Inside the Cool with Afropolitan Insights 2017 Ankara Bazaar

Afropolitan Insights celebrated the fusion of African fashion, art, and culture at their annual Ankara Bazaar. Presented in Dumbo Brooklyn during NYFW 2017 the eclectic bazaar highlighted the diverse beauty and culture of independent artisans, entrepreneurs, and creatives of the African Diaspora.

So, who is Afropolitan Insights and what do they do? They are a collective of young Africans, Black Americans, and Caribbeans from the continent and in the Diaspora, that curate various events and create safe spaces for cultural exchange and social dialogue, celebrate diversity, innovation, and ideas.

This year's Ankara Bazaar was a little slice of heaven, to say the least as we indulged in the endless Afrocentric creativity beaming the entire afternoon. Filled with independent and local vendors, 2 pop-up fashion presentations, live performances as well as a DJ the Ankara Bazaar was an experience of pure celebration of the African Diaspora.  

                                Shea Zephir talking to founder of  www.whatisyouraccent.com

                                Shea Zephir talking to founder of www.whatisyouraccent.com

Everywhere you looked there seemed to be more and more exquisite fashion and accessories that any true fashionista would literally melt and die over. The happiness in the atmosphere was contagious as onlookers walked past trying to see what the excitement was all about, while the African music blared from the speakers. Guests' came by the droves in groups, many with their girlfriends, family and loved ones making it a memorable family outing like no other trying on garments and accessories. Customers were snapping away on social media gadgets in awe of the expert craftsmanship and vibrant creativity of so many of the designers accessible to them in one place. 

Now, although we were there for work, I made sure we got in on all the fashion and accessory action too. Talking to the vendor owners, trying on accessories, and feeling on the material of the garments was the best part of the entire event, besides going home with a few special pieces to add to the wardrobe.

 

Check out the gallery highlights of the incredible afternoon below

All photos were captured by www.lostartbk.com

 

See the "Inside the Cool" highlights of this year's Ankara Bazaar here!

LADIES FIRST with Ellisa & Eden Oyewo

THE AWAKENING 

"Stay true to yourself and never play small in order to make others feel better about themselves. I would reassure her that every goal and dream you have is obtainable with self-discipline, a clear mind, and an open heart. I would tell her to always protect her spirit and creativity. To always keep your trust in God."

-Ellisa Oyewo

LADIES FIRST: AT WHAT AGE DO YOU THINK YOU GUYS RECOGNIZED YOUR SPECIAL GIFTS OR TALENTS?

Eden: "I believe the age I recognized my gift was early childhood, because my family was always giving back. If it was mentoring others, allowing people to live with us until they got on their feet, or giving the little money we had to them. Giving was something that I was surrounded by and what I thought was normal."     

Ellisa: "Oh, there’s so many different points in my childhood that were key in me discovering my passions. My parents always pushed the importance of traveling and seeing the world very early on in our lives. Our first overseas family trip I was in the second grade to my father’s native country, Nigeria. This automatically switched my mindset that life was so much bigger than the city where we grew up. I was also surrounded by nature in my childhood.  In middle school I would stay outside for hours by myself exploring + allowing my thoughts to roam free. By high school, it all came together of me enjoying long periods of freestyle writing. Solitude, dreaming and words all swirled into one for me." 

LADIES FIRST: WHAT WERE THOSE SPECIAL TALENTS?

Ellisa: "I would say writing and honestly expressing myself is a special talent of mine. It pours out of me very naturally and I tend to be able to do better in written communication than verbal." 

Eden: " I believe my special gift is giving back in the form of creating opportunities to empower young ladies of color."

LADIES FIRST: HOW HAS GROWING UP FEMALE IN THE CITY WHERE YOU WERE RAISED FORMULATED YOUR PERCEPTION OF WHAT POWERFUL WOMEN LOOK LIKE, HOW THEY ACT, AND WHAT THEY ACQUIRE TO BE "SUCCESSFUL"

Ellisa: "My sister and I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was surrounded by powerful women. My mother of course was my first superwoman. She has a true relentless spirit with a heart of gold. She pushed herself past the limit to be the best version of herself and expected the same from Eden and I. She always taught me that I’m a person first and a woman second.Balancing her life as a career woman, wife and mother, she encouraged me to live life to the fullest and overcome obstacles. She taught us no one or nothing defines us. Our strength comes from God."

Eden: "I was raised in a bicultural family. My father is Nigerian and my mother is African-American. If anyone knows Indiana the demographics is very black and white. In a separate sense. As a child I was blessed to formulate my perspective of what a powerful woman looked and acted like through my mother. My mother is such a great example of going against the odds and defining her own power. She travelled across seas, when it wasn't the cool thing to do. She took me at a young age to Haiti to do missionary work. I had to be no older than 12 yrs. old when I was exposed to helping others. and understanding the joy I was able to bring at such a young age."       

LADIES FIRST: WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT THE GIRLS THAT WERE ELLISA & EDEN WHO WERE BECOMING WOMEN WHERE DID YOUR MOTIVATION, CREATIVITY, AND COURAGE COME FROM?

Ellisa Oyewo

Ellisa Oyewo

Eden: "Wow my motivation, creativity, and courage came from my family and what I was blessed to be exposed to as a child. As a child I was surrounded by educators, entrepreneurs, and artists. My motivation came from my mother. She is a hard loving woman that doesn't understand the term 'can't'. She is a fighter and I was blessed to have the same fight in me. my creativity came from my exposure of life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. This allowed me to be comfortable in who I am. My courage came from my father, who is never afraid of going after his dreams. Being an educated African man in Indiana, who was able to develop his own business was not an easy journey. There were definitely setbacks my family overcame as a while. And all these journeys developed me as a person."

Ellisa: "My motivation, creativity and courage were instilled in me from both of my parents but it truly flourished when I was on the journey that God had already planned out for me. The most difficult issue for people to succeed is quieting their minds long enough to see where God wants you. Once you’re placed on that journey it doesn’t mean you won’t have trials but it means that you’ll obtain a quiet confidence in your spirit that confirms you’re on the right track."

LADIES FIRST: HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO GET COMFORTABLE ACKNOWLEDGING, LISTENING, AND TRUSTING ALL THAT IS EDEN & ELLISA ASIDE FROM THE PUSH OF FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND MENTORS? 

Ellisa: "One of my greatest gifts is knowing how to embrace solitude and stepping away from the crowd to carve out my authentic thoughts and ideas. When you’re in tune with yourself you can take suggestions from friends and family but you’ll instantly know if something's not right to you. It’s a gentle wrestle within your spirit but you have to be still long enough to acknowledge it."

Eden: "I was able to get comfortable in trusting all of me probably when I started college. During that time I was able to create who I was as a person outside of my family. I was able to take the tools of my childhood and develop and understand who I was. Now this was not a smooth journey, definitely a lot of bumps in the road, however the lessons that I learned were unforgettable.

LADIES FIRST: WHAT SHOULD EVERY GIRL BEGIN TO LOVE AND UNDERSTAND ABOUT THEMSELVES BEFORE WOMANHOOD?

Eden: "Wow. I like this question. Every girl should love and understand that they are powerful individuals and beautifully unique. It's hard for young girls to understand that who they are may not be what's so-called popular, what's seen in the media all the time. But once a young girl embraces who she is, it is so powerful. 

Ellisa: "Each girl has a hidden diamond inside of her. It’s up to you if you decide to share it with the world or keep it hidden to make others feel comfortable around you. The first step to womanhood is the moments a girl knows & believes that she holds unlimited power. Always remember it’s a journey. It’s not something that is completed once you graduate high school, college or even in your twenties. Womanhood is a trail you walk daily and discover a little bit more about yourself each and every day." 

 

why c.o.r.e. magazine

Beautifully Bold Teen Panel Event Dec. 2016 by photographer EJ White

Beautifully Bold Teen Panel Event Dec. 2016 by photographer EJ White

LADIES FIRST: WHEN DID YOU HAVE YOUR "AH HA!" MOMENT TO BEGIN C.O.R.E. MAGAZINE?

Ellisa: "My sister and I always wanted to come together to create a project and our passion was both in mentorship and the empowerment of young women of color. Before launching CORE Mag I had intern with at major publication geared toward teens and studied in the field of Fashion Marketing. I couldn’t help but noticed how underrepresented girls of color were and how we were never the true target market. I remember being a teen and even though I was surrounded by successful black women there was no representation for my age range when it came to publications. I became obsessed with being online because I discovered a whole new world of creative women of color. Also, there is such amazing content, blogs and publications blooming on the scene for women of color ages 25 years and up. We wanted to take the knowledge break it down to a teen level so they can start building a strong foundation at the beginning of their youth."

Eden: "The awakening moment happened to my sister and I at the same time. When God places your purpose in you life it is definitely a powerful moment. I was living in Huntsville, Alabama at the same time and my sister was living in Chicago, Illinois and we came home for the holidays and decided to go to Starbucks. In that Starbucks we both brought out ideas together and C.O.R.E was actually birthed on that day. 

LADIES FIRST: TELL US ABOUT YOUR COMPANY C.O.R.E. MAGAZINE AND THE WORK THAT YOU GUYS DO?

Eden: "C.O.R.E (Creating Opportunity to Reach Empowerment) Magazine is a digital platform that develops awareness of self-understanding and worth for females ages 12-18. We reach girls through different subject matter: finance, relationships, fashion, health/beauty, and current topics. It is also a movement where we offer onsite workshops, events, and speaking engagement to empower our young girls. We have teen writers who share their thoughts, express their opinions, and interview people who they feel are positive influencers in the world."

Ellisa: "Exactly, we also have on-site programs where we bring the content of the site alive with girls for an interactive experience."  

LADIES FIRST: WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CONCERN AMONGST BLACK GIRLS AND WOMEN RIGHT NOW?

 Ellisa: "To understand their strength, beauty and passion while releasing any stereotypes that society has put on them. I want to shake the label of the ‘strong, black woman’ and unpeel it for them to just be authentically who they are. It’s okay to be vulnerable or creative or goofy, whatever your heart desires but just be you. Because that’s where your true power lies."

Eden: "The biggest concern amongst Black girls at this age I would say is the lack of self-love. We work with so many girls who don't understand that what is seen in the media is not a reflection of who they should be and who they are. And i would even go even further to say that the lack of self-love is a huge concern in young women my age as well. Without the platform of self-love we are either walking robotics just moving to maintain sanity or we get caught chasing acceptance that is not required. And the lateral is what most of our young girls get caught in."       

LADIES FIRST: WHAT KNOWLEDGE AND SKILL SET DO YOU WANT BLACK GIRLS TO MASTER ON THEIR JOURNEY TO SUCCESS REGARDLESS OF ANY FIELD THEY CHOOSE FOR THEIR CAREER PATH?

 

Eden Oyewo

Eden Oyewo

When your mindset only understands how to be a winner, when challenges come they don't stop you but make you stronger."

-Eden Oyewo

Eden: "When I speak to girls I tell them to develop a mindset that everything is possible and nothing is impossible. Regardless of the circumstances, everything is attainable. And hard work is the partner to this mindset. When your mindset only understands how to be a winner, when challenges come they don't stop you but make you stronger."  

Ellisa: "Master how you communicate uniquely to your personality. I’m a true introvert and even though I wasn’t the loudest in the room or wouldn’t talk to a million people at a networking event I was able to create strong personal and business relationships by communicating in my own style. I learned quality over quantity and naturally nurtured the connections I had to make them extremely solid. Every mentor has become family and has taught me numerous life and business lessons. I would say learn your strengths and make them work for you."

LADIES FIRST: WHAT IS MOST REWARDING ABOUT BEING THE ENTREPRENEUR BEHIND C.O.R.E. MAGAZINE THAT MAKES IT ALL WORTHWHILE?

Ellisa: "I absolutely love the quote that states to be the person you needed when you were younger! I love the fact that I see myself in these amazing teen girls and when I’m writing or speaking to them it’s as if I get a second chance to pass down wisdom I would’ve shared with a younger Ellisa. And I love encouraging them to not lose their sparkle on the road to their dreams!"

Eden: "The most rewarding thing about being the entrepreneur behind C.O.R.E Magazine is seeing our girls take this opportunity given to them and shining. All people, not just the girls, just need an opportunity created for them in order for them to become successful. Our teens join C.O.R.E and get opportunities to speak to great women in their interest, express themselves through writing, and create their ideal environment."  

 

reflections & lessons

LADIES FIRST: IF YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF, TO THAT GIRL AT AGE 15, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR THEN YOUNGER SELF ABOUT SELF-LOVE AND RESPECT?

Eden: "I would tell my 15 yr. old self it's okay and that you are fine just the way you are. I would tell her to stop comparing yourself to others and tearing yourself apart. And to understand where she is in life is not the end because there's so much life to live. And even though she may feel not comfort or acceptance in her current state, that she will definitely feel it once she is able to fully accept all of herself as a person."

 Ellisa: "Stay true to yourself and never play small in order to make others feel better about themselves. I would reassure her that every goal and dream you have is obtainable with self-discipline, a clear mind and an open heart. I would tell her to always protect her spirit and creativity. To always keep your trust in God."

LADIES FIRST: WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF TO DATE?

Ellisa: "I’m most proud of starting and growing C.O.R.E because it’s such a reflection of my sister and I. It’s a platform where my creativity can flourish while making an impact. I believe that’s a powerful moment in life when your passion and talents collide in order to give back + impact your community."

Eden: "One of my proudest moments is being a Black female engineer and developing my own business with my sister." 

LADIES FIRST: HOW DO YOU KEEP A HEALTHY WORK/LIFE BALANCE?

Eden: "Healthy work/life balance was hard to develop at the beginning, because you feel obligated to complete everything at the same time. However, I have learned to say 'No' to things that just do not work with my schedule and take time for myself. I learned this from my sister. Being a co-founder with my sister is a blessing because we understand each other and know what we need to give to each other to support us through our journey."

Ellisa: "Balance is key. Since both my career and C.O.R.E allows me to work from home, work can go into overload. I focus on my career doing the day and C.O.R.E in the evening. Sometimes, I’ll give myself a time to shut down and unwind. I’ve learned it’s better to create when you’re fresh sometimes than to constantly having late nights and not putting your best work out."

LADIES FIRST: CAN WOMEN IN FACT. HAVE IT ALL?

Ellisa: "Absolutely! I believe women can reach their dreams, raise a family and do anything else their heart desires. The key is letting go of the timing of when we can have it or how it will look. If you trust the timing of your life everything will fall into place."

Eden: "Women definitely can have it all. Again, everything is possible. I look forward to continue being a business woman and seeing C.O.R.E develop. I see myself being a wife and mother in the future. My mother and millions of women have shown me that it is possible to be a career women, wife, and mother."

LADIES FIRST: WHEN YOU THINK OF THE FUTURE AND THE KIND OF WORK YOU HAVE DESCRIBED WITH THE C.O.R.E MAGAZINE MOVEMENT WHAT GIVES YOU HOPE & PRIDE WITH THE FUTURE GENERATION?

Eden: "What gives me hope is when I speak with the girls and you can see how their mindsets have changed once they are exposed to the world outside of their day to day environment, and they start thinking big. They not only see their possibilities are unlimited, but understand this concept as well."

 Ellisa: "The up and coming generation is proud of who they are and owning their identity. They get to grow up with more women of color in a variety of powerful positions. The power of seeing women who like you at that age reaffirms who you are and encourages you to be your true self."

LADIES FIRST: AND FOR THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF THEM ALL, WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOURSELF?

Eden: "I honestly love that I love myself. And I have finally become comfortable in who I am and I understand me."        

 Ellisa: "The absolute best compliment I receive is when someone tells me I have a beautiful spirit. I literally stand there in awe! Beauty fades and knowledge is great but for someone to be able to see and feel my spirit means the world to me because it’s a spark of a genuine connection. I love that I can connect to the root of people and have an open spirit to learn who they are as an individual."

LADIES FIRST: LADIES THANK YOU SO MUCH, THAT WAS PERFECT!

 

Checkout the recap photos and video of C.O.R.E Magazines teen panel "Beautifully Bold"!

The Beautiful Vocal Imagination of KAMAU

" ...Consciously contribute something as great and beautiful as our existence to the world and do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community and the world more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it." 

Feel good music that is seamless, laced with an impenetrable flow, and mesmerizing lyrical rhythms is a gifted combination of genius few artists embody. This type of music is so much more than layered grooves when presented by an artist who puts their soul into every rhythm. The fusion of cultural influences, emotional vulnerability, frustration, and innovative vocal artistry is what elevates the music from average to transcendent.

 KAMAU Mbonisi Kwame Agyeman (which translates to "Quiet Warrior) better known to the music industry as KAMAU is a new transcendent multifaceted artist shelling out raw, cool, innovative ancestral sounds satisfying way more than our eardrums. We first came across the lyrical mastermind at the African Health Now Annual Cocktail Benefit last year as a guest performer newly featured on the critically acclaimed Birth of a Nation soundtrack. The rapper, singer, producer, and visual artist hit the stage with his signature vocal percussion and lyrical mastery performing his popular single "The Icarus"   We were completely blown away and mesmerized by his spirit moving performance.  Reminiscent of the powerful Nina Simone's diverse musical body of work that has always run the gamut of human emotion with her music ranging from pain and sorrow to anger and tenderness, KAMAU also managed to blow out the speakers during his performance set for 10 minutes sending him into an acapella musical testimony of improv with audience participation that left our souls on fire. It was after that performance that we realized the experience of KAMAU's performance was an absolute reflection of creative fearlessness and frustration illuminating the ancestral spirits if civil rights pioneers Malcolm X, Fredrick Douglas, and Marcus Garvey.

With a voice that effortlessly belts out percussive explosions and unorthodox yet exhilarating melodies, to call KAMAU a rapper simply diminishes his eccentric edge and musical versatility. Shattering mainstream media's notorious carbon copies and manicured archetypes, KAMAU's musicality has no containment. It implodes on the stage spilling over onto it audience as this unpredictable therapy session of Black conscious realness. 

The cornerstone of KAMAU's musical philosophy begins at the Agyeman family home. Born and raised in Upper Marlboro, MD, and Washington, D.C. KAMAU's cultural influences were heavily solidified and enforced outside of his family home within his first academic school The Ujamaa Schule. The Ujamaa Schule is an independent private school in Washington, DC founded on the philosophies and elements of the Nguzo Saba (7 principles of Kwanzaa). To be fair KAMAU's creative expression and mystical talent was always nurtured by his parents. That deceptive ease we experience throughout KAMAU's funky progressive sound are a direct reflection of the diverse musical palette celebrated within his home. With legendary favorites from Vieux Diop to Sam Cooke to Bob Marley to Andre 3000, KAMAU's framework of music spans from harmonious and layered spoken word infused with ancestral beat box percussion juxtaposed upon stacked ad-libs evocative of jazz staccato scatting rhythms. There is no denying his vocal fearlessness in experimenting with is instrument box. The satisfying experience of a KAMAU's performance that connects with so many are embedded in his influences obviously but more impressive is how his sound echoes the indigenous cadences of both the past and the present, Black and Aboriginal cultures and a futuristic yet multicultural synthesis of music.  

KAMAU's intuitive sense of musical expression has recently graced the airwaves of the industry with his new EP, "A Gorgeous Fortune" released this past summer in July. The rapper-singer-songwriter released popular track "Justfayu" the first week of his EP release and Issa Rae saw fit to add KAMAU to her ridiculously epic and eclectic soundtrack list on her acclaimed HBO show "Insecure".  KAMAU cranked out another fire hit with his unique style giving us the remix to "Justfayu Remix" with duo Lion Babe

We knew we were on to another multifaceted visionary once we began binge watching all of KAMAU's work after his great performance at African Health Now. The dopest part of his story as an artist is probably that KAMAU is a college graduate with a BA in film from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where he currently resides. Conscious artist like J. Cole and KAMAU continue to debunk the myth between choosing a creative career and obtaining a college education. These artists have proved that they can not only obtain their degree and pursue their artistry but in fact, become internationally successful as well and reach the masses with authentic thought provoking and social changing content that can propel their career to places they have never imagined. The example of using music to show what you learned about your roots and who you are while motivating and inspiring the people is something we need so much more of. That manifestation of artistry that integrates various genres is a greatest way to show one's true appreciation for all art forms of art. And yes, the music can be reflective of nature, universal principles while being playful, sexy, and light-hearted to the ear. KAMAU hasn't compromised who he is for his music. He has unleased of beautiful complexity to some of the most thought provoking music we heard in awhile and, we love it. And we think you will love it too.

 

Check out KAMAU's EP "A Gorgeous Fortune" here:

LADIES FIRST with Kim Knox

From pre-law student to global independent event producer, multifaceted visionary, Kim Knox is a woman on a mission. She talks about her humble beginnings and her fearless creative ideas with her company Ubiquita Worldwide.

You can always tell a powerful creative when you see one because their fashion style acts as their protective armor. Kim Knox is no different as a veteran event producer in the industry, rocking her signature shaved fade of locs as we met at the super cool and cozy lifestyle lounge bar Ode to Babel. Engulfed amongst the calming space of curated artwork by local independent Brooklyn artist with dim lights, handmade furniture, and a beautiful teak bar with brass fixtures, it was clear Kim knew the perfect backdrop local venue for our exclusive interview. If you were lucky enough to be a young creative on the New York scene during the mid-90's you experienced the free-spirited magic of the thriving underground art and soul music scene. This was a subculture that emerged from local favorites spots like  Brooklyn Moon, Nkiru Books, Sunday Tea Party and Nuyorican Cafe where art, music, and fashion, formed an incredible mix that is still identifiable today. 

It made perfect sense to feature Kim Knox as our latest LADIES FIRST entrepreneur because she has been the creative collaborator behind so many prolific artists including Alice Smith, Somi, Dannis Winston, Alicia Keys, Goapele, Raye 6, Imani Azuri, Tamar-kali and a host of other emerging artists of the soul music genre. 'Starting out as a volunteer event producer with a crew of artists called "The Sunday Tea Party" in Brooklyn was the best boot camp ever. It was the best for me learning how to create a full experience for people.' Knox says reminiscing enthusiastically. 'People were artistically fed and physically fed at our events. For starving artists and the everyday folks that $5 dollars of an open mic, dance party, and food on Sunday's was everything.'

"We influence the influencer at Ubiquita Worldwide. That's what we do."

Photography by Barron Claiborne from the debut "Afropunk Liberation Sessions Portraits"

Photography by Barron Claiborne from the debut "Afropunk Liberation Sessions Portraits"

Over the past 18 years, Kim Knox has produced, developed, and created a diverse catalog of entertainment events and marketing campaigns for creatives of the world of film, music, art, and fashion. With the fickle entertainment and media landscape constantly changing throughout wave periods of major layoffs and power positions becoming scarce, you had to be more than just creative to survive. To be a respected tastemaker of the dopest event you not only had to be clever and smart with your finger on the pulse of the underground trends, but you also had to be multifarious and ready to feed demands of the people. The artistic street cultivators shaping the art and music scene.

Versatile is an understatement for the former pre-law student who stumbled across a dope night of poetry that would ignite a new passion for her career nowhere near a court room, but instead under the lights, camera, and action of live audiences.  She has handled her career changes with graceful aplomb and we got a chance to sit down with Kim and get the inside scoop on her entrepreneurial beginnings and the influences responsible for her creative unit at her company Ubiquita Worldwide.

Ladies First: Let's begin at the awakening moment. How did you figure out that your career path was not going to be pre-law?

Kim Knox: "I didn't figure it out. I showed up at a 'Sunday Tea Party' event and never left." (Laughs) I first began producing events with a company called "Sunday Tea Party" in Brooklyn who created these weekly open mics with dancing and food on Sundays. Starting out as a volunteer event producer for them was the best boot camp ever. It was the best for me learning how to create a full experience for people."

Ladies First: So, your after college experience is what really exposed you to a new scene of cool creative people doing these art based things you had never seen before?

Kim Knox: "Yes. I took a job at a major jazz recording studio after college where I met all these great legendary musicians and I think that is what started the curiosity bug in me a bit. I loved the behind the scenes of watching the album happen. At the same time, I was throwing these parties with 'Sunday Tea Party'. I came into this new world as a spectator really, and then 6 months later I was a performer."

Ladies First: Performer? 

Kim Knox: "Yes, I always wrote in college. I let a friend of mine who I went to college with, Tai Allen read a little something I was working on and he was like, 'Kim this is dope, you gotta perform this.'  Tai was into all the activities on campus, I mean he was in everything, but that really wasn't me. I wasn't a performer per se. I was not trying to hear his antics of trying to convince me to perform and then he ripped the page out of my notebook and said either I was going to perform it or he was. (Laughs) And I always remember that moment of me walking into that poetry space packed wall to wall with people sitting on the floor all stacked all on top of each other and seeing this other female poet, Sydnee Stewart perform her piece live with a violinist, and I became completely transfixed within that world after that show. I was done. I was like this is where I belong. At 20, 21 years old I had never experienced this level of people so connected to art and I was extremely drawn to it. I didn't know exactly what it was, but I knew I liked it and I liked it a lot."

Ladies First: Talk to me about staying true to your inner voice during this new experience and being open to exploring this new path which was completely different from your academic background.

Kim Knox: "Actually, I had no intention of going into the arts. I was pre-law. And it wasn't even like I wanted to do something related to the field, like entertainment law. No, I wanted to be a divorce attorney and I was serious. (Laughs) My momma is still mad. She is still mad until this day at me. (Loud, Loud, Laughs) But I will say this. I am an only child and I grew up in a Caribbean single parent household. I am Jamaican and Nigerian but my Jamaican family raised me. With that being said, as much as you have the inclination to be the good girl and do what the family wants, being an only child you almost have to listen to your own voice cause ain't nobody else around. (Laughs) And so, I have always felt like I am very much my mother's daughter. My mom is an extremely strong woman and is definitely very self-assured and focused around what she wants to do and I think I am the same way, it's just that we are different as people and what we value is very different. 

I felt like my career path wasn't a plan, it kind of chose me. I went through school and did really really well, but I ended up graduating early at 20 and I was like, 'now what?' I knew what my mom wanted me to do, but I still didn't know what I wanted to do. Things didn't awaken in me until my twenties. Experiencing these new people and this new world and they thought I was talented. I don't even think I thought I was talented. All of these things kind of happened and I didn't make a conscious choice to do it. It chose me and I was like, 'I am here.'

"Partying with a purpose"

 

Ladies First: Now having this experience under your belt and discovering this new passion within the arts, when did you decide it was time for your own ideas to become your own company? 

Kim Knox: "'Sunday Tea Party' was very Brooklyn, but my business partner who I founded Ubiquita with, Deshawn Maxwell was a Brooklyn-based party promoter working the LES scene in the city. He was the guy doing the Baby Phat parties back when Kimora and Russell ran everything. He also did a really important party called 'Low Profile' with DJ Qool Marv on Monday's at Ludlow Bar. And what happened was the Brooklyn kids met the Lower East Side kids and fell in love and Ubiquita was born."

Ladies First: Ok, so you merged the two worlds together.

Kim Knox: "Yea, because we were both on the spoken word scene together. DeShawn was in a group called, 'Social Outcast" and I was in 'Black Lotus'.  Everybody went to 'Sunday Tea Party' and it was all of these little crews and cultural factions. We were families that interacted with each other and partied with a purpose."

Because I was about 5 years younger than the 'Tea Party' staff I was kind of the bridge person for the cool trends. I would go to the city and be like, ' let me see what's going on,' which is how I found out about Qool Marv's parties. I partied at his spot on Monday nights and really connected with DeShawn."

Ladies First: I see, and it was during this time that you guys figured out your talents and connections?

Kim Knox: "Exactly. My day job and I what I started out in the business doing was being a talent agent. I used to work for at the time Innovative Artists. and I was one of the only people of color there. I helped people like Saul Williams get signed and it was during that time when 'Slam' (the poetry film) had just came out and I became the Negro ambassador (Loud Loud, Laughs) at that time."

                                                                                                The Ladies of Ubiquita on the cover of the Village Voice 2007

                                                                                               The Ladies of Ubiquita on the cover of the Village Voice 2007

Ladies First: Ha! You were the liaison for the urban side of things... (Laughs)

Kim Knox: "Working at this agency in this legit department was great. I mean, it was an amazing learning experience. So I always felt like I have owned my career working on both sides of things. 

I think my experience as a performer while it was good, I realized personally that I didn't love performing. It's like sometimes you are told you are good at something and you should just want to do it. Right? But I for me it was more like, I knew I was good at it and I like writing but I didn't like being on stage like that... And so, I felt like I understood performing enough to know what an artist needs. I have always felt that I have a gift for presenting artist as well. So that's when I decided that I wanted to go into artist representation. Now, artist representation had always been a part of what I did and productions was a part of that as well. Those two things always went hand in hand. I started Ubiquita in 2000 after approx 4 years of working with 'Sunday Tea Party'"

Ladies First: I understand. This was the first opportunity to merge those skills together and be apart of artists development directly under your very own platform. 

Kim Knox: "Absolutely. The artists' management thing I fought against doing kicking and screaming because it's a lot of work. It's a lot of hand holding and it is very personal. But initially, when we were just doing Ubiquita as an event, the things that made us stand out were that fact that we were the first all female DJ residency in the city and we were also a party that always had live performances. During the golden era of Ubiquita around 2003 2004 when it was really popular, my business partner, DeShawn and I were doing 3 shows a week on top of our full-time jobs and we worked at the same gig...! It was a fun, hilarious, and amazing time for us. The company evolved but you can't keep up that pace forever.  So we branched off into doing these special one-off reunion parties during different times around the holidays of the years. Because we were in a bunch of different creatives spaces we decided to take the leap into event producing for cultural institutions. 

We evolved and grew to a certain point and DeShawn and I realized we wanted different things. So he gave me his blessing to continue on with Ubiquita the way I wanted. And it was time for me to figure out my personal evolution within Ubiquita as well."

"I don't believe artists need to starve. That should not be the norm" 

Ladies First: How were you able to stay resilient throughout the ever-changing entertainment biz while evolving the brand and staying true Ubiquita's authentic signature?

Kim Knox: "Well, working on the agency side of thing helped me understand how to handle artists. I also understood the ABC's of the business itself and I don't believe artists need to starve. That should not be the norm.... Trust me it has been a struggle. I definitely feel like I am not quite where I want to be fully yet, but I am proud of my career. I am proud of the things I have been able to do. I am proud of the firsts we have had with Ubiquita. We had the first female DJ crew to be on the cover of the Village Voice..."

But I think there are two things that have kept me resilient over the years. I think reinvention is key number one. I believe the main reason I have always been able to reinvent with Ubiquita is because I work from a place of a collective mentality. Even if I am driving the car, the car is only as good as the sum of its parts. You know what I mean? I feel I've been blessed to work with so many diverse artists that I have honed different skill sets and become multidisciplinary along the way. I switch up the mediums I use whether it's is theater, a live band, a tv pilot or a multimedia installation. The key is I try to push myself to do things that I've never done before and I have always been a visionary. I see things way past what I am currently doing..." 

In my mind, I want the urban alternative Ibiza and call the 'Isle of Ubiquita'. Like literally off the coast of Africa. That is the long-term goal straight up. I think it's important to be someone that is about continuing to proliferate positive images from ourselves. The fact that we are everywhere. We are omnipresent. We are ubiquitous. That is what Ubiquita Worldwide means. It is about pushing yourself and making the world better than the way you found it. And try not to phony it. If you are feeling complacent, it's time to do something else.  

Ladies First: Kim that was excellent. It's 8:01 pm and that is a wrap. Thank you so much!

 

 

Check out a snippet of our interview below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INSIDE THE COOL: The 25th Annual Double Dutch Classic 2016

"Knees up!" "Push!' "Focus ladies!" were just some of the exciting support words yelled from the teammates of this year's double dutch competition at the World-Famous Apollo Theater. Hundreds of kids showed up and showed out with a mix of gymnastics  infused with upbeat dance music inside swirling ropes this past Sunday at the 25th Annual Double Dutch Classic held by The National Double Dutch Leauge.  

Before we get into the insane highlights from some of the most talented kids on the planet in this year's competition, let's get the real scoop on the story of double dutch. Jump ropes games are not a new discovery, but for urban American communities the jump rope game of double dutch holds a special space amongst the Black community. Double Dutch was first seen played by the children of Dutch settlers here in New York City. The English immigrants coined the term "Double Dutch" after seeing Dutch children play jump rope games with two ropes instead of the traditional single rope games. The popular street game was specifically adopted and perfected by Black girls in the urban communities of NYC after World War II. While the games had various popularity waves throughout several decades, it was until the late 1970's that the schoolyard game gained a new rebirth of flair and exposure with help of two community NYPD officers who wanted girls and young women to positively develop their athletic skill and be celebrated.  

Detective Ulysses Williams – 1st Double Dutch Clinic for Mobil Oil 1975 (  Archive Photos Courtesy of Mike Williams)

Detective Ulysses Williams – 1st Double Dutch Clinic for Mobil Oil 1975 (Archive Photos Courtesy of Mike Williams)

In the 1980's double dutch really cast its spell amongst the urban communities of New York City after founders of The National Double Dutch League and former NYPD detectives David A. Walker and Ulysses Williams decided to transform the street game into a competitive sport with intricate rules, score sheets and tournaments. The development of The National Double Dutch League allowed for the organization to incorporate double dutch in the public school gym classes and city intramural programs. The street game also became synonymous with the beginning elements of Hip-Hop culture and its performance showmanship. When the fellas have football, basketball, baseball, and hip-hop, how do you break up that male-dominated scene and bring positive female energy? You pay real attention to the community and highlight their talents by bringing the sources to develop those skills to them. 

Fantastic Four, Lincoln Center

Fantastic Four, Lincoln Center

 

From the old recreational activity of jumping with two ropes to an Olympic-style competitive international sport that combines art, culture, and athleticism, double dutch has always been more than just a street a game.  In a world where social media and video games have stifled the physical activity of children, experiencing the competition sport of double dutch reveals the importance of positive creative physical activity amongst children.  Creating teams, working together, developing new ideas, and establishing leadership skills and athleticism are just some of the things that go into development when pairing up with a double dutch team.  

Each year at The Annual Double Dutch Classic teams competes from all over the world showcasing their creative skill between the ropes. This year's competition brought a team as far as northern Africa hailing from Morocco. Ariels, round-off, and flips are just some of the gymnastics tricks these competitors pulled out their back pockets during the competition. It was an afternoon of high-level excitement, team chanting, and fastest most creative footwork movement of all times on that Apollo Theater stage.  Lauren Walker the president of The NDDL admits she is proud to see the legacy of her father continued each year with so many competitors. Mor important than having the competition itself is filling the world with positive activity and keep it going. Watching new faces come in and break old records while creating new innovative routines that stay true to its urban roots is proof of how big the influence of culture and sportsmanship is to all communities.

Check out our exclusive highlight of the exciting competition

 

 

 

 

 

The Street Culture Story behind The Double Dutch Classic

Found on the many sidewalks and playgrounds of New York City's concrete streets, Double Dutch a childhood game was birthed from the Aborigines and the Egyptians. It has been practiced for centuries by various cultures around the world. Fast forward to the 1940's and 1950's , the popularity of jumping rope became a playtime favorite amongst girls because of NYC's narrow cramped apartments that came with sprawling concrete front yards. Girls would take their mother's wet clotheslines and rush to the sidewalks eagerly creating funny and clever song chants with jump rope games.

Art by  Chris Kindred

In the 1970's jump rope games became popular again going back to its concrete roots when former NYC Police Community Affairs Detective, David A. Walker, and his partner Detective Ulysses Williams reinvented the street game adding rules and regulations to turn the game into a nationally recognized competitive sport. That transformation from a simple playtime game favorite to an exciting sport of intense competition has manifested  into the international class sport that it is today. Detectives David and Ulysses realized that the NYC's sports culture was geared towards boys and men. The community sports culture was male dominated and just not fun and competitive for girls and women.  Together the NYPD veterans decided to create a community sports league that was safe, fun, and competitive for girls and young women. The female youth were able to develop skills, esteem, and discipline for showmanship competition and at a cultural sport they loved. Essentially, the double dutch sport was hand built by the community with the support of the police department. As The National Double Dutch League began to reach out to public school gym teachers, the sport began to spread throughout New York City and the competition was bold, exciting and fierce. 

By 1974, David and Ulysses launched the first American Double Dutch League championship at Lincoln Center. Laren Walker daughter of the late founder David A, Walker, and the leagues' current president says, " the leagues' goal was to take double dutch, and urban traditional sport and take it to the next level and really let Black girls and the community shine. It was an opportunity to make double dutch an Olympic sport." With 25 years of competition under their belt there is no denying Lauren's father's legacy has unfolded right before her eyes in with its roots in Harlem.

The emergence and popularity of hip-hop played a key role in popularizing many facets of hip-hop street culture and one of the most interesting creations with the sport of double dutch. Hip-Hop catapulted the double dutch phenomenon from New York City streets to overseas in cities like Paris, France. The innovate bold personality and freedom of creation of hip-hop culture captivated the masses around the globe. Fab 5 Freddy particularly solidified the concept of merging hip-hop and double dutch because it was an authentic fabric piece to the street culture and a great element to add to the diverse umbrella of hip-hop art culture. Hip-hop pioneers Grand Master Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Fab 5 Freddy alongside graffiti writers, rappers, DJ's, and double dutch girls all defined the birth of hip-hop. It was the popularity of NYC's street force, the 1980's influence of hip-hop, and the community support that allowed the league to not only be a competition program but become a catalyst in fighting the drug era in NYC and creating opportunities for the youth in spite of the times. Growing from a community sports organization on the street of Harlem to citywide and nationwide championships with nearly 100,000 girls and boys representing schools and communities from all over the US.

As the predecessor of her dad, Lauren Walker plans to continue her father's legacy of community teamwork, cooperative economics, and positive self-esteem by expanding the competition circuit of the teams internationally. The National Double Dutch League is continuously developing its sports programs and adding them to community organizations and specialty camps for the youth.

For the celebratory 25th year, The Annual Double Dutch Classic will be held at the World-Famous Apollo Theater this Sunday, December 4, 2016, from 1pm - 4pm. The competition will be hosted by OWN TV's star of Tyler Perry's "Love Thy Number" Kendre C. Johnson. Coined, "The Superbowl of Double Dutch" by president Lauren Walker the competition highlights national and international communities competing in three categories:

  • Speed & Compulsory (fastest team)
  • Fusion Freestyle (double dutch choreographed with music)
  • Best in Show: (the championship title for the best Fusion Freestyle team)

This year's participants come from Africa (Morocco and South Africa,) Belgium, Dominican Republic, France Japan, Trinidad, and U.S. states which include CT, DC, NJ, NYC, NC, and SC. The 2016 Double Dutch Holiday Classic is sponsored by American Dairy Association & Dairy Council, Coca0Cola, Eastport, Con Edison, and New York Daily News. The NDDL 25th Annual David A. Walker  Memorial, Double Dutch Classic makes possible speed and music fusion events for the best Double Dutch teams in the world. Each year since 1992, the double Dutch Classic has previously sold out to parent supported, standing room only audiences.

Tune in next week for our exclusive "INSIDE THE COOL" coverage of the 25th anniversary!!!

 

 

Inside the Cool with African Health Now's 2nd Annual "Gift of Life" Benefit

Since 2006, African Health Now has impacted 20,000 men, women, and children across Ghana. For the last several years they have honored the leaders and champions of the African Diaspora who command, inspire, and demonstrate through their individual talents the quintessential best within the African community. Each year the proceeds from the "Gift of Life" benefit support AHN's "on the ground" health programming in Ghana, West Africa.

Dana Johnson of www.essence.com

Dana Johnson of www.essence.com

On October 20, 2016, African Health Now hosted its star-studded "Gift of Life" benefit with Dana Johnson  as the mistress of ceremonies and Lola Ogunnaike formerly of Arise TV and CNN as the VIP Reception host. It was a celebration of the 2016 honorees that included some of the biggest newsmakers of the year in community arts, healthcare, and entrepreneurship. NY State Senator, Kevin Parker, Producer to Jidenna, Nan Kwabena, and actor Gbenga Akinnagebe were among the esteemed professionals and tastemakers gathered to praise the honorees of the night. The night culminated with a special guest performance by artist  Brother Kamau who wowed the audience with his latest single from The Birth of A Nation soundtrack titled "The Icarus"  

Each year the annual gala never disappoints and is always a swanky mix of high-powered networking for the new professionals, a family reunion for regularly committed supporters and a revival for all as DJ D-Nice always cranks out the best jams all night long.  Founder of African Health Now, Nana Eyeson Akiwowo manages to highlight the most eloquent and impassioned movers and shakers for equality, social justice, healthcare, art, and culture. Honorees Child Liberty recipient of the Humanitarian Award, (BAM) of the Grassroots Community Foundation SUPERGIRLS recipients of the Youth Leadership Award and Dr. Theodore Hanley recipient of the Health Advocate Award were among the highlights of the evening as they each accepted their well-deserved accolades.  Celebrating the prominent minds of the African Diaspora for their success and offerings to the community that honors their values, and aptitude for reciprocity, optimism, image and cultural pride is really what makes the evening so epic. African Health Now's successful healthcare campaign has reached thousands with so many examples of education and giving back by being deeply rooted in the community of Ghana. The organization has undoubtedly laid the foundation for a long-term strategy to enhance healthcare and its relevance within Ghana and beyond.

Click through the gallery for a brief glimpse into the magical evening.

All photos were captured by Olu Waz  and Hannah Saleh

Watch our exclusive coverage of the honorees and familiar faces of music and movies as we experienced the momentous night.

Behind the "Master Class" EP with Dannis Winston

When it comes to introducing a talent like Dannis Winston, it begs the question: Where should one begin? The composer, classically trained vocalist, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist has quite a story to tell.

                                                                    ONE BROOKLYN COMMUNITY CAMPAIGN

                                                                    ONE BROOKLYN COMMUNITY CAMPAIGN

Growing up in foster care as a young child, the idea of music as a career for Dannis was a dream nowhere in his horizon during his early childhood. As life would have it, a small neighborhood talent show would be the creative pressure cooker to awaken the singer and reveal that his gift was so much more than a hobby displayed around the house during holidays and family functions. Way before founding his roster of bands under his own company DWP (Dannis Winston Presents),  it was Winston's childhood favorites like Prince, David Bowie, and Stevie Wonder that formed his musical palette and manifested his current day sound and artistry. Fast forward past the adolescent gospel choirs and bands, Winston took a leap into entrepreneurship at the young age of 22 to create the Winston's Crew Collective. Determined to control his own career path and hone his musical sound, he used his unique performance artistry to make a distinctive name for his band so much so that New York Magazine named his band one of the Top 100 Wedding Bands to have at your wedding. The multi-instrumentalist has managed to merge the worlds of music and art from leading his fleet of bands to music art philanthropy as well as releasing his solo EP "Master Class". Leading up to the exclusive release of his newest EP "Master Class" we spoke to Winston about the development of his musical sound, his personal inspirations, and of course, the impact of today's cultural climate for Black folk and how that has powered his music. 

"I am a master of the art of the class of learning, forever.

Winston's perspectives and tastes in music were cultivated by years of heeding the greats. There are something about those family BBQ's and weddings that blared the classics embedded in the fabric of our DNA catalog of funk melodies and rhythm and blues soul, the entire world still can't get enough of.  We can not deny musically and culturally. Like many artists Winston to lives by a set of personal mantras that have matured his creative vision and seeps throughout his range of music. A true master of any art form is always in that state of evolution for the sacrifice of their gift, but it is that conscious state of mind that propels his gift beyond that of just another good singer. For Winston, that famous Nina Simone quote

"You can help it. An artist's duty as far as I'm concerned is to reflect the times...I choose to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?"

holds true to his music. After coming back from a great performance at Essence magazine's annual summer festival in NOLA Dannis was faced with the news of yet another Black man killed by another police officer.  "I couldn't stop crying about the loss of Black men, said Winston bearing the tormenting truth behind his first single release "4 Black Men" from his new EP "Master Class".  "My skin is Black / And as I roam, I live in fear / Not for myself, an aging man / For murdered boys, before they're men, " are some of the stirring lyrics that to invoke Nina Simone's signature lyrical truth serum. Dannis narrates the riveting stories of youth, poverty, and homosexuality from the souls and voices of Black men within this track. But even more undeniable is that essence of piercing yet relentless pride to overcome and carry on is what continuously echoes throughout the arrangement.  

Dannis is not one for labels, traditions, and rules as his music is a montage of many elements from African rhythms to jazz classics. Between the soft sensual sounds are the grit and funk soul bounce that will get you in the groove. This EP is Dannis' ode to being unafraid to represent different stories of Black men and be a truthful voice on that journey. " I want to use my gift to have a global conversation, but I had to gain my sense of self to do that. I had to practice the inner walk of life to be able to educate through my music and be a voice for Black men, " said Winston whose path to music was challenging with varied experiences. There is something very distinguishing about a man who holds the beautiful compassionate spirit of Nelson Mandela, the unapologetic confidence of Prince, and the fusion of Anderson Paak's artistry as their creative formula. When you are an artist that has practiced the same values and beliefs as the great legends with a different tolerance for ambiguity, it is organically experienced within the culture of the music the evolution happens.

Dannis served up an exclusive performance for his audience at Minton's Harlem last weekend and had this to say about his latest work, " Master Class speaks to my commitment to being a student of the greats everyone from Duke Ellington to Quincy Jones to Harry Belafonte and master of my own sense of class. It is a reflection of my journey as a singer/songwriter, creating a music career managing nine bands and performing music around the globe for crowds from 50 to 500."  The EP was produced by Winston himself, with additional production from Matt "eCussionist" Vorzimer (Robert Glasper) and Joel Gonzalez (Big Daddy Kane). The project was mixed and mastered by Grammy Award winning engineers Bassy Bob Brochmann and Mark Christensen. The five-track EP highlights Dannis’ talent as an arranger, musician, songwriter and vocalist inspired by #BlackLivesMatter movement. It also pays homage to Black men that Dannis has been influenced by both musically and socially.

Check out highlights from his debut of the EP at Minton's Harlem and have a listen to "Master Class on Soundcloud below.

 

Photo Credit Stephen Smith/Guestofaguest

 

 

Inside the Cool Exclusive with Artist Isis Kenney

 I have realized that as people of color we like a visual communication, we like visual images and so I was trying to figure out  ways to be able to educate and be able to have a different type of dialogue about the issues that are going on within our community ” Says Artist Isis Kenney In This Exclusive Interview

LAST WEEK THE HARLEM SCHOOL OF THE ARTS PRESENTED ARTIST ISIS KENNEY'S THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED, A POWERFUL DIGITAL ART EXHIBITION THAT COMBINES HIP HOP CULTURE, FINE ART, CURRENT EVENTS, AND POLITICS TO ADDRESS CONTROVERSIAL SOCIETAL ISSUES. THE EXHIBITION CURATED BY HSA VISUAL ARTS DIRECTOR JONATHAN "JP" PATTON, SHOWCASED 15 PIECES OF ARTWORK THAT FEATURED HIP HOP AND POP CULTURE ICONS POLITICIANS AND VICTIMS OF POLICE VIOLENCE, INCLUDING THE LEGENDARY MUSICIAN PRINCE IN "PRINCE NELSON", PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA IN "BARACK OBAMA FEAR NO EVIL," HIP HOP ARTIST KANYE WEST IN "KIM K MIND CONTROL," MIKE BROWN IN " MIKE BROWN IT WAS MURDER" AND NBA PLAYER LEBRON JAMES IN "JAMES BLACK MIDNIGHT," ON BOLD COLORED BACKGROUNDS. 

ARTIST ISIS KENNEY OPENS UP TO ART LIVING ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT ART AND HIP-HOP IS TO THE COMMUNITY AS A CATALYST FOR POLITICAL AND SOCIAL EXPRESSION FOR PRODUCTIVE CHANGE MAKING CONVERSATIONS. SHE UNAPOLOGETICALLY SHARES LIBERATING INSIGHT INTO THE GENERATIONAL PROBLEMS WITHIN THE BLACK COMMUNITY TRYING TO BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN THE ELDERS AND THE YOUTH, WHILE THOUGHTFULLY EDUCATING US ON A NEW PERSPECTIVE ABOUT HIP-HOP AND THE POWER UNSHACKLING INFLUENCE. 

Art Living: I am here today with artist Isis Kenney. It is a pleasure to meet you. 

Isis: Thank You.

Art Living: Can you tell me about the exhibit you are currently showing at the Harlem School of the Arts

Isis: Well I've been working on this collection for about a year now. with everything that's been going on in the news, everything that's been going on in our community, I have realized that as people of color we like visual communication, we like visual images and so I was trying to figure out ways to be able to educate and be able to have a different type of dialogue about the issues that are going on within our community. We don't really have a lot of platforms and outlets that have these discussions especially amongst our elders and amongst young people and bridging that gap. And so, because I love my people and I know exactly what we want as far as nice shiny entertainment, I tried to wrap the news, social issues, my passion for my people and what's going on and addressing these issues in art, in the form of art. 

So Hip Hop Fine Art has been the brand has been created since 2011 and I started doing collages at first, like cutting up magazines and doing physical collages, trying to do storytelling through collages. Now I am doing storytelling through digital art. 

Art Living: So, the exhibit is a progression of the original idea?

Isis:  Yes, it is. I am really trying to have a platform where our issues are able to be seen, be heard, and be recognized. Whether it's police brutality, whether it's how we feel about any presidential candidate that is running or has run. A lot of celebrities that claim to care about us but don't really care about us. A lot of celebrities that are straight up and down distraction from what we need to care about. So really just fusing all of those different elements in a visual display of art. I am very big on positive images and positive energy.

Art Living: Yes, I love that. And it's so meaningful that you say that because as I am looking through your work you have a few mainstream subjects. From Obama to Donald Trump to Stokely Carmichael in your pieces but they seem to be juxtaposed with these comic book nostalgic hip hop youth period that we love so much. Can you talk to me about the influence of hip-hop in your mixed into work and how translates as a language? I know I am a hip-hop head and so when I see certain colors, fonts, I automatically stop dead in my tracks. LOL Talk to me about how strategic you were in using that for this exhibit.

Isis:  Well hip-hop has always spoken for the voice of people of color and also young people. Hip-Hop has been again our platform but it has also been our voice to be able to address things that are going on in our communities. And whether it's mainstream or not that has been the essence of the culture. So with that and taking the essence of the culture, the vibrancy of the culture, because we're very vibrant colorful people, okay. So taking that movement, taking that energy, and putting it into something that is going to be thought-provoking. Something that is not only going to be thought-provoking or be beautiful but be something possibly inspiring. A lot of times young people don't see, and not even just young people, but we don't see the struggles that people go through.  We see the outcome.

Art Living: Right, we don't see the behind the scenes

Isis:  We don't know that they couldn't get a job and they were broke for however many ever years. And even when we do hear these stories we don't necessarily take it that seriously, you know what I'm saying. And so with that, children need to understand and people need to know because everybody's going through it. People need to know they are not alone and with that, I'm hoping that my artwork is allowing people to be able to see for instance in the Chris Brown piece, which someone asked me about, and I explained that I felt that particular piece was important to the collection because not matter what status you may have, if you are a person of color in this community, in this world, in this country, there are certain things that you are going to come across whether it's you know racism, discrimination, police brutality, I mean all of these different elements and all of these obstacles occur regardless of how much money you got, how much fame you got, or how many girls you got. Regardless of all of these things that people look at and aspire to be and look at as far as fame, we are still all dealing with the same struggles. 

Art Living: On all levels

Isis: Right, and then it's ongoing. Every time I turn around I am recognizing that can throw up my art on this site or that site and it's going to be constantly on point because a lot of these issues that we're dealing with we been dealing with. And I don't really know when we're not going to deal with it. Because we don't have people that are passing legislation on our behalf, we don't even have people that talk for us that truly are and represent us.

Art Living: Right, Right, so is this exhibit sort of your way to progress the conversation.  I find that art is a little bit easier to swallow when talking about the controversy it is not as intense. I think sometimes it is a little masked because we know the are is going to be bold, colorful, and in your face, but I think often times the part that gets overlooked is the healing process once we have the conversations and we've seen the pieces, I always think to myself, "what's next? And this is the responsibility we have for making sure everyone can see your art, knows what it's about in its content and move on past that.

Isis: The Revolution.

Art Living: Exactly.

Sitting down for this candid and authentic interview with millennial artist Isis Kenney was a breath of fresh air, to say the least, as we delved into her purpose, her passions, and her future as a creative with the power of visual stimulation. It is clear that Kenney's upbringing of Black pride and education, as well as her sensitivity to the pulse of her community, is the driving force within her artwork. in the words of Kenney herself, "the revolution begins at home." You can catch the exhibit at Harlem School of the Arts from now until November 27, 2016.

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Art Living NYFW2016 at Eden BodyWorks #StylewithEden Presentation

EDEN BodyWorks celebrated the fusion of fashion, hair, and style last week during their #StylewithEden presentation for NYFW2016. The hair & style presentation tributed the diverse beauty culture of Black women by teaming up with jewelry metalsmiths Lorraine West and Shayla Milan alongside fashion designers  Chen Burkett and Whitney Mero of Onion Cut & Sewn for two stunning presentations featuring four unique styles for the everyday woman.

Celebrity hair stylist Felicia Leatherwood and celebrity makeup artist Camara Aunique were the geniuses behind the flawless cast of must have looks using Eden BodyWorks hair products. We were graced with beauty and travel maven Africa Miranda as the Mistress of Ceremonies and TV Host and style authority, Kela Walker covering the green carpet street style gorgeousness of the night. Ghanaian designer Chen Burkett began the presentation with a casual chic safari style collection full of beautiful earth tones and natural textured fabric that the audience simply loved.  Each garment was paired with Shayla Milan jewelry, whose accessory designs are inspired by functional modern art, primitive artifacts, and architectural elements. Also dressed n Chen Burkett for the evening was Eden BodyWorks VP of Marketing, Ylorie Taylor and TV Host, Kela Walker. 

Designer Whitney Mero kicked off the second presentation with her exquisite bold printed dresses ranging looks from a one shoulder asymmetrical silhouette to a short sleeved fishtail look that can be dressed up or down. Lorraine West's illustrious brass cuffs and leather earrings were the perfect pairings of accessories to compliment Onion Cut & Sewn's garments that we just could not get enough of. Her jewelry inspiration stems from symbology, geometric shapes, minimalism, and equipping her clients to connect to their own power. No wonder we were in complete awe!

The evening was filled with a divine mix of beautiful women adorning the hair, fashion , and styles they love so much!

Check out our highlights of the stylish evening and stay tuned this week for exclusive guest interviews!

 

 

Art Living NYFW2016 at Essence Street Style Block Party 2016

Essence Magazine held its 3rd annual Street Style Block Party in DUMBO last Saturday in celebration of NYFW2016. Hosted by Essence.com's Dana Blair and Co-hosted by Naturi Naughton from the hit STARZ TV series "POWER".

The event championed real women with head-turning style during the day-long affair as a stylish sea of enthusiast, designers, stylists, bloggers and local fashion vendors came together to celebrate the art of personal style. Sponsored by Chevrolet and Shea Moisture the event was a super cool mix of music, fashion, and art culture good vibes and fun! 

ESSENCE also presented its 2016 Street Style Award to the hottest bloggers, designers, fashion stylists and trendsetters of 2016, including singer Kelly Rowland, celeb stylist Law Roach, dancer/actress Khadija Shari, fashion blogger, Blake Von D and designer Romeo Hunte. This year's cool activities featured:

  • Performance by singer Ayo Jay
  • Live fashion show co-hosted by actress Naturi Naughton for "The Best of Attendee Street Style"
  • Shopping experiences featuring local designers and local vendors
  • An interactive Kids Zone with face painting
  • ESSENCE Eats featuring curated local food truck vendors

Check out our exclusive "INSIDE THE COOL" highlight video of the intoxicating good culture vibes and gorgeous fashion fun!

All photos were sourced from Zimbio Images from photographer Bennett Raglin.

 

Art Living NYFW2016 with Harlem's Fashion Row 2016

Harlem's Fashion Row hosted its 9th annual style awards and fashion presentation sponsored by Covergirl and Motions last Thursday evening at Pier 59 Studios.

Founded by Brandice Daniel, Harlem's Fashion Row began as a movement to provide industry access, coaching, and financial support for designers of color to experience fair and equal access opportunities to sustain their businesses beyond the runway. Before "diversity" became the buzzword throughout the fashion industry, HFR was already championing designers of color underrepresented in the showrooms and retail space, with success stories like Omar Salam of Sukeina and Kimberly Goldson of Project Runway Season 7.

Brandice's relentless vigor for maneuvering designers of color from cutting and stitching in their living rooms to selling in showrooms and retails stores with her platform HFR has only solidified her national influence as a NYFW staple if you want to experience the collections of emerging designers of color.  It's no wonder why A list Black celebrities, fashion elite, cultural leaders, and everyday enthusiasts flock over to the must-see fashion presentation by cool creative entrepreneurs too often passed over within the mainstream fashion industry. 

Naturi Naughton, Ty Hunter, and Emil Wilbekin were amongst the fellow guests of tastemakers, entertainers, and cultural influencers on the front row supporting the honorees of the night that included which included:

 

Editor of the Year: Elaine Welteroth


When your resume experience journeys back to being the Style and Beauty editor at Ebony magazine from 2008 to 2011 and advanced to Glamour magazine from Beauty writer to Senior Beauty Editor from 2011 to 2012 all under the age of 30, it was abundantly clear why HFR celebrated this Black Girl Magic with the Editor of the Year Award. 

Harriet Cole, former fashion director, and editor, now lifestylist presented Elaine with her award recollecting the most memorable moments of their relationship over the years as colleagues. If you've followed Elaine's journey to becoming Teen Vogue's first Black Editor and the youngest person to appointed to the title of Editor-in-chief in Conde Nast history, you know that Elaine is a fearless trailblazer in her industry.  Beautiful, stylish, and innovative Elaine has never shied away from new ideas, progressive social media interaction and authenticity.

The Trailblazer: Kyle Hagler


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You can not say Joan Smalls, Liya Kebede, and Hilary Rhoda without saying Kyle Hagler. So who is Kyle Hager? The man responsible for launching the million dollar careers of some of the world's biggest Supermodels. With a 17-year track record as Senior manager at IMG Models and managing his new position as President of Next Model Managment, Kyle Hager knows how to coif a brand to be around for a lifetime. He is the advocate for models that do not fit the norm of industry categories with their look. Hagler is the force behind breaking the barriers of central casting and expanding the boundaries of beauty as the industry knows it. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, model, and client Joan Smalls said, " Mr. Hager said I want brands to see you as multidimensional. You're Black and Latin. That solidified it. He just gave me hope to believe in myself and go for it no matter what. For a Latina, that's so relieving."

It is because of creative change makers like Kyle Hagler that models of color can navigate the fickle fashion industry and challenge the entire industry to expand is castings and representations from the stylist to the business company CEO's

 

Stylist of the Year: Eric Archbald


Best known for being the lead stylist to award-winning singer and actress Jennifer Hudson, Eric Archibald is known within the industry as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to red carpet fashion style. Eric always knew he wanted to be a stylist as a little boy in the Caribbean, but when he got his first break in 1994 he ran with his opportunity and never looked back. Most recently, he styled the honorees of the VH1 Hip Hop Honors: All Hail the Queens and Beyonce's internationally record breaking album "Lemonade".  Eric's organic ability to merge classic edge with chic sexiness is what makes his relationship with music and fashion so intrinsic. 

Icon 360 Award: Swizz Beatz


We gotta support each other more. We all are busy but if Tom Ford calls all of a sudden we make it work. I had to be here like it was Tom Ford when I got this call.

In recognition of his diverse talent and contributions to the entertainment industry with his music and astounding art expression Grammy award-winning, super producer Kasseem Dean, aka SWIZZ BEATZ,was the wildcard surprise for the night as the recipient of the Icon 360 Award. Since 1994 the Bronx native has been cranking out chart-topping singles and albums for the biggest superstars and entertainers to date. In 2015, Swizz released the pre-launch of The Dean Collection a personally curated art fair/ mobile gallery of the most renowned emerging global artist hot on the scene right now. An avid art collector, Swizz has always done great work within the art community, but as with many entertainment industries, he also saw the imbalances of the art system which propelled him to do more than just sign over a check. His creativity has opened doors for other passions such as philanthropy through the arts, education, and healthcare. Swizz humbly accepted his award and left these wise words with the audience,"We gotta support each other more. We all are busy but if Tom Ford calls all of a sudden we make it work. I had to be here like it was Tom Ford when I got this call."

After the awards and acceptance speeches, the fashion show began with HFR's 2016 Designers presentation. Creative Director Keith Campbell was the architect behind the edgy fierce hair looks for each designer. From chic loose ended ponytails to gold wire afros and gleaming  glitter roots, this season looks were about personalized artful expression.

Terese Brown: Terese Sydonna

Radhika Perera-Hernandez: Lois London

 

Kahindo Mateene: Kahindo

 

Jakai Franks: JRU

All photos were sourced from Getty Images from the following photographers:

Johnny Nunez, Arun Nevader, and Noam Galai

 

 

 

“The Crown Futures” Installation by Shani Peters at Sugar Hill Children's Museum

In the workshops we talked about the history of crowns and that led us to talk about slavery, racial inequality, and the concept of power. I am regularly pleasantly surprised with the ability of young people to talk about different subjects. These kids know what's going on. I hope we planted seeds in the minds of students so they continue these thoughts as they grown into adults.

-Shani Peters

What do Miss America, Jean-Michele Basquiat, Stevie Wonder, and Nefertiti all have in common? Ok, try adding Kwanzaa to the list and see if you can get a little closer to a common answer. Naturally, a host of good music, high crowns, and Black pride should begin to flood your memory bank, but for the artist, Shani Peters these familiar names proved more than just childhood memories.

Peters, a multidisciplinary New York-based artist decided to expand on her series The Crown which is an exhibit and series of projects that have evolved over the last several years. Her latest installation "The Crown Futures" at Sugar Hill Children's Museum celebrates the concepts of self-determination through the young eyes of youth ages 5-13 years old. Peters artistic content revolves around media culture, social justice, cultural record keeping and community building so this installation was near and dear to her heart as she reflected on her own childhood for inspiration and healing. Going back to those childhood memories resonates deeply with Peters thanks to her father who was a Black History professor who managed to keep her interest in Black history with the teachings of music, literature, and theater. Her inspirations began with the memories of family Kwanzaa celebrations and its 7 principles, particularly, self- determination. Peters reveals that it was the principle Kujichagulia aka Self-Determination that she struggled the most with to maintain and experience. Like her father who wanted to do so much more than teach Black History but instead create narratives around the lives of those affected most within history, Peters included the everyday children around her to examine, celebrate, and stimulate personal growth for viewers of all ages.

Her interactive workshops didn't just include the creating of the crowns, but also led to productive discussions about race, power, and civil rights. 500 feet of gold paper and 400 crowns later Peters would combine her childhood memories of Kwanzaa, Stevie Wonder's song "The Crown" her sightings of famous crowns like Nefertiti, Miss America, and Basquiat , and her student's creations into a breathtaking installation. An installation that transcends tradition, time, culture, politics, and social existence that we all can relate to. As Peters uses her work to facilitate healing, freedom, self-reflection for Black Americans in particular, you can not ignore the universal message of love, opportunity, and respect for all.

Check out Peters artist statement from earlier works of the Crown Project

The African’s experience in the Americas has been grounded in brutality and trauma. Through eras of forced enslavement, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, both clearly stated and veiled every-day racism, and now the most commonly perceived police abuse of power, Black people have exercised unimaginable degrees of determination to simply survive and persevere. The work in this exhibition is the most recent exploration in the theme of imagining crowns as symbols for Self-Determination and the complexity of the experience of the African people following the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade that my series The Crown has reflected on for the past few years. These new works begin to explore what Self-Determination means specifically for Black Americans situating both historical and contemporary images of Black Americans engaged in focused political protest within the visual narrative of The Crown project. James Baldwin famously stated, “Our crown has already been bought and paid for, all we have to do is wear it.”  These works illustrate the price that was and continues to be paid.

All Photos were capture by Michael Palma

Ladies First with Sharene Wood

"What I would want a girl to know is that she is enough. She is enough to be loved, she is enough to exist without her family or even without a relationship. I think that we have to teach young girls to be complete in themselves so a mate will compliment them."

-Sharene Wood

Sharene Wood has been a powerful influence in the entertainment industry, starting with her work as founding partner of 5001 FLAVORS and Harlem Haberdashery. A fervent supporter of education and community empowerment, she serves on the board of Black Women for Black Girls and is a philanthropic supporter of the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem, #TakeCareofHarlem, Food Bank of New York, and Y.E.S. (Young Executives For Success). The passionate entrepreneur has embraced the same qualities she has taught to young budding millennials in her creations of 5001 FLAVORS and Harlem Haberdashery. Kicking off our first “Ladies First” interview, Sharene takes us on her trailblazing journey to entrepreneurship sharing her most memorable life lessons and the rewards of turning her passion into a family business in her neighborhood of Harlem.

Wood’s career as an entrepreneur began in the mid-1990’s as a 20-year-old pre-law student at Columbia University. She was a full-time student, a part-time employee, and a business owner. At the time her business partner turned husband, sociology major Guy Wood asked Sharene to be his business partner.  Sharene, a master organizer, said yes to Guy’s partnership offer and with $600, a strong vision, and not even a computer but instead just a word processor, the dream was born. The small dorm room business grew into a successful empire with no outside funding and the old school tradition of word of mouth marketing. See our intimate conversation about family, womanhood, and motherhood below:

Ladies First: Talk to me a little bit about how you grew up here in Harlem and the family circle you come from.

Sharene Wood: I grew up in a very large family. I grew up with my mom who was a teenage mom. Um, I remember when my mom graduated from high school. I grew up in Harlem, went to P.S. 200 on 150th until 6th grade. I was chosen to go to Prep for Prep while I was in the gifted and talented program at P.S. 200. I went to Prep for Prep which prepared me academically, socially, financially and it sent me to private school. So, I went to Riverdale Country School for middle school and high school, but I have very strong roots in Harlem. My family is here and I have over 100 relatives still here in Harlem. So, for me Harlem is home. Like I said, I grew up in a large family surrounded by love and aunts and uncles and grandparents that really kind of made me who I am. I have a strong sense of family and I was always encouraged to do things.

Ladies First: Yea, how does that dynamic work? How to you find yourself in a large family?

Sharene Wood:  You have to have a voice because you get lost. Growing up in a big family made me understand the value of cooperative community. How things work and how you have to put the work together to make the family work. So, I’ve always had a great understanding of how a family should operate. Our family was so large that other people who didn’t have large families would attach themselves to our family because they loved that vibe of the closeness we shared.

Ladies First:  Do you remember when your creative process first began within your big family? Do you remember those first things you loved to do as a girl?

Sharene Wood:  Well, has more cousins started to born in my family, it was really like a mini summer camp in the summer time when we would go to my grandmother’s. So I began to assume a leadership role within the family. Even it was, who is going to pour the milk divided my 15, I always assumed the leadership role or just like being in charge. People call it bossy, I call it leadership.

Ladies First: (laughs) So, it was a natural innate thing for you to take charge and organize things.

Sharene Wood: Well, I have my mom to thank for that, who is very opinionated and has a strong personality. She is where I kind of get my voice from. Now as an adult, I appreciate that because she taught me to speak up and teach the world how to treat me.

Ladies First: When you say, you mom taught you how to speak up, do you remember that moment when you have to really put that voice to the test or when you began an adult in that aspect?

Sharene Wood: For me, I don’t necessary think I remember when I became an adult, but I knew that for me there was a definite um, elevation of my maturity level when I started traveling to private school. Only because one, I had to travel a bit further for my education. But really as a 7th grader leaving Harlem and literally getting on the train and going up to my private school, the disparity between education and opportunity, was so obvious to me, that it kind of shook my core. Because then I would come back to the community and then I saw what was being offered to my family. And so, for me, it wasn’t an adulthood moment, but it was kind of an awakening moment. And I realized that there are two different worlds out there. And there is a huge disparity in a lot of different things. Things like the aesthetics of your community, what you eat at school, trips you go on, what you learn, and what you talk about in school. I know the biggest difference was my cousins would ask, “Are you going to school? Vs. my classmates asking, “What school are you going to?” So even the conversations were very different at the school I went to.  This really opened my eyes to seeing what was out there outside of my community.  

Ladies First: What is it that you and your daughter practice?

Sharene Wood: Well it is your job as a parent to understand that it’s your job to make your child's life easier by saying this works and this doesn’t. Don’t do that, this is what you should do and this is what I want you to do. Sometimes girls aren’t taught that they should demand to be treated a certain way. And so, I always tell my daughter, “Please don’t talk to me that way because I don’t want anyone talking to you that way.” This is why I say you really do have to put out into the world what you want back for yourself.  I realized this is important especially now as a mom because it’s going to be over really soon and so I pray her future spouse is doing the same building and having the same conversations.  

Ladies First: What has been your biggest realization within motherhood and the responsibilities you are expected to fulfill ?

Sharene Wood: My biggest realization about my responsibilities as a woman clicked for me when I had a child. I got it. It clicked. There is a huge accountability that you realize is now yours when you have a child. That moment you leave the hospital and go, "Ok, this is all me now."  Kids don't come with instruction manuals and your really do ha start moving and planning with intention. I mean, I can remember coming home from the hospital, taking a moment and I sat down and said to myself, "ok" and I have a picture when I took that moment and I am giving my daughter a kiss and I said I will do the best that could possibly do to be the best teacher for her. I realized everything that I am doing is a legacy for her and her kids. I became super conscience because I understood that her success is my success. It is not a job I take lightly and I really wish that everyone was doing the same. 

Ladies First: When you say, you wish that everyone was doing the same, what do you believe every girl should begin to love and understand about themselves individually?

Sharene Wood: What I would want a girl to know is that she is enough. She is enough to be loved, she is enough to exist without her family or even without a relationship. I think that we have to teach young girls to be complete in themselves so a mate will compliment them. A lot of women don't get that. I am not saying you don't need a man, but I am saying that you have to be able to be self-sufficient, happy with yourself,  and happy with your choices. You have to be self-reliant and be able to stand up on your own and make your own decisions. 

Ladies First: Was that belief apart of your connection in becoming the board member of Black Women for Black Girls?

Sharene Wood: Well I always felt a social responsibility working in our retail store and its other business. I always feel really blessed, but there is still a social responsibility to give back especially in Harlem. So it was important for me and my family to be a place that did not just consume the community but lead the community. We like to look nice here at Harlem Haberdashery but we also want our community to look nice as well. This is why we started working with #greenerlenox, #believeinablackgirl, #elegantforprom to help the community. I always say, "look good, live good, feel good!" Those are kind of my motos and working with the organization Black Women for Black Girls was just another step in fulfilling community philanthropy. Officially Black Women for Black Girls is a charity giving circle kind of network with like-minded sisters designed to help the positive development of Black girls in the New York City area. One of our signature programs is our annual if the "College Shower"

Ladies First: Yes, I love, love, love this idea of a college shower, tell me how you became involved.

Sharene Wood: The main reason I became involved with Black Women for Black Girls is because of the "College Shower". I loved that concept!  Joi Gordon who is one of the founders and is President and CEO of Dress for Success, my mom works at Dress for Success, so Joi is a great friend and mentor who basically came to me and said you're gonna join this organization. (laughs). But when I heard about the mission and the programs it was a no brainer. There is a financial commitment for 2 years as a charity member and the goal is to amass financial resources to go out to different organizations to help the girls. The "College Shower" is a fantastic opportunity to kind of acknowledge as a Black woman the love for another Black girl of the next generation. We all say that we are just big Black girls over here at BWBG but really it is us paying homage to the sisters and letting them know that we see you, we acknowledge you, we want to help you. We have a nomination process and the girls are either referred and or we reach out to them directly through organizations or guidance counselors. Girls must be a graduation senior going into a college. We prefer students to live on campus to get the full experience but that is not a requirement. We feel like living on campus deepens the college experience and so we try to steer the girls in that direction. 

Some girls are first generation college students, some girls do not have the full support of their families, others are raised by their grandparents and some are just girls who want the opportunity for a great future. We get to know the girls through the application process as they answer a series of questions about their inspirations,  thier upbringing, and their future goals. Members on the board like myself all vote to choose about 5-10 girls each year. every year our commitment is to add two more girls than the previous year so that we increase our reach. Each young lady chosen is paired up with a sister to register for everything she needs to go to college. our goal is to assist them in receiving all the things they need for the college to be successful. and we know for many parents receiving that college list of things is overwhelming and huge financial commitment. This is our way of rewarding the girls who are doing great things and a way for us to counteract the Baby Shower craze happening amongst teenage mothers. We decided to celebrate those young women doing what they were supposed to do and it's a wonderful opportunity. Yes, we have an actual shower where the girls come with their families and they get to really experience what it is like to be supported and surrounded by love. 

Ladies First: And for my final wrap up question, what are you most proud of to date that you have accomplished

Sharene Wood: For me its being an entreprenuer and creating something out of nothing. It's really easy to sit there and dream about what you're going to do, but the hardest thing to do is to go from concept to manifestation. I am proud to create my own economy because I knew I wanted to be my own boss and it would always be uptown. And I always knew it would be something different that I would create uptown because I didn't feel like we had the best aeshteic and services. I knew once I went below 96 street I could receive good things, but as a Harlem girl that annoyed me about the neighboorhood. It was very obvious, but I knew I had to change it. One thing I never like was us recieveing less than we deserved and that was something I was adminat about changing in Harlem. I am pround that I have created a family business and a legacy that I can leave my child. 

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Ladies First: Sharene that was awesome, thanks so much! It's a wrap that was my last question.

"Most of the time I feel like Super Lady and sometimes I'm Super Lady with a hole in my cape, you know. But change is season to season, day to day, so it's about evloving on different levels on every plain of your life."
-Sharene Wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harlem School of the Arts Havana Nights Dance Gala

For more than 5 decades, the Harlem School of the Arts has provided quality arts training to children of color into the world of the arts that too often seemed out of their reach.  Students of the institution were taught all art forms under one roof from violins and other orchestral instruments to ballet and tap as well as Shakespeare to quench all their artistic desires. But it all began with the dream of a concert soprano, Dorothy Maynor, in the basement of the St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem. The prestigious Harlem School of the Arts is one of New York City’s most pioneering and eminent institutions of quality arts education.  HSA’s notable alumni base of Tony-award winning actors, celebrated operatic voices, jazz musicians, visual artists and dancers has proven decade after decade that it is so much more than an art school that has become a neighborhood gem, but instead, a vital program that has reached thousands of youth across the country, providing direction, discipline, and hope to children who are most in need of knowing there can be a bright and successful future in the world of the arts. The historic establishment provides arts education in four core artistic disciplines: dance, theatre, music, and visual arts where nearly 4,000 children are served on site as well as in various schools throughout NYC.

On May 12, 2016, Harlem School of the Arts hosted a Havana Nights themed Dance Party Benefit sponsored by The Williams Capital Group and Sweet Hospitality. The evening featured live performances by HSA students, The Afro Latin Jazz Cats and the Afro-Cuban Dance Ensemble Oyu Oro.  There were over 200 attendees and others in attendance included HSA staff and supporters as well as community leaders, activists and  host of A-list actors and actresses. Despite almost closing its doors permanently in 2010 due to a financial crisis, the community and arts activist have been working tirelessly to spread the word about Harlem School of the Arts’ legacy, its current student body of amazing emerging artists, and raise continuous funds for the expanding institution. That labor love would finally prove worth it in 2012 when they received a $5 million grant from the Herb Alpert Foundation and raised over $1 million in 2015 at its 50th Anniversary Gala just last year.  This past spring President Eric Pryor in an interview with MetroFocus on PBS Thirteen revealed how HSA, facing difficult financial circumstances over the last decade and the receiving of a major donation from the Herb Alpert Foundation, has allowed the organization to restore its endowment. Pryor confidently expressed that, with the restructuring of a new board and executive leadership, HSA will continue to grow and expand its programming here in Harlem. They have held true to their mission of lifelong learning through the arts with the belief that all children deserve access to a quality arts education, empowering them to become the creative thinkers and innovative leaders of tomorrow.

I had the opportunity to not only come back and cover my arts alma mater but I was able to chat with President Eric Pryor about the importance of HSA’s art fundraising and what new programming we can expect this upcoming fall.

The Rebirth of an American Classic with Their Eyes Were Watching God

" I tried . . . not to pander to the folks who expect a clown and a villain in every Negro. Neither did I want to pander to those 'race' people among us who see nothing but perfection in all of us. I do not attempt to solve any problems [in my novels]. I know I cannot straighten out with a few pen-strokes what God and men took centuries to mess up. So I tried to deal with life as we actually live it-not as the sociologists imagine it."
—Zora Neale Hurston, from a letter to Fannie Hurst

 

This past Spring the WOW Cafè Theatre presented the premiere of the Laurence Holder’s adaptation of the Zora Neale Hurston’s legendary literary classic, “Their Eyes Were Watch God”. Hurston’s iconic novel was initially published in New York City on September 18, 1937, but it did not garner the success it deserved with harsh critics like Richard Wright essentially saying that Hurston’s fiction work undermined her Black male counterparts’ attempts to combat racism. Out of print for almost three decades post its original publication date in 1937, the novel was rediscovered in the 1970’s by Black scholars, programs, and academic institutions across the US. Alice Walker was one of those scholars directly responsible for the Hurston revival that still exists today with companies like create, Inc.

The dramatic saga of Hurston’s most successful work of literature was directed by Marishka S. Phillips featuring a powerful cast that included: Kimberly Monroe (Nanny), Lauren Marissa Smith (Janie), Michael Oloyede (Logan), DeMarcus Woods (Jody), Sawandi Wilson (Teacake), Antwain Lewis (Amos), Dontalle Sylvester (Lee), Nicolette Ellis (Pheoby), Kellee Fuller (Daisy), Jennifer Russie Burks (Soul of Janie). Presented at New York City’s oldest run theatre WOW Cafè the audience was taken on the emotional life journey of Janie Mae Crawford, a mulatto woman born by the violence of rape from Florida. Free-spirited, in search of life and her authentic self, we watch Janie’s progression towards womanhood from a teen bride who, at sixteen, married a grubbing farmer at the anxious instigation of her slave-born grandmother, as she undertakes an unpredictable journey that includes three marriages, navigating complex cultural morals and surviving within the social expectations of a small Southern town. Director Marishka S. Phillips doesn’t hold back on the highlighting the complexities of each character throughout the play as the actors leave their souls on the stage for the audience to interpret. More importantly, Phillips introduces the audience to another layer of Janie with the charismatic and vulnerable, yet eerily memorable actor and musician Jennifer Russie Burks as the Soul of Janie. Burks carries the audience through Janie’s innermost thoughts and fears with her beloved violin and narration.  There is a great juxtaposition between Burks as the Soul of Janie and Laren Marissa Smith as Janie Mae Crawford throughout the play as Smith brilliantly captures the unapologetically independent and quick temper of Janie.  For the first time, the audience is able to experience the direct effects of the suffocating of Janie’s spirit as she obliges the endless rules and norms of being a Black woman in the 1920’s. Smith is witty, funny, passionate, and conveys the defiance in Janie’s character with the utmost sensitivity reminding the audience of  Hurston’s beautiful manipulation of  language within those memorable lines from the classic. You find yourself lost in the literature as all the actors deal with the social, cultural, and economic constraints of their characters lives.  Hurston’s literary works are undoubtedly pivotal within American and Black history because her work was an  effective political weapon, that promoted racial pride and unsilenced the voices of Black woman way ahead of her time.

It is no coincidence that the revival of this play took place at the WOW Cafe Theatre women’s theater collective in NYC’s East Village, which promotes the empowerment of women through the performing arts. You can support this project and other create, inc. endeavors through our ongoing fundraising efforts at https://www.gofundme.com/astageplay. All donations over $5 US are tax

Checkout out the highlights below!