a Black woman that was tortured by an employer, fought back in self defense, then sentenced to death. More recently there was Larry Griffin, Troy Davis and countless other Black and Brown people that were unjustly convicted of murder and sentenced to death. There have been a large number of unaccounted for state sanctioned killings of innocent Black people under the death penalty.

A study published in 2014 titled, “Rate of False Conviction of Criminal Defendants Who Are Sentenced to Death,” found that one in every 25 people on death row are innocent. Furthermore, with the high number of racial profiling, wrongful arrests, and false convictions the Innocence Project states that 63% of individuals exonerated by DNA evidence have been African Americans. Additionally, “An analysis of the 297 DNA exonerations reveals minorities make up approximately 70% of those proven innocent through DNA testing. (Innocence Project, 2014)”

This showcases a massive racial inequality in terms of wrongful sentencings and executions. And this is one of the key reasons that I am against the death penalty. The unknown number of innocent Black and Brown people that have been wrongfully executed is chilling. Curing this ill would require an end to racial profiling, prejudice and racial inequality – which is no small feat. So in the meantime, ending the death penalty could save a great number of innocent lives as our criminal justice system works through a number of much needed reforms.

Being human, I want Dylann Roof punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, in a society where innocent people are systematically imprisoned and killed simply due to their racial makeup in the name of “law and order” – it’s hard to see the shine of justice here. While Dylann Roof is sentenced to death, the criminal justice system continues to unjustly ruin and take the lives of the same people he terrorized. There is overt terrorism and covert terrorism but it is terror just the same.

It’s a troubling paradox that is hard to grapple with.

The one death sentence of Dylann Roof neither makes up for the deaths of the innocent lives he took or the trove of innocent Black and Brown people being executed along with him. I’m not sure what justice is in this case but I know for sure that the death penalty is no friend of my tribe and never has been.

 

“The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.” ― Michelle Alexander

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

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New Year, Same Power

civil-rights

For many people, 2016 ended with a great number of mixed feelings, anxiousness and anxiety. This is especially due to the fact that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and has went about bringing every elitist, racist, and womanizing lawmaker along for the ride. It’s easy to get bogged down with the imagery in front of us.

There are legitimate fears that many could lose much needed healthcare, immigrant families could be split apart and police could starting fulfilling a renewed mandate to further the criminalization of Black and Brown people.

However, as I am reminded by older generations, if they could survive Reagan – we can survive Trump. Furthermore, if our ancestors could mobilize in the face of chattel slavery and Jim Crow, surely we can find some ways to utilize the modern tools in front of us to continue the push for social justice in all forms.

At a time when reading was still illegal for enslaved Africans in America, Frederick Douglass was publishing The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper that advocated for freedom and the plight of enslaved persons in America.

At a time when Jim Crow was in its prime and women did not yet have the right to vote, Mary Mcleod Bethune started a school to ensure the education of future generations Black children (at the supreme disapproval of the KKK).

At a time when African Americans faced stiff, often deadly backlash to civil rights and social justice initiatives, Ella Baker worked as a key grass roots organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Times can appear hopeless, but history serves as a reminder that the same energy used to overcome past oppressive forces continues onward. So with this new year, let us be comforted and empowered knowing that the never-ending strength of grassroots “people power” remains unwavering.

Here are a few ways you can be a social justice advocate in 2017.

Read Indivisible.

indivisible-guide

Indivisible is a document created by former congressional staffers that contains information on how to organize a group in your local community to put pressure on your elected officials and representatives. Described as, “A practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda”, tactics in this document help to make sure your representatives hear your grievances and vote in your best interest.

Join the Movement for Black Lives.

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The Movement for Black Lives is a collective of Black organizations joining together to protect the lives of people of African descent across the country. They are currently organizing to “build safe and vibrant communities for all Black people.” The collective has issued a call to action for those who want to get involved.

Join the NAACP.

alabama-naacp-protests-senator-jeff-sessions

Members of local NAACP Alabama branches, led by NAACP president Cornell Brooks, were recently arrested during a sit-in protesting the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for the role of Attorney General. Sessions has a well known anti-civil rights record. The NAACP will be fighting against Sessions’ nomination and working to continue the struggle for civil rights.

Grow your own movement.

There may be something you’re passionate about starting yourself. Team up with friends, family members, and other community organizers to work towards collectively building an organization that will meet an unfilled need of your community. There are a huge number of opportunities to work with other activists and grow. Idealist.org and WorkForGood.org are two websites that can serve as a starting point for finding volunteers and other activists in your area.

In conclusion, the above listed are just a few ways to get started working on social justice and civil rights in 2017. The opportunities are endless and the power is waiting.

 

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” – Frantz Fanon

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

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Why are we so invested in lying to ourselves about Kanye West?

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About 3 years ago to this day, I wrote an article about Kanye West titled, Kanye’s Frantz Fanon Complex. The response has been very interesting. I’ve received a plethora of emails from scholars, journalists, and bloggers agreeing or disagreeing with my initial thoughts. There was also some hate mail and angry tweets. Additionally, I was lambasted in a book that thankfully no one has read. So there’s that.

Among all of the hoopla and the never ending Kanye antics, my article continues to circulate widely, being read by over 200,000 readers and counting. Apparently, I’ve hit a nerve with an enduring sting.

Yes, there is room for discussion about life circumstances, pain and mental health. All of us need to have these discussions because they are legitimate and acknowledge our shared humanity. But there is also room for discussions about hypocrisy, accountability and social responsibility.

Right now, closing arguments for the Dylan Roof murder trial are taking place. Roof is on tape acknowledging that he went specifically to an African Methodist Episcopal church because he knew that African Americans would be there. Founded by members of the Free African Society in 1794, he knew that the AME Church was our home. Roof murdered 9 defenseless worshippers hailing the same confederate flag that Kanye wears as a provocative fashion statement.

While processing this, the hoops that people jump through to excuse Kanye West licking the boot heels of oppressors and toying with Black lives simply amazes me.

I keep coming back to the question. Why are we so invested in lying to ourselves about Kanye West?

Perhaps because the truth hurts too bad. Kanye West is an amazing artist. The Black community and beyond knows this. But his obsession with approval from white elitists is driving him further and further away from reliability.

He has lamented on stage and in his songs against the establishment. Yet longingly awaits its sweet embrace. This is a sad truth.

Another sad truth is that Kanye is all of us. 

Life is not Black and White. Nothing is so simple. We live within and navigate gray areas at almost every turn. We lament against oppressive forces, yet if given the opportunity would run towards a seat at the table instead of: tossing it over, building our own table, or forgetting tables all together by starting our own paradigm.

The man who stated, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people, ” is now chasing after Donald Trump – a man who is endorsed by the KKK and Neo-Nazis. Donald Trump has placed every elitist, racist, hateful bigot that he can into leadership roles controlling our future. While our voting rights, health care, education, and lives are at risk, Trump is the man that Kanye seeks to rub shoulders with. This is the height of hypocrisy from a man that rails against the system.

Still, we are all hypocrites in one way or another. But our saving grace is the ability to continually work towards justice even in the midst of our own inner-most conflicts.

That’s what Kanye’s Frantz Fanon Complex is about. It’s really a critique of all of us. Fanon wrote about how members of an oppressed group/the colonized often end up idolizing and molding themselves in the likeliness of their oppressors (exhibiting the colonized mind). That is precisely what Kanye is doing. This is precisely the temptation that each of us faces everyday as we navigate the center and margins of society.

We don’t have time to continue lying to ourselves about Kanye West because that would mean we’re lying about our own fluctuating realities, getting us nowhere. In order to stay grounded and forward thinking, we need to hear the truth – even if it is painful.

 
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach JAM, email her at JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

*Hey, I’m writing a book. If you know a good literary agent send them my way! JamAiwuyor@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

On Election Day: Local Races Matter Too

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(African-American lawyer Vernon E. Jordan working on a voter education project, seated at a desk with a typewriter at the Southern Regional Council, Atlanta, Georgia) – Library of Congress

Today is election day. It seems like it took forever for this day to finally come. Last year, I had imagined this day a bit differently. Perhaps I was a bit naive about our progress as a society but I did not foresee such a lack of choice and diversity amongst the presidential candidates. Furthermore, the rise of blatantly racist, sexist, elitist Donald Trump mentally stumped the majority of the American public.

In the media whirlwind infatuation with Trump, local races have been all but ignored. Unfortunately, many will see the names of local election candidates for the first time today. Before stepping into the booth, take time to look up candidates for your local Board of Education, circuit courts, senate, congressional races and etc. Start with a simple Google search of articles that discuss the candidates’ records and stance on important issues.

These are the people who will be determining keep aspects of our lives. Electing the right local candidate can ensure funding for public schools in need, a quality justice system that uplifts instead of criminalizing, and legislation that accurately represents the needs and wants of the local community.

We’re so focused on the possible negative outcome in the presidential election that we sometimes forget the very important outcomes of local races. Local elections matter too. Don’t just pick a name. Even if it’s just a few minutes, take some time to research so that you can vote responsibility when voting local. Your everyday life depends on it.

JAM-TwitterJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a poet, writer and social justice advocate. She’s also the founder of Our Legaci.

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