Posts filed under africa


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50 Shades of Black visited Liberia back in October and was inspired by a very special woman we met there to send our signature BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE shirt back for some of the youth.

Just got the @50shadesofblack African edition T-shirts supply.....yay!!!! The BEST thing about these is...they are FREE.....and there's some for the KIDS!!!!  #50shadesofblack   African edition going nationwide! We are Promoting  #Sexuality   and   #SkinTone   in the   #Formation   of   #Identity  . Website:   @50shadesofblack   #Embrace   who you are. Rocking my tee at work today

Just got the @50shadesofblack African edition T-shirts supply.....yay!!!! The BEST thing about these is...they are FREE.....and there's some for the KIDS!!!!#50shadesofblack African edition going nationwide! We are Promoting#Sexuality and #SkinTone in the #Formation of #Identity. @50shadesofblack #Embrace who you are. Rocking my tee at work today

Thanks to your support, and the help of another great partner on the ground we made good on that promise.  When Ms. Cooper posted this image and tagged us on Instagram, it made our day.

Soon, we'll have more photos for you of some of the youth proudly embracing their heritage and the various skin tones reflected within it.

Show YOUR Support


Posted on February 27, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, press, travel.

50 Shades of Black Music & The Anthem: Academic Mixtapes for the Mind and Soul

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50 Shades of Black Music - The Mixtape

This compilation was researched and compiled by Kwame Phillips, a doctoral candidate in anthropology and films studies at Emory University. Each digital release is accompanied by artwork created by Atlanta based artist C. Flux Sing exclusively for 50 Shades of Black.

This compilation was researched and compiled by Kwame Phillips, a doctoral candidate in anthropology and films studies at Emory University. Each digital release is accompanied by artwork created by Atlanta based artist C. Flux Sing exclusively for 50 Shades of Black.

Six Months ago 50 Shades of Black released our signature Mixtape: 50 Shades of Black Music curated and compiled by Kwame Phillips and our first Exclusive Signature art piece by C. Flux Sing to accompany it.  (10 Limited Edition Giclee Prints Available)

Showcasing the history and rich diversity of 'Black Music' in America and throughout the diaspora this Mixtape highlights the forms and styles that have stemmed from global black experiences. In the tradition of the medium, this volume serves to be a gift, from older generations to new, between friends, from parents to children. We aim to represent an intersection between hip hop tradition and scholarship by offering an Academic Mixtape -one where one could both nod their head and feed their mind.

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Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora 

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Following the success of the 50 Shades of Black Music Mixtape, Phillips teamed up with Dr. Shana L. Redmond, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California to create another Academic mixtape titled ANTHEM.  The mixtape accompanies Dr. Redmond's book of the same title (2013 NYU Press, 356 Pages).  Also available on Amazon.

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For people of African descent, music constitutes a unique domain of expression. From traditional West African drumming to South African kwaito, from spirituals to hip-hop, Black life and history has been dynamically displayed and contested through sound. Shana Redmond excavates the sonic histories of these communities through a genre emblematic of Black solidarity and citizenship: anthems. An interdisciplinary cultural history, Anthem reveals how this “sound franchise” contributed to the growth and mobilization of the modern, Black citizen. Providing new political frames and aesthetic articulations for protest organizations and activist-musicians, Redmond reveals the anthem as a crucial musical form following World War I.

Beginning with the premise that an analysis of the composition, performance, and uses of Black anthems allows for a more complex reading of racial and political formations within the twentieth century, Redmond expands our understanding of how and why diaspora was a formative conceptual and political framework of modern Black identity. By tracing key compositions and performances around the world—from James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” that mobilized the NAACP to Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted & Black” which became the Black National Anthem of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)—Anthem develops a robust recording of Black social movements in the twentieth century that will forever alter the way you hear race and nation.

Kwame Phillips rocking 50 Shades of Black Signature BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Shirt and Dr. Shana Redmond in California for the release of The ANTHEM Mixtape

Kwame Phillips rocking 50 Shades of Black Signature BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Shirt and Dr. Shana Redmond in California for the release of The ANTHEM Mixtape

Both Academic Mixtapes Available Above


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12 Years A Slave Kenyan Actress Lupita Nyong’o WOWS on cover of Dazed and Confused Magazine

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WOW...the magazine title may sum it all up for us.

Just off the red carpet of the golden globes where she put everyone else to shame, Lupita unveils her first UK Magazine cover.  Inside she discusses the making of Steve McQueen’s uncompromising film and how she aims to shatter stereotypes of women in Hollywood.

On newsstands Feb 16.

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Lupita Nyong'o wears clothes and accessories all by Prada

Photography by Sharif Hamza, Styling by Robbie Spencer


50 Shades of Black

Sexuality & Skin Tone in the Formation of identity



Posted on January 14, 2014 and filed under africa, art, film, skin tone.

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

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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.


Don't miss the first issue.

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

Maramosa: Kenya, Mandela, Music - Premier of new film narrated by creator of 50 Shades of Black

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The Goat Farm Arts Center Presents:
A Foresee Films Production

Join the Movement, be a whistleblower for peace


When: December 10th 7pm - 10pm
Where: Rodriguez Room at the Goat Farm
Door: $5 

Local production company Foresee Films has produced a documentary about Kenyan politics, tribalism, and possibilities for a different future through the story of a young artist named Nelson Mandela. It premieres Tuesday, December 10th at the Rodriguez Room of the Goat Farm Arts Center at 7pm, $5 admission.

Producer: Ashley Beckett 
Director: Laura Asherman 
Director of Photography: Mike Morgan 

Narrated by: Carlton Mackey (Creator of 50 Shades of Black)

Maramaso is a concept developed by a musician / activist born and raised in the slums of Nairobi. The name is derived from the philosophy’s end goal, a “Man Raise Man Society” in which support for fellow man and youth empowerment are more important than personal gain in one's own life. This is how Mandela, the subject of our film, lives his life. The film illustrates his revolutionary philosophy of love through his life story and his daily struggle to survive in an environment that encourages self-promotion while inspiring the youth in his community to change the paradigm. We partner this micro level look at the concept with a macro level exploration of the political climate in Kenya leading up to the highly anticipated elections of March 2013. This film hopes to be witness to the birth of a movement from one young man's philosophy, that each of us has to do what we can to help those around us.
Falling whistles is a coalition dedicated to ending the conflict in Eastern Congo through advocacy and awareness. We at Foresee Films have partnered with Falling Whistles to use the premiere of our film as a platform for the launch of their new publication, The Free World Reader. It is a quarterly print publication that exposes hidden truths about which we as a global community are often misled. It examines the global system we live in, the structure of our societies, markets and hierarchies, and their byproducts of war, poverty, and inequality. It’s an exploration of the fuel that drives these unfortunate realities in an effort to open a dialog into alternative solutions.


Posted on December 5, 2013 and filed under activism, africa, art, blog, education, music, personal stories, travel.

Double Consciousness: Soul, Black Folks, Creative Silence

Chris Charles ( Creative Silence ), Self Portrait

Chris Charles (Creative Silence), Self Portrait

Double Consciousness

(Definition from the Duboisopedia) (Photo from the mind of Chris Charles)

Double Consciousness is a term coined by W. E. B. Du Bois to describe an individual whose identity is divided into several facets. As a theoretical tool, “double consciousness” reveals the psycho-social divisions in American society and allows for a full understanding of those divisions. Du Bois’ focus on the specificity of black experience allows for challenging injustice in national and world systems.

The term was first used in an Atlantic Monthly article titled “Strivings of the Negro People” in 1897. It was later republished with minor edits under the title “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” in 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois describes “double consciousness” as follows: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face” (2-3).


Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Dover Publications.


Chris Charles is the founder of Creative Silence
& a Featured Artist / Special Contributor to 50 Shades of Black


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Out of one, many.   

 #50 Shades of Humanity

Well-Preserved Find 1.8 Million Years Old Drastically Simplifies Evolutionary Picture

The skull offers evidence that humanity's early ancestors emerged from Africa as a single adventurous species, not several as believed, dramatically simplifying human evolution, an international research team said Thursday. -Wall Street Journal

The skull—the most complete of its kind ever discovered—is "a really extraordinary find," said paleoanthropologist Marcia Ponce de Leon at the University of Zurich's Anthropological Institute and Museum, who helped analyze it. "It is in a perfectly preserved state."

Read Complete Article at


Posted on October 18, 2013 and filed under africa, education, history, race.

Buy a Beautiful In Every Shade Shirt - Give One to a Youth in Liberia West Africa



50 Shades of Black recently returned from Liberia and is excited to announce that for the next two weeks for every BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE adult shirt or tank that is purchased in the United States, we will send a kids shirt back to Liberia to give to a beautiful young person!!

Distribution will be handled by our friend, the lovely Ms. Cooper pictured in the photo!


Our goal is to donate 100 free shirts!!!! Get yours at 

Posted on October 2, 2013 and filed under activism, africa, travel.

Desmond Tutu would take hell over an anti-gay heaven


Most known for his religious thought, reflections on race, and his pivotal role in the ending and transitioning from apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is now passionately using his voice to denounce religious practices that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. 

50 Shades of Black explores the intersection of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.  Referring to the UN's launch of its new anti-gay initiatives, Archbishop Tutu makes a statement that only he could make... connecting the two issues and his fervor for both together.

I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level. -Desmond Tutu

Read More on Huff Post Religion


Posted on July 28, 2013 and filed under activism, africa, current events, faith, sexuality.

50 Shades of Black - Book In Production

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Ladies & Gentleman, It's official. A Book Is About to be Made.

ORDER TODAY Book Release June 22. Details to Come.
(More Tears)

50 Shades of Bruck Tekle.


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.


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,


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!



This is what I'm listening to today and (if you don't have it already) wanted to share it with you.  It actually been out since 2009, but is as timeless as the artists featured.  

I was on an exciting conference call today and J.Period was the topic of conversation for a number of reasons.  I've been listening to his compilations for the rest of the day.  Enjoy! <3 50 Shades of Black.

From the press release:  Acclaimed DJ/Producer, J.Period, and rising Somali-born MC, K’NAAN, are pleased to announce a unique and powerful remix project, paying tribute to the lasting legacy of these musical giants. Weaving afro-beat, reggae, ska, folk music and rock into this genre-bending musical experience, The Messengers stretches the boundaries of hip hop—and the mixtape genre itself. Remixing the classic work of Fela, Marley and Dylan, The Messengers captures the timelessness of their sounds and the continued urgency of their messages. The result, as fans have come to expect from J.Period, is like no mixtape you’ve ever heard.





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.



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.


How would you answer?

How would you answer?

Yesterday I asked: If a Buddhist Monk asked you What is Black History what would you tell him.

Today, the question is the same, but the people asking are different.

What is Black History

What is Black History

If an Ethiopian school child asked you "What is Black History? would you answer?

If an Ethiopian school child asked you "What is Black History? would you answer?


Is it a uniquely American celebration?  Would the way you answer the question differ depending on who asks?

Was the crowning of an Ethiopian Immigrant as Miss Israel considered a "Moment in Black History?"  Why?  Why Not?

All photos in this series by Dietmar Temps, Cologne and adapted by 50 SHADES OF BLACK Creator Carlton Mackey under Creative Commons licence ‘Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike’ Agreement.

Share your Thoughts.


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 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!



Carlton Mackey with Eve Ensler, Atlanta GA

Carlton Mackey with Eve Ensler, Atlanta GA

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day...and it is an opportunity to spread LOVE in multiple forms.

Thanks to a wonderful friend of mine, Nikki Noto, I had the opportunity on multiple occasions to meet and spend time with Eve Ensler -writer of The Vagina Monologues and, as I like to call her, A Fierce Warrior for Justice.

Tomorrow will be a time to engage your "heart", your body, and your spirit in a radical, non-violent social action.  It will be the "biggest global action in the history of human kind on the planet for end [the] violence".

One Billion Rising Here in Atlanta: 10 AM - Gathering at Georgia Capitol (speakers, music, and more!) 12 NOON - Flash Mob in Woodruff Park

Learn More and Join ACTION in your City at



On V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, 14 February 2013, we are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.


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 to learn more or contact "our new correspondent" at theeditor [at] tamajimag [dot] com to participate!


Carlton spends time with Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather to discuss faith and the experience of their child's birth in South Sudan.
Carlton spends time with Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather to discuss faith and the experience of their child's birth in South Sudan.

When I got an email from my friend Shelvis Smith-Mather a couple of months ago asking me to pray I knew it was serious.  He emailed me from Keyna and in the email he described in detail the moments before, during, and after the birth of he and his wife Nancy's first born son.  I was motionless.  In the vivid details of the email I felt like I was reliving the chaos, the confusion, the fear, that they were experiencing.  But through it all, there was a resolve...a hope...a trust...a belief...a faith in God that was undeniable in his words.

Three days ago, I am so delighted to say that I had the pleasure of holding Baby Jordan  (the first American born child in the new country of South Sudan) in my arms.  I had the pleasure of sitting down with my family and the Smith-Mather family in my home.  They had come to sit down with me and to share their story.  I had the pleasure of offering them a video recorded conversation, baby Jordan in their arms, of them recounting to him the early days of his life.  We laughed, we prayed, shed tears.  I could write a book about that experience alone with them.

They told me that the following day, they would be interviewed by another friend of theirs on CNN.  Below is the video from that CNN interview with them.  Their commitment to the work that they are doing is unwavering.  They are returning to South Sudan to do their work of ministry, and they believe that their experience is all the more reason to try to make sure that there is justice, equality, and hope for its citizens.  Please offer them your prayers, financial support, and kind words.  I can tell you personally, that they read every one.

-Carlton Mackey Creator, 50 Shades of Black

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