Posts filed under tamaji

From Niger With Love: Our Partners at Tamaji Magazine Release Inaugural Issue of New Magazine

sarah silverfield-tamaji-50 shades of black africa.jpg

Almost a year ago, 50 Shades of Black announced a new partnership with Tamaji Magazine.  After many valuable contributions, articles, and personal stories including the exclusive story "50 Shades of Bruck" with professional model Bruck Tekle, Tamaji Magazine's founder Aminata Diop releases her inaugural downloadable full magazine issue.

Gracing the cover of this issue is Sarah Silverfield, the beautiful African Cinema Enthusiast who also shares an exclusive story as part of 50 Shades of Black | Africa, a series curated by Aminata Diop featuring stories of African born men and women living throughout the diaspora whose voices reflect a unique African perspective.

We are so proud of the entire Tamaji team and salute them as they celebrate this milestone.  We value our partnership with them and are delighted to see all that is to come.

"SHOWCASING THE TALENT OF THE DIASPORA'S CREATIVE FORCES".

Don't miss the first issue.

Posted on January 6, 2014 and filed under africa, art, fashion, personal stories, tamaji.

50 Shades of Bruck Tekle.

WAVING THE ERITREAN FLAG FROM KREFELD TO NEW YORK CITY.

My name is Bruck Tekle. I was born and raised in Krefeld, Germany, a small town in the Western region (North Rhain Westphalia) of Germany to Eritrean parents. Eritrea is a small country in East Africa. I was blessed to go to Eritrea after its independence from Ethiopia in 91 and got to experience my heritage first hand. Was it a culture shock? Yes of course, but it did not take a long time to overcome it. All it really took was to get familiar with everyone in my family from back home, whom I had never met due to being born and raised in Germany. Sure enough, it started to become interesting and fun. I actually went back twice ever since and loved it even more.

bruck8.jpeg

The thing that inspired me the most back then and still does to this day is that although my people live in a third world country, they still manage to survive and yet try to discover the humor of things. If that is not inspiration at its best, then I don't know what it is. It really taught me not to have words such as "can not, depressed, discouraged" in my vocabulary. Things get rough for all of us from time to time and there are moments where it feels like there is no way out, but I tell myself that if my people manage to survive in a third world set up, I actually got a sweet deal and should not complain nor take things for granted. I have been living in NYC permanently for the last 6 years. I actually came here in the hopes to land a basketball scholarship which unfortunately did not workout. I stuck around a little longer and the next thing you know, I stumbled into the modeling world and here I am today. It’s funny how your aspirations can change from one minute to the next but I guess that's the beauty of life.

What I do:

     My career picked up momentum over the last year and I have been getting more exposure as opposed to the beginning of my career. I have been branching out into the acting world as well and can’t wait to see what the future holds for me in that field.

My dream: 

One of my dreams was to come to America and make it in basketball as you saw in my introduction and it did not happen. It was a tough bullet to swallow because I really loved the game and it’s still hard to this day to just let it go. You have to look on the bright side of things. While it may hurt that I was not able to fulfill my dream, I still got to take something out of that predicament... it molded me into the person that I am today. My dreams changed over the years as they usually do throughout the course of life and are more so about being able to help my family and loved ones. If I can take it a little further, my dream is to help others that are really in need of assistance and cannot do for themselves. If I get to be a famous Model/ Actor at the same time, then it would be a win-win situation.

Defining success and what inspires me to be successful:

I believe everyone has their own idea of success or the way one defines success. I saw this post a little while back somewhere and it stated,

"EVERY SUCCESSFUL PERSON HAS A PAINFUL STORY, AND EVERY PAINFUL STORY HAS A SUCCESSFUL ENDING",

which I think is true. People are quick to look at someone and judge their success by what kind of car they drive, the house they own, their popularity, etc. but no one really knows what hurdles that person actually had to face in order to reach that type of success. I believe that when your hard work – hard work, as in "Blood, Sweat and Tears" work – finally pays off, that success is reached. I also feel that there are many different levels of success that apply to any and every human being. My definition of success might not apply to whoever is reading this article while his or her definition might not apply to me, which is totally normal.

The word inspiration and success go hand in hand. Personally, it does not take much for me to get inspired and I do not mean this in a negative or arrogant way. I feel like the easiest way for someone to get inspired is to just take a look around you. The world has so much to offer and there are many different ways of being successful. It does not necessarily mean financially, even though we need some type of financial stability in order to live but besides that, there is a wide variety of success. For instance, if I am a better person today than I was yesterday, then that is a form of success, or if I can help someone else become a better person or create some kind of happiness in their life. 

On the concept of beauty:

Physical beauty starts with confidence, which is not a physical attribute, but you can definitely see when it's not there and that goes for both man and woman. Your overall appearance and how you carry yourself in public has a lot to do with physical beauty which ranges from hygiene to a beautiful smile etc. Inner beauty on the other hand can be found in someone who is genuinely kind, loving, caring, polite; someone who is not envious; instead he/she is happy for other people. I think that both of these particular aspects whether attributed or achieved, are equally important in today's society. But if I had to choose one of the two, I would go for inner beauty over all, for the simple fact that inner beauty is genuine and honest where in comparison physical beauty can be intriguing yet fake. To be politically correct on this matter, I would say that physical beauty lures people in but that the inner beauty will keep them there.

If I stood in front of the entire African diaspora:

I do not think that I am in any type of position to make such statements, but if I were granted this great honor, I would start by saying to strive for whatever it is you believe in, to simply do what you have to do in order to survive and to help your family, without forgetting to help each other. I am saying this with great discretion because it’s always easier said than done for the person that is looking from the outside in, especially into a place like Africa.

What needs work in our community:

There is a variety of things that needs change in our community and I could not tell you where to start because all areas of our community are equally important to me. In order to change a community, you need to change the people that are in charge of those communities and they need to be willing to make the necessary adjustments in order to help better our communities.

In order to create a positive change, one does not have to solve tremendous amount of issues, or solve world hunger and poverty. I am not saying this to minimize the importance or value of that work, but it’s more in the sense of having the willingness to roll up your sleeves and devote some time. All in all, I would like to see more activities for children in any and every community. I really feel it is important to invest into youth programs and anything that involves children so they can actually grow up and develop to their full potential.

The book I’d recommend to readers of Tamaji:

50 Shades of Black”! I would recommend this book to anybody who is open minded and interested in foreign cultures. I was told once that the more we travel and discover the world, the less prejudiced we get. If you believe in discovering other cultures and meeting people from around the diaspora, then this is the book for you.

Find Bruck on Twitter: @brucktekle; on Instagram: BRUCKTEKLE;  and on Facebook

 50 Shades of Black is proud to partner with Tamaji Magazine.  ”50 Shades of Black | Africa” is a weekly column curated by Tamaji’s founder Aminata Diop.  The column features personal interviews with African-born men and women living throughout the Diaspora whose voices reflect a unique African perspective.  This week’s feature is Bruck Tekle from Eritrea.  Be sure to tune in next week!

50 Shades of Alexandria.

50Shades ebook.jpg

How do you introduce yourself to a group of people virtually? For me, an introduction is always the most nerve wracking, intellectually stimulating, and awe-inspiring moment in my life. I mean, that one paragraph of written words is supposed to encapsulate everything important about the person I am! Or, at least, the person I think I am. This past year, especially, I like to think that I have gotten much better at my intros since I have been traveling around the world researching the import and export of Indian hair and the impacts it is having on identity, self-esteem, beauty, and cultural norms for the global Black community. Besides traveling around the world, I own and run my own catering company, Yellow Tomato, with my brother here in sunny Pasadena, California...

i was also born and raised here in the “City of Roses” and love the small town vibe, annual New Year’s Day Rose Parade, and the weather! After spending 4 years in upstate New York attending Hamilton College, I have come to the realization that I do not like the cold or snow! As I tell everyone who insists that snow is beautiful and that Christmas just isn’t Christmas without snow, if God wanted us to live in the snow and the cold, he would have made us with fur.  Needless to say, the warmer the climate, the happier I am! Other than running my own business, I am training to run the LA Marathon and love reading, writing, listening to music, surfing the internet, and my dog Miso plus two cats, Venus and Serena.

DSCN5165.JPG

Q: What are your dreams?

A: What are my dreams? Short term, wake up in the morning, run the entire LA marathon, find something beautiful to marvel at every day. Long term, expand Yellow Tomato to the size as (or bigger than) Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s combined, become a successful entrepreneur with multiple businesses all over the world. Travel the world by the age of 40. Go back to school and get my Master’s/ Ph.D. in cultural studies. But most of all, I want to be happy.

Q: How do you define physical beauty in a woman and a man? 

A: Wow, how can I define physical beauty when beauty itself is so subjective and individual? I think I will lean on the dictionary definition since I would not know how to define it otherwise. Beauty is “a combination of qualities such as shape, color, or form that pleases the senses, especially the sight.” With this definition in mind, everyone, man and woman alike, is physically beautiful in their own way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Q: How do you define inner beauty? 

A: I believe that is a combination of factors that makes a person pleasing to the intellect. I love to be mentally intrigued. When the inner and outer form please me, OMG! If you couldn’t tell by now, inner beauty is definitely more important to me. We change physically all the time. Weight gain, weight loss, illness, wrinkles… however, if you have a sense of humor, a je ne sais quoi, that lasts a lifetime.

Q: If you stood in front of the top ten most influential people of the world, what would you tell them? 

A: Standing in front of the top 10 most influential people of the world, I would tell them to not forget the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Don’t forget the people that helped you get to where you are today.  So many times we forget to thank and give back to the communities that have raised us, and supported us. We must all remember the people that helped us get where we are today, and to help others get to where we are now.

Q: If you stood in front of the entire African diaspora, women, men, elders and youngsters, and you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be? 

A: It’s just skin! We are all shades of brown, from deep chocolate to nearly white. Love yourself, your color, and own your beauty.

Q: What needs work in our community?

A: Something that definitely needs work in our community is the amount of self-hate and self-policing we do to one another. As a people, there is such discontent with the situation we are in, and how “the white man is the oppressor”. While I do agree that colonialism set us back both socially and economically, at the same time, we are in the 21st century. Instead of acting like crabs in a barrel and pulling each other down, we must work together to elevate ourselves. We don’t need to look for the approval of others to know what we ourselves half-heartedly believe. Instead of simply saying “Black is Beautiful,” we must fully believe it.

DSCN3905.JPG

Q: What is exemplary in our community to others?

A: We are the birthplace of civilization, the original race! The richness of our cultures continues to affect and recreate how we connect and communicate with others. We are master linguists, and the hundreds of traditional languages spoken all over the continent, as well as the rich and colorful traditional clothing and food, only continue to distinguish our community from the rest. Our community is so industrious and creative, and our ability to take something mundane and turn it into something completely our own is incomparable. The different tones, waves, and intonations that our voices make here in the States have created its own culture. No matter where in the world you are, you can always see the signature Black woman hand-on-hip stance! The thing that I love the most, however, is our skin, and all the shades that we come in. What can I say? I simply love blackness, and all that it encompasses.  

DSCN5726.JPG

Q: What is the one dream that you will make happen, no matter what? Why and how? 

A: One dream? Only one??? Well I guess I would have to settle on doing something that pretty much combines two dreams in one – travel the world by the time I am 40. I love traveling, and the more I do it, the more addicted to it I become! I feel truly happy and at peace with myself and the world around me whenever I am outside of my normal comfort zone and experiencing other cultures, communities, and ways of life. Being someplace else forces you outside of your comfort zone and makes you realize so much about yourself, the world, and life in general. Every time that I have the opportunity to leave the U.S., I am always humbled by the genuine kindness and happiness I see and experience at the hands of everyday people, and relearn how to marvel at the sheer beauty of this world. How I am going to do this? Keep buying plane tickets!

Q: Tell us about your definition of success and why you think that’s the best definition of success; who does it apply to, do you embody it? Who embodies it?

A: What is success? Well this is a tricky question. I think my definition of it may differ from the norm, but I would define it as the completion of a goal, no matter how small or large. Success depends completely on each individual person and the goals they have set for themselves. In my opinion, everyone is successful in their own way. For me, I do believe that I am successful. The goals I set out for myself, I complete, no matter how inconsequential they may seem. I definitely feel that success is a constant battle to maintain because it requires a constant reevaluation of the self and the goals that have been set out by the individual. Obtaining success is easy, but maintaining it is difficult.

Q: Who/what inspires you to be successful?

My mom and my brother both inspire me to push myself to be successful. My mom has always encouraged me to dream big and to never let myself get in the way of what I want to achieve.

Q: The book you would recommend to all Tamaji readers? Why?

A: One book that I would recommend to all Tamaji readers would be Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts Edited by Ayana Byrd and Akiba Solomon. I read this book while in the Dominican Republic, and it honestly changed my life! As a Black woman, this book allowed me to connect with other Black women whose experiences with how their bodies are experienced by others has affected (both positively and negatively) their sense of self. Reading this book it allowed me to realize that so many other people consume the Black female image and that although my body is mine, as soon as I walk down the street, it no longer belongs to me, but to society at large. If there is any book a Black woman should read to make sense of herself and her place in society, it is this book.

Q: If you left the world tonight, what would your footprint be?

A: If I left the world tonight, my footprint would be that I have changed someone’s life for the better, brought them true happiness, put a genuine smile on their face, and caused them to dream of greatness.

PS – Alexandria Dotson is a Bristol Fellow. She will give a talk about her fellowship on May 20th, 2013 at 5pm at the Altadena Community Center 730 E. Altadena Dr. Altadena CA, 91001. Tickets are $10.00 ($7.00 for students with proof of I.D.). You can call or email for purchase (626) 676-5105 or adotson626@gmail.com.  

50 Shades of Black is proud to partner with Tamaji Magazine.  The column features personal interviews with men and women from the African Diaspora whose voices reflect a unique perspective.  This week’s feature is Alexandria Dotson from Pasadena, CA.  Be sure to tune in next week!

 

Posted on April 19, 2013 and filed under tamaji, travel, skin tone, blog.

ON BECOMING A TENNIS CHAMPION: A LONG JOURNEY FROM DAKAR TO TALLAHASSEE

 salif2-50-tamaji-quote

salif2-50-tamaji-quote

My path:

I grew up in the streets of Dakar, Senegal, a country located in West Africa. We spoke French because it was our primary language from elementary school to high school. Throughout our teenage years, my friends and I went to College Sacré-Coeur and had a plan which was to get our high school diploma and then go to France to pursue our university degree. However, some of us were not only gifted in school but also in sports.  As the best junior tennis player in my country, I was practicing as usual on the courts of Olympique Tennis Club when an American lady, Amy Johnson, came up to the court and presented me with the idea of coming to the United States. I didn’t know what to expect but I was excited. She believed in me even though I thought there was no hope to ever go as my family wasn’t thrilled about that idea. Still, I took a trip to the USA to look for colleges. My family members were not happy but I had to do it in order to accomplish something that I really wanted which was to be a student-athlete.

While walking on Providence Rhode Island Street, Mass., a man stopped me. He was the Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University tennis coach. He was interested in me coming to his school. He talked to me about the opportunities and advantages of FAMU. I was interested but I couldn’t make it to the school because of NCAA regulations. Since it was impossible to make it there for my first two years in college, I signed a 2-year contract with Georgia Perimeter College which is a junior college located in Atlanta, Ga. I played there and during my sophomore year I won the Junior College National Championships which was held in Dallas, TX.  I finished the season as the number one ranked in the country in Junior College. As a result of my accomplishments, many schools were interested in recruiting me and it was time for me to transfer to another school. Some of the schools interested were Georgia, Mississippi State, USF, VCU, and Georgia Tech.  However, my heart was still at FAMU; not because of the school but because of the coach whom I had known for a long time.

After I earned my associate degree in Communications, I had to choose a major because Communications was too broad of a degree. I was undecided until I attended my first Public Relations class. While in that class, I realized about my goals and my future. I realized that my newly-picked major, Public Relations, was vast but that so much could be done in the field. As an athlete and a sports fan, it made sense to me to integrate Public Relations with sports.

 salif3-tamaji-50

salif3-tamaji-50

My Dreams:

I had several dreams that I wanted to achieve. One of them was to play college tennis in a Division 1 school. I am doing that now. I also want to try the pro tour which I am going to do after college. I also dream of becoming a Public relations practitioner for a sport team in Atlanta.

However, my biggest dream is to be able to be successful and support my family back in Senegal. I believe success is an achievement of goals that we set up while growing up. I try to embody it as much as I can. Frederick Douglas’s quote “If there is struggle, there is progress” really gives me the will to achieve my goals.

My Inspiration:

My family definitely inspired me to be successful. They have been supporting me since I was young and if it was not because of them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Amy Johnson, the lady who made my dream come true is also a great inspiration to me. She worked hard and believed in me even when I thought there was no hope.

My thoughts on physical and inner beauty:

As far as looks go, physical beauty in a man is all about his face, posture and how he handles himself. For a female, it is all about her body and her smile. A nice smile is a must.

Inner beauty is the way one behaves towards people. It is about gestures, behaviors and being nice, helpful and generous.

Everybody keeps saying that inner beauty is more important but do they really mean it?  In my case, I really don’t care. I talk to every woman regardless of her shape, size or color, and I am friends with everybody. I don’t discriminate.

My advice to the African Diaspora and my thoughts on my community:

If I was in front of the African Diaspora, my advice to them would be to work hard, to not take anything for granted when moving to another country. Only tough work will help you succeed and give you the opportunity to help your family.

In Senegal, we need to reexamine the educational system. So many people after the baccalaureate can’t pursue a higher education. For example, a middle-class student who really doesn’t have the funds to study abroad after his high school diploma or doesn’t have enough money to apply in the formation centers will not have a lot of choices for there are only two big universities in Senegal. Let’s say he is not even oriented to apply to those universities, what is he going to do? We need to change our system because we spend too much energy in the classrooms for our futures to be terminated like that.

Something exemplary in our community would be our generosity. You can go and eat in every house in Senegal even if you don’t know the family. I love the fact that we Senegalese are like that.

If I were to leave the world today, I would want all the kids in Senegal to look up to me and see what I achieved. So many kids have the talent to be good tennis players but since they don’t go to school, they cannot make it to the USA as student-athletes.  So many of them want to come but they have to excel first in school and stay in it until they have the chance to come to the U.S.

 50 Shades of Black announces partnership with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black announces partnership with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black is proud to partner with Tamaji Magazine.  ”50 Shades of Black | Africa” is a weekly column curated by Tamaji’s founder Aminata Diop.  The column features personal interviews with African-born men and women living throughout the Diaspora whose voices reflect a unique African perspective.  This week’s feature is Salif Kante of Senegal.  Be sure to tune in next week!

Posted on March 27, 2013 and filed under blog, tamaji, africa, personal stories.

WHO IS JESICA LINDOR: FROM HAITI TO HARLEM TO BELL HOOKS

 Reflecting on Haiti, Harlem, and History

Reflecting on Haiti, Harlem, and History

Who is Jesica Lindor?

Who am I? Ki es mwen ye? Qui suis-je? I am Jesica Lindor. I was born to Haitian immigrants and raised by a single mother in Harlem, a neighborhood rich with history and ethnic diversity. I received my Bachelors of Liberal Arts in Philosophy from Hamilton College and am pursuing a Masters in Special Education from Hunter College.

I currently work as a middle school special education teacher at Coney Island Prep through Teach for America. As a product of New York City public schools, I often felt as though the chances of success seemed like winning the lottery. I became a teacher because I believe that education was not about luck, but access to opportunities.

What are your dreams? What is the one dream that you will make happen, no matter what? Why and how?

I dream of crossing off all of the things that are on my bucket list! I am a very ambitious person, who hates having regrets. I hope to hold myself accountable for accomplishing everything that I endeavor to do.

Teaching abroad is a dream that I will make happen no matter what! It will allow me to combine my various passions: teaching, traveling, and learning languages. I wish to teach in France, Spain, or Argentina. I fell in love with Paris, France when I studied abroad as an undergraduate student. Since then, I’ve always wanted to go back.  I’d like to teach in Spain on Argentina because I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish. Learning Spanish is on my bucket list as well!

Tell us about your definition of success and why you think that’s the best definition of success; who does it apply to, do you embody it? Who embodies it? Who/what inspires you to be successful?

Success does not mean material wealth; rather, it is a lifestyle. Success means putting your all into whatever you do. It means constantly finding the strength to overcome obstacles. It also means staying focused in order to achieve an end goal. I find these types of successful people around me everyday: they are the janitors who work long hours in order to afford their children’s education; they are also the parents who work relentless to develop children of character and promise.

Not only does my mother embody my definition of success, she also continues to aspire me to be successful. As a child I witnessed the daily struggles that accompanied a single- parent who lacked a decent education. People often doubted her competence because she did not speak fluent English or have a college degree. Although her struggles enrage me, they also remind me that education affords me greater life choices.

 Reflecting on Haiti, Harlem, and History

Reflecting on Haiti, Harlem, and History

How do you define physical beauty in a woman and a man? How do you define inner beauty? Which is more important or do you think they’re both equally important?

Physical beauty is something that one exudes. It is in a man or woman who has confidence. Inner beauty are the traits and random facts about a person that make him or her unique. Inner beauty is definitely more important to me. I guy who is drop-dead gorgeous is worthless to me if I can’t have an intellectual conversation with him. Inner beauty definitely makes a person more personable.

If you stood in front of the top ten most influential people of the world, what would you tell them?

If I stood in front of the most influential people in the world, I’d tell them that they must always give back. Behind every successful person are countless people who helped him or her to get to where he or she is. We need world leaders who genuinely care about their communities. We need leaders who do not need an incentive to help others.

If you stood in front of the entire African diaspora, women, men, elders and youngsters, and you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

If I stood in front of the entire African Diaspora and could give one piece of advice I’d tell them not to allow their ethnic or geographic differences to divide them or cause animosity. Growing up, some blacks felt compelled to prove that they were better than another group of blacks. For example, some black Americans believed they were superior to Africans or West Indians. This animosity prevented friendships from forming and prevented people from having the opportunity to learn from one another.

What needs work in our community?

Educating the youth is still something that needs work in my community. It’s maddening that many people in my community, and other low-income communities, still lack access to quality education. There are many problems that exist in my community. How ought we to fix them if our schools do not give our youngsters the opportunity to develop into problem solvers, critical thinkers, or self-advocates?

The book you would recommend to all Tamaji/50 Shades of Black readers? Why?  

If I could recommend a book to Tamaji readers, I’d recommend We Real Cool by bell hooks. This book discusses black men and masculinity in American society. I love that hooks challenges us to allow for a more flexible perception of black masculinity! I’ve recommended this book to all of my friends.

 50 Shades of Black announces partnership with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black announces partnership with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black is proud to partner with Tamaji Magazine to bring you this new series of personal profiles.  ”50 Shades of Black | Africa” is a weekly column curated by Tamaji’s founder Aminata Diop.  The column features personal interviews with African-born men and women living throughout the Diaspora whose voices reflect a unique African perspective.  Be sure to tune in next week!

Posted on March 5, 2013 and filed under blog, tamaji, personal stories.

THE DECEPTION OF PERCEPTION: REIMAGINING GHANA WEST AFRICA

 Photo Courtesy of Tamaji Magazine

Photo Courtesy of Tamaji Magazine

Growing up in a small suburban town, I was surrounded by patriotic Americans, who embodied the essence of American values and adhered to the traditional customs and cultures of the mid west. My peers were mostly white, and religiously conscious. As a first generation Ghanaian woman, it did not take much time or effort to understand that I was different than many of the people around me. Despite my ethnic difference, I found it easy to get along with most of my classmates, as they displayed little to no hostility towards me or my family. However, every so often, I would find myself in a conversation in which I was force to defend and validate Ghana and the Ghanaian people.

I remembered when my first grade classmates learned that I was from Ghana. My teacher, Ms. Devon, had met with my parents during a parent-teacher conference, and it was revealed to her that my parents were born and raised in West Africa. Ms. Devon, in all her sincere delight, thought it would be interesting for me to share this with my friends. Immediately, I was bombarded with questions. Fundamentally they wanted to know, if I a)lived in a hut when I visited Ghana; b) played with wildlife, including but not limited to lions, giraffes, and elephants and c) what I ate when I went there.

The questions took me aback, as I did not realize that my peers saw Africa to be such a primitive place. By age seven I had to been to Ghana two times, and each trip proved to be more luxurious than the one prior. Both of my grandfathers lived in multiple compound houses. Houses big enough to fit my American home in at least four times. I swam all day and had at least two domestic workers attending to my every need. No, we did not always have running water or electricity, but that was not an issue. I never had to fetch my own water, and if the lights went out, the backup generator picked up the slack. I ate well, slept well, and enjoyed the company of my extended family. Therefore, as I stood in front of my classmates and they asked me such questions, I began to resent them and their seemingly unfounded questions. Did they not know how wonderful Ghana was? Did they not know how wonderful life was when you were there?

 Photo courtesy of Tamaji Magazine

Photo courtesy of Tamaji Magazine

Of course, the answer was no. Through no fault of their own, they had developed an image of Ghana, a place in Africa, which had nothing to offer but vast patches of red clay, National Geograpic-esque animal life images, and poor people, habituating in unbearable conditions. Unfortunately, this mentality was not exclusive to my first grade peers. Then and now, people see nothing promising coming from Ghana. With the AIDS epidemic casting its dark shadow down on the continent and civil war seeming to never cease, it is impossible to convince anyone that Ghana, or Africa, has anything to offer besides disease and darkness.

As I grew older, and continued to visit Ghana, I began to see what so many people in the west saw when engaged in news documentaries or philanthropic commentaries. What I witnessed was the stark dichotomy of the third world economy that wedged a great gap between the rich and the poor. This was the contrast that placed Africa in the predicament that it has been in. The very rich do well in Ghana, for the most part. They have access to adequate health care. They can afford to eat balanced and nutritious diets. In addition, they live in conditions that decrease their chances of malaria, cholera, and other common diseases that often wipe out many villages. For the poor, their reality is just the opposite. The small economy does not lend favor to social welfare programs so desperately needed by those in need. Instead, many poor people are forced into unfavorable working conditions and live hand to hand with no steady income.

However, for many Ghanaians their fate is not determined by economic status alone. Instead, the strong cultural and familial customs of Ghana and other African countries provides people with the opportunity to seek help through friends and family members. For example, if one cannot find a home, it is customary to contact extended relatives and ask for a room or bed. In addition, the concept of nursing homes or hospice is foreign to many Ghanaians. Instead, it is customary for elderly adults to be cared for by their children during their final years on earth. This sense of community and responsibility makes many Ghanaians proud of their cultural wealth despite their economic lacking.

 Photo courtesy of Carlton Mackey

Photo courtesy of Carlton Mackey

I understand that my vision of Africa is limited to that of Ghana, and some of its neighboring countries, however, I do believe that my sentiment is shared by many people in African and those part of the African Diaspora. Often times, we allow our thoughts and ideas to be created by brief clips and sound bites that we see on the television screen or hear on the radio. Although I do not deny the sincerity of these messages, I would like to urge people to examine Africa through a lens that lends to a greater scope than the one we are often presented with. Ghana, Africa, and many other developing third world countries, are not always asking for a hand out, but instead recognition of the vast resources and commodities that they have to offer. Viewing these countries as possible contributors could create a greater sense of pride for the people of Africa and those belonging to the global community. The culture and customs alone are invaluable, and many people understand that through these principles alone, generations of African have been able to overcome AIDS, poverty, and environmental conditions with tenacity and courage.

 50 Shades of Black partners with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black partners with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black is proud to partner with Tamaji Magazine.  ”50 Shades of Black | Africa” is a weekly column curated by Tamaji’s founder Aminata Diop.  The column features personal interviews with African-born men and women living throughout the Diaspora whose voices reflect a unique African perspective.  Be sure to tune in next week!

Posted on February 26, 2013 and filed under blog, tamaji, africa, personal stories.

CLAUDIUS ZOROKONG REFLECTS ON SOCIETY, SUCCESS, AND SIERRA LEONE

 Claudius Zorokong with child.  Photo courtesy of Tamaji Magazine.

Claudius Zorokong with child. Photo courtesy of Tamaji Magazine.

My name is Claudius Zorokong and I am what some would consider a young professional: I work tirelessly during the week and party even harder on the weekends, not too dissimilar from college. When first asked to contribute to Tamaji I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or to write. I certainly do not hold myself qualified to impart knowledge unto anyone regarding the trials of life. Daily, I struggle with said trials. I simply hope that by learning a bit about me and gaining insight to some of my thoughts, someone might empathize with me, or perhaps contemplate an issue otherwise forgotten/overlooked.

Born and raised is Sierra Leone, I moved to the states at the age of nine. I lived briefly in upstate New York – Ithaca – before moving to Massachusetts. There I concluded high school and shortly after found myself back in upstate New York, enrolled at Hamilton College. I graduated from Hamilton in May, 2008.

What I recall of Sierra Leone are all fond memories - even memories of lashings received after a transgression of some sort. Perhaps my recollections are blurred by the unadulterated innocence of a child, barely nine years old, but we should all be so lucky. My childhood, like that of so many other children, was filled with laughter, mischief, adventure, and the infinite possibilities of what life had in store. There was the occasional punishment for a poor mark in school, or perhaps for throwing rocks at a neighbor’s chicken and killing it…accidentally. But what’s childhood without some tough love. And whenever the full wrath of my mother came crashing down on me, there was, inevitably, always someone, some good Samaritan, to the rescue – whether it was a relative, a neighbor, or some passerby, someone would always plead on my behalf, and that is what I loved most about Sierra Leone. There was a sense of community and in particular, the development of children was viewed as a common obligation. It is that mentality that even now, years removed and an ocean apart, implores me to give back to a country that raised me. As I mature professionally, I aim to one day impart all that I have learned unto Sierra Leone. Giving back is a shared responsibility and in doing so, if even one life is positively affected, some good has occurred.

Life in the States has provided me with numerous opportunities. At an early age I was able to compete in sports, something I continued throughout my matriculation at Hamilton. Through sports, I have gained valuable traits – responsibility, camaraderie, professionalism, work ethic, etc. - that make me the person I am today. Sports, in combination with academics, have opened many doors that I otherwise could not have accessed. A goal of mine is to one day share my passion for sports with my people in Sierra Leone, and in so doing provide them with opportunities unbeknownst to them.  I envision sports as the key to an education overseas, and those granted said keys, as ambassadors of Sierra Leone.

 Claudius Zorokong reflects on success and Sierra Leone.  Photo courtesy of Tamaji Magazine

Claudius Zorokong reflects on success and Sierra Leone. Photo courtesy of Tamaji Magazine

Success is a fluid notion, one that is personal and one that constantly changes with time and with circumstance. My concept of success at age ten is very different from what I view success as today. Moreover, society’s view of success is not necessarily adhered to by all. I believe that to truly be successful one has to attain a level of content, in addition to positively impacting society.  For me success is the combination of abundant love, a sound character, and financial stability, in addition to being a model citizen. Those who achieve success are those who continue to challenge themselves even after they’ve accomplished their initial goals. I view complacency as the antithesis of success.

I am inspired by my family, my friends, and the love for my country, to succeed. I came from very little. However, I have been blessed with many opportunities in my life. Living in the States is a constant reminder of just how fortunate I am. There are those in Sierra Leone who are not granted the opportunities that I have and it is incumbent on me to make the best of what I’m afforded. My success will in turn will be used to cultivate those that I hold dear.

Inner beauty is to genuinely have the best interest of all at hand. It is to love and appreciate things you may not understand and to have the capacity to sympathize with others, no matter how different they or their situation proves. Inner beauty is having the strength and confidence in oneself, to do that which is right even in the face of popular opposition.

Physical beauty, in a man or woman, is having control over one’s body; it is cultivating and treating with dignity that which we’ve been granted. Physical beauty is characterized by cleanliness, a love for one’s body and the desire to be the best you can.

Though both forms of beauty are very important, I however, regard inner beauty in higher esteem than physical beauty. I find inner beauty to be more indicative of who a person is – the true man or woman behind the mask. Physical beauty, aesthetics, can be augmented and in essence can easily deceive. Inner beauty, however, encapsulates the true character of an individual.

In the presence of the 10 most influential people in the world, I would ask that more aggressive measures be implemented to invest in education and infrastructure in developing countries. Investments in these areas have been proven time and again to be the most affective in bringing about progress. If the gap between wealthy and impoverished nations continues to expand, the result will prove troublesome for both parties. As the world shrinks, it will soon be impossible to ignore troubles elsewhere.  Our neighbor’s strife will inescapably become ours. Moreover, programs should be put in place to combat clean water scarcity, an issue that will inevitably prove catastrophic if left unattended. It is the moral obligation of those in positions of influence to act in the best interest of the popular good.

 Photo by 50 Shades of Black Creator, Carlton Mackey

Photo by 50 Shades of Black Creator, Carlton Mackey

My one message to the African diaspora is for us to put aside our past differences and unite as one people. We find ourselves at a great disadvantage on the international plain and measures need to be put in place to mitigate our shortcomings; we must rely on ourselves, primarily, to resolve our ailments. Many of the issues plaguing us stem from a history of bondage and exploitation, however, that history is now perpetuated by our very own. Greed and power has seen the rise of warlords disguised as benevolent leaders, who continue to decimate our people and plunder our continent. Political institutions entrenched in transparency, accountability, and meritocracy, need to be instituted to ensure that the interests of the populous, and not the few in positions of power, are met. The issues we face as a continent are grand and will not be resolved overnight, or even in the near future. However, we can take steps to point us in the right direction, to ensure that the next generation is better off than the last. Education, a strong political infrastructure, and clean water - to name a few – should be among our most pressing concerns.

Were my time on this earth cut short, I want others to remember me as a compassionate and fun loving person; a man of conviction and character. I hope my encounters with others have been overwhelmingly positive. Though there are those with whom I have had contentious relationships, I hope that even in disagreement a feeling of mutual respect was spawned.

One book I would recommend to all readers is “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay. This book is a heartwarming read about the coming-of-age of a young man in pre apartheid South Africa. An underdog, the protagonist seeks to find himself in a tumultuous world, while simultaneously living to the expectations of his loved ones. The Power of One portrays a world of conflicting ideals as seen only through the eyes of an adolescent, and in his trials, we learn that even the greatest of obstacles can be overcome.

 50 Shades of Black partners with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black partners with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black is proud to partner with Tamaji Magazine.  "50 Shades of Black | Africa" is a weekly column curated by Tamaji's founder Aminata Diop.  The column features personal interviews with African-born men and women living throughout the Diaspora whose voices reflect a unique African perspective.  This week's feature is Claudius Zorokong of Sierra Leone.  Be sure to tune in next week!

CLICK HERE FOR FRENCH EDITION OF THIS WEEK'S FEATURE WITH CLAUDIUS OF SIERRA LEONE

50 SHADES OF BLACK PARTNERS WITH TAMAJI MAGAZINE

 50 Shades of Black announces partnership with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black announces partnership with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black is proud to announce its partnership with Tamaji Magazine and to introduce our first international correspondent Aminata Diop, Tamaji's founder and Editor in Chief.

Tamaji is a collaborative, bilingual (French and English) webzine that strives to facilitate communication between black cultures throughout the globe and to enlighten the rest of the world about the African diaspora’s heritage by means of literary works, articles, videos, art, photography and discussions.

 50 Shades of Black partners with Tamaji Magazine

50 Shades of Black partners with Tamaji Magazine

Diop, who is Senegalese, will contribute articles and reflections primarily highlighting the voices of African-born men and women living throughout the Diaspora.  She will also curate a weekly column called "50 Shades of Black | Africa" in the form of a personal interview profiling individuals who voices reflect a unique African perspective.  Some of the individuals featured in this weekly column may also be featured in the upcoming 50 Shades of Black Coffee Table book or eBook volumes.

We encourage you to participate in this project...especially if you are from Africa.  Visit www.50shadesofblack.com to learn more or contact "our new correspondent" at theeditor [at] tamajimag [dot] com to participate!