Chronic Pain & The Opioid Epidemic: A View in Black & White


There was a time when I’d wake up every morning in chronic pain. The pain I endured was vaguely diagnosed after going to the doctor several times in one year to address the aches in my lower back and pelvis. So far, the treatment has been a combination of ibuprofen and, at one point, six weeks of physical therapy.

However, like many Americans who live with ongoing aches in their own bodies, the low to moderate pain at times persists. Despite this, because I’m a young, healthy Black woman, I continue throughout my days uncertain of when my body will actually be pain-free.

In 2012, the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) concluded that 11.2% of American adults (25.3 million people) have experienced some form of pain every day over the course of three months. So, while chronic pain is new to me, it is not a new phenomenon among Americans.

I bring this up to paint the story of how opioid addiction became a national epidemic, yet is not the burden of Black Americans, at large. Though a growing number of hip hop artists like Lil Wayne, The Weeknd, and Meek Mill are a case study for the burgeoning prescription drug crisis in urban communities with the emergence of “Modern Drug Rap,” the mainstream perception is that the opioid crisis is that of white America.

Fact is, the diagnosis of “chronic pain” officially became treatable during the mid-90s when doctors, who were once wary of prescribing opioid medication, were lured by Big Pharma into making painkillers widely available.

A fascinating Last Week Tonight with John Oliver segment points out how the pharmaceutical industry began amplifying the message that opioids were appropriate to use not only for acute pain but for all manner of conditions that cause common body aches.

In 1996, Purdue released the blockbuster drug, OxyContin through an aggressive marketing strategy that boasted relatable testimonials of pain patients whose lives were miraculously turned around by the opioid.

At the time, Purdue claimed that less than 1% of patients who took opioid medication became addicted, and went as far as to have doctors on payroll called Pain-Management Specialists insist that “pseudoaddiction” is “relief-seeking behavior mistaken as drug addiction.”

This justified their appealing message of a quick, easy cure for pain, available to those with the medical insurance plans or social influence to acquire the prescriptions. This was mainly the dwindling middle class, and affluent whites. By 2000, doctors were writing nearly 6 million oxycodone scripts per year and, shortly thereafter, the headlines began to reflect the true risk of the highly addictive medication.

By 2007, Purdue admitted responsibility and paid $634 million in fines for lying to the public with misleading marketing about the safety of OxyContin. Other prescription opioid companies also paid multimillion-dollar fines after being sued for over-marketing to the public and insurance companies to pay for drugs like Fentanyl, the drug 100-times more powerful than morphine that ultimately claimed the life of rock star Prince.

While the pharmaceutical companies bear a great deal of responsibility for the epidemic, where more than 250 million opioid prescriptions are written every year, the fact that the epidemic is overwhelmingly affecting white Americans is telling.

Meanwhile, the response to this crisis by the Federal government, declaring the Opioid Epidemic a Public Health issue as opposed to a Criminal Justice one, is rooted in the country’s institutional and structural racism.

If I were a white woman in my late 30s living in Suburbia, USA with excellent health coverage, the theory goes, the mere mention of the chronic pain I currently suffer would afford me a refillable opioid prescription. However, being a 30-something Black woman in Brooklyn, grateful for the therapy provided by my Obamacare, there was never any mention of an opioid painkiller remedy with my zero-refill 90 count ibuprofen.

Not that I desired one. That’s not that point. The point is that doctors have historically undertreated African Americans for pain in comparison to whites by not prescribing painkillers for reasons ranging from the false belief that Blacks have a higher tolerance for pain to the belief that they may sell the medication for profit.

An example given by journalist Soledad O’brien is that a Black patient who’s had teeth extracted may not get the same 90-day supply of Vicodin that a white person with better health coverage might receive.

This is one theory that explains why many Blacks have not been as adversely affected by the prescription opioid epidemic. We simply do not get the same access to pain pills as whites. With this context, it’s better understood why the opioid and heroin crisis is a white American epidemic. Many looking to rehab centers like The Recovery Village for help with recovering from such an addiction.

For the substance abusers who initially had access to prescription opioids, heroin became a much cheaper and more easily accessible option once the scripts ran out.

75% of heroin abusers started with pharmaceutical pain opioids such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, or Percocet, which are taken both by prescription and recreationally. Yet, in the last five years when whites from suburban, wealthy, rural, and lower class areas became addicted to heroin, America declared the Opioid Epidemic a Public Health Crisis.

Enter, Michael Botticelli, the Obama administration’s Drug Czar and Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) from March 2014 until the end of the 44th presidency. Without saying he single-handedly spearheaded the shift from treating drug epidemics as a criminal justice issue to a public health one, it is accurate that in becoming head of ONDCP, Botticelli had long been a critic of the nation’s previous failed approach to dealing with drug issues stating that, “We can’t arrest and incarcerate addiction out of people.”

There is no more talk of violent “super-predators” with innate criminal pathologies, as disenfranchised “crack addicts” and their “crack babies” were universally characterized in the ‘80s and ‘90s while being siphoned onto the conveyor belt of mass incarceration. Now, the national push today is for empathy, compassion, tolerance, and accessible treatment for the nation’s addicted. 

News media headlines tout “The New Face of Addiction” within families “who did everything right.” Could this shift in perception be because overdoses have reached the doorsteps of government-elected officials?

New York State Assemblywoman Diana C. Richardson has been trending on social media for her 2016 response to the opioid epidemic in comparison to the crack crisis. In her remarks, she highlights the racial disparity and hypocrisy in the way the two drug crises have been handled.

Crack was an indisputable criminal justice agenda, in no way considered a national public health priority. It was met by the New York Rockefeller Drug Laws during the relentless War on Drugs.

diana c. richardson

Prior to crack, when heroin plagued the Black community post-Vietnam, it was a criminal justice issue. Richardson is spirited and resolute in exclaiming that because the opioid crisis affects a “different demographic of race and class,” it has become a public health issue diverting the addicted from prison into treatment facilities.

She ends her speech by declaring what’s missing from the drug epidemic discussion: the Restorative Justice element toward the individuals who were jailed or now have permanent records.

For all the families who were ripped apart due to the criminal justice handling of the crack epidemic, as opposed to establishing a public health-based treatment infrastructure, in what way are they made whole by their government?

Black Americans who faced addictions that equate the same issues of whites addicted to opioids and heroin have absolutely nothing to show for the lack of humanity, compassion, empathy and foresight that the government has granted this current whitewashed drug epidemic. And that is quite the national tragedy.

– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins, aka FlyMai, is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world with global bon vivant flair and the passport stamps to prove it. She currently works in Edtech, and is the author of several blogs including and and is a columnist for the music publication

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in International Affairs from The New School Milano, she reps her beloved alma mater Howard University every chance she gets. As a poet and a creative non-fiction writer, she looks forward to soon publishing her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter

5 Ways Black Businesses Can Improve Customer Experience


Let’s face it, Black businesses have a horrible reputation when it comes to offering a great customer experience or customer service.

Whether this stigma is justified or not, the fact remains that business should always strive to offer the best customer experience possible.

Keep these stats in mind:

78% of consumers did not make an intended purchase because of a poor service experience. Source: American Express Survey

It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. Source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs

In 2016 one study found that 75% of companies said their top objective was to improve customer experience.

So, what can Black owned businesses do to improve their customer experience and keep their customer coming back? Glad you asked!

1) Help customers to help themselves

The majority of consumers will always check a website for information before calling or e-mailing a business, so make it easy for them to find answers to their questions quickly and easily by deploying an online FAQ, or Live

2) Listen to customer feedback and react

In order to improve your product and service offering, you need to have the best possible understanding of what your customer’s needs are.

Providing customers with several ways to provide feedback (social media, email, on-site suggestion box etc) will enable you to monitor and implement changes and address issues when they arise.

3) Don’t take it personal

The ability to swallow one’s pride and accept blame or negative feedback is crucial. Whether your team works directly with customers or looking for feedback on social media, they’ve got to keep the customer’s happiness in mind.

4) Listen to your team/staff feedback

If you have a team or staff that are on the front lines dealing with frustrated and agitated customers, be aware that they are knowledgable about the customer’s wants, needs and pain points.

They should be given the opportunity to provide this customer insight regularly, via a method that is most comfortable for them.

5) Embrace the complaints

When a customer takes the time to share suggestions or vent frustrations, you can be sure that they are one of several customers that share the same frustration — or soon will, unless an improvement occurs.

Better for you to hear it and make the change before these customers move on to your competitor.

Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG: @thebusyafrican)

ZAAF CEO on Creating a Luxury Brand and Changing the Perception of Africa


ZAAF is a luxury leather goods brand that manufactures its products in Ethiopia. As an African, I love seeing us take our natural resources and create world class brands that can compete with the usual household names that we’ve been trained to desire.

I wanted to know more about this brand and the brain behind it, so I had a chat with ZAAF founder and CEO, Abai Schulze.

SB: What inspired you to start ZAAF?

AS: It all came down to a convergence of both opportunity and passion. My passion derives from the reality that design and creative expressions of “physical creation” had always been a driver for me, even as I spent my university years focused on an economics major at George Washington University.

SB: We are all familiar with the stereotypes that exist about African countries. How important is it to you to change these perceptions with your work?

AS: We promote Ethiopia’s, as well as the entire continent’s rich heritage and cultures through exacting top quality products made with indigenous natural resources by our gifted artisans.

Each piece draws its inspiration from a particular region, and is crafted with the finest materials.

Color, texture, and ageless patterns made on a traditional loom, are merged with carefully selected leather to create a discrete statement of elegance and practicality.

I believe our effort at ZAAF accentuates an angle that speaks to the legitimacy of art, the taste of truthful luxury and the beauty of an earnest human endeavor all built around the hope of a nation.

Positioning a luxury brand synonymous with Ethiopia in the global marketplace is an effective way of displacing negative stereotypes about the country.

SB: Ethiopia has one of the leading manufacturing industries in Africa. What do you feel needs to be done in order for the country to capitalize on this?

AS: Yes – Ethiopia is on track to become Africa’s industrial powerhouse, but there are some challenges that need to be addressed in order for the country to really capitalize on its resources.

One issue in particular I want to highlight is that we must develop our labor force’s skills so individuals can become more productive and truly understand quality control.

It is equally vital that companies pay a sustainable wag as the high turnover indicates this has yet to be achieved.

SB: What is the most fulfilling and most challenging aspect of the work you do?

AS: My driving passion and vision for many years were centered around using my education and experiences to create economic opportunities in my country of birth.

We are trying to be a part of the solution by making skills and capacity building integral to our operating model. I believe we are having an incremental but certainly positive impact on the job sector.

I also hope we are having a “knock on” effect and inspiring other young entrepreneurs and designers to enter the space and invest in people.

Of course there are difficulties around infrastructure, red tape and elements like logistics – those go without saying. These challenges should be “priced into” any decision to open and operate in any frontier market.

I think a particular challenge, which is also a wonderful opportunity, for my sector is the need to invest continually in human capital.

I’m highly reliant on qualified and specifically skilled labor who can build unique hard and soft skills. Filtering through, selecting and further investing into this human capital is probably my most unique challenge.

SB: How important is it to you to invest in your community and in what ways are you doing that or planning to do that in the future?

AS: I strongly believe that education and job creation play the critical role to provide economic opportunities in any emerging economies.

So at ZAAF, we support educational programs by inviting students to our workshop, inspiring them with our work, or sponsoring programs that support out vision in these issues.

We believe that financial success and mission impact go hand in hand. We must succeed as a business and achieve financial success in order to create a deeper development impact, build local capacity, and generate sustainable markets.

The success of our company rests upon our ability to create new linkages between emerging market producers and discerning developed market customers, and to generate profit, growth, and revenue in the markets for our artisans.

SB: Where you see yourself and your business in 5 years

AS: We will continue to expand our production in line with our growth goals, while also expanding the range of products we offer. We also aim to grow partnerships and distribution channels.

We will be a globally recognized high-end brand that gives discerning consumers new and exciting choices, and in many cases a whole new perception of Ethiopia and the African continent.

SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

AS: Quantify your risks. Build up an appropriate tolerance for risk and surround yourself with people who inspire you and hold you accountable for your actions and progress on your goals.

I would also advise entrepreneurs to double-down on execution. I’ve always said –  execution is the stuff of success – passion is just one of the ingredients.


-Tony O. Lawson

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kweliTV is Sharing The Stories of The Global Black Community


Even in 2018, it can be a struggle to find diverse and positive depictions of Black folk on TV or the big screen. Thankfully, kweliTV is working to resolve that issue. We spoke with CEO, Deshuna Shencer. This is what she had to say:

DeShuna Spencer – CEO, kweliTV

SB: What inspired you to start kweliTV?

DS: The inspiration to launch kweliTV was based off of not seeing enough films and shows on TV and on streaming services that reflected my experience as a black woman.

When my husband and I cut cable, we ended up getting a subscription to a mainstream streaming service. I was shocked and disappointed that the award-winning black films that I read about on blogs were missing from this service.

If I wanted to watch an indie black film I had to travel to a film festival probably hundreds of miles away to see it.

With my background in journalism, I began doing research online about the film industry and how black filmmakers have difficulties getting their films distributed even after having a successful film festival run.

That’s when the light bulb went off in my head to launch a streaming service for indie black films. I was extremely nervous about starting this company.

Besides directing and producing a documentary a few years back, I had no other experience in the film industry.

I was a journalist with a background in running online magazines and a communications department. But at the same time, I had been frustrated with how mainstream media told black stories for years.

I know longer wanted to just complain about it. I wanted to do something to make change.

Another inspiration of mine was to create a space that could unite the global black community.

We rarely get an authentic glimpse at the lives of those who look like us in countries such as Brazil, Kenya, Portugal, France, Ghana, etc. I was curious about those stories and I’m excited that we’re able to tell them.

SB: How do you select what content to use?

DS: Films have to have been an official selection at a film festival. The main character must be of African descent—no sidekick stories.

Then, we watch the film to make sure it is not monolithic and that it depicts an authentic voice for the global black community. While it’s not a “make or break” criteria, we want our films to have meaning and tell messages within their stories.

For instance, one of our films, OJUJU, is a zombie apocalypse film based in Nigeria that won numerous awards.

While at its core OJUJU is a horror film, at the beginning it tells a very brief story about the inadequate water supply in this part of the country—a real issue that affect thousands of people.

In the film, someone drinks from contaminated water. They become sick, die and then turn into a zombie. Of course no one will turn into a zombie in real life after drinking dirty water.

But even with the films main theme—horror—it still touches on a social element that is a reality for millions of people around the world.

SB: What is the most inspiring and and challenging part of the business?

DS: In business and in life, there are ups and downs. When I first launched kweliTV’s beta back in 2015, we got so much buzz. People were subscribing, but because the developer who built it didn’t complete the job, the site had a lot of issues.

We planned to move out of beta by January 2016, we didn’t officially launch until about 19 months later in the Fall 2017. I can write a book about that journey alone.

We lost a lot of customers because of it. I thought about giving up so many times.

But the inspiration to keep going came from the hundred plus filmmakers whose content was on the platform, believed in the vision and stuck with me even during the most challenging times.

My inspiration also came from the extremely patient customers who would email us saying that they believed in what we were doing. I am in constant contact with customers to see what they like and how we can improve.

I know all of my filmmakers personally and I send them regular updates on what’s happening with the platform. My customers and filmmakers inspire me the most. I do this for them.

SB: How would you describe (non monetary) success for kweliTV?

DS: Success for me is very simple. I want kweliTV to be the go-to space for our community—in the US and abroad—to come together to celebrate and support our diverse stories and storytellers from around the world.

SB: Where do you see the business in 5 years?

DS: In five years, we hope to be a global presence in which we’re creating original programming produced by, written by, directed by and starring people from the African diaspora.

SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

DS: Trust your gut and be open to change. Don’t let a bad day/week/month cause you to give up on what you believe is your calling—a better day is around the corner.

Try to be scrappy and use the resources (no matter how few the are) to launch your business.

If you’re waiting for a loan or an investor’s check to validate or move on your idea, it may not ever happen.

As Diddy said once, “The calvary ain’t coming.” Get use to the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship. Strap in tight, the ride is bumpy but worth it if you’re willing to work hard for it.

Try kweliTV FREE for 7 days!


Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

IG: @thebusyafrican


9 Caribbean Restaurants In The UK


Caribbean cuisine is known and enjoyed for its exotic flavour. Our list of Caribbean Restaurants in the United Kingdom has some great choices that will leave those taste buds tingling.

Hopefully, you can handle the spice!

caribbean food

Caribbean Restaurants In The UK

PandaBerry Caribbean restaurant & Jerk centre. We are family run business dedicated to serving you hot, delicious and nutritious food.

Levi Roots Caribbean Smokehouse aims to aim to serve the best Jerk Chicken in the world amongst other traditional Caribbean favourites.

The Rum Kitchen is a Caribbean eatery that bends the rules. We focus on bringing Caribbean beach shack drinks with travel inspired flavours to London.

Negril is a Simple, unfussy Caribbean restaurant with a traditional comfort food menu & outdoor seating.

Rudie’s is a hip Jamaican joint serving banging real jerk and small plates with a contemporary twist.

Cafe Caribbean is a counter-serve Caribbean joint with chalkboard menus listing familiar regional cuisine.

Jamaica Patty Co. is a simple takeaway for traditional Jamaican patties, plus soups, coffee, juice and imported cakes.

Fish, Wings & Tings is a compact restaurant dishing up a vibrant menu of Caribbean favourites at pavement tables.

Bokit’la is the first French Caribbean street food vendor based in London. It’s a family run business sharing a taste of Guadeloupe.


Also check out our list of African Restaurants in the UK.


Tony O. Lawson

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Revisiting MLK Day: A Look at Martin Luther King Jr. and Economic Justice


In a letter to Coretta Scott during the summer of 1952, about a year before they would marry, Martin Luther King Jr. wooed her with his sentiments on economic principles following a few tender lines of poetry.

“I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic,” he wrote. “And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Throughout his rise to prominence as one of the most influential and universally known civil rights leaders in history, economic justice would be an underlying pillar of his legacy.

However, his radical commitment to leveling economic inequality for all Americans, in addition to the work he did to advance civil and human rights, has been characterized as under-appreciated and is often overlooked in mainstream reflections of his greatest achievements.

In a 1998 PBS Frontline documentary entitled “Two Nations of Black America,” it is fascinating to study rarely seen video footage of Martin Luther King during the last two months of his life. In his later speeches King had begun to acknowledge the lack of material gains brought on by the Civil Rights Movement in the way of improved conditions and quality of life for many African Americans.

In efforts to address the national statistics on poverty during the Johnson administration, with close to 30% of Americans living below the poverty line, in the early part of 1968 King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the Poor People’s March on Washington, more widely known as the Poor People’s Campaign.

This anti-poverty movement, which will commemorate fifty years by relaunching with plans of action this spring, demanded that Congress and executive agencies increase commitments to full employment, guaranteed annual incomes and increased low-income housing for all Americans regardless of race, creed, or religion.

Dr. King openly critiqued the government’s failure and neglect of nearly a third of the country and his rhetoric was anything but the hand-holding, kumbaya sentiments of the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech:

“At the very same time that America refused to give the Negro any land, through an act of Congress our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest, which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor.

But not only did they give the land, they built land grant colleges with government money to teach them how to farm. Not only that, they provided county agents to further their expertise in farming. Not only that, they provided low interest rates in order that they could mechanize their farms.

Not only that, today many of these people are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies not to farm, and they are the very people telling the black man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And this is what we are faced with, and this is the reality. Now, when we come to Washington in this campaign, WE ARE COMING TO GET OUR CHECK.”

It’s no coincidence that Dr. King was assassinated during this tour for the economic empowerment of Blacks and others across the nation living in poverty.

On the eve of that dark day in American history, while in Tennessee in support of the Memphis Sanitation Strike, Dr. King delivered his final searing speech, “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop.”

There is a different type of urgency in his eloquence as he encourages his Black audience to take full note of their collective buying power and to leverage the strategy of boycotting businesses with racist, discriminatory practices.

You can hear the love and welfare in his pleas to parishioners and constituents to make deliberate efforts in choosing to spend their dollars with Black owned and operated businesses over convenient, mainstream alternatives.

Listening to “Mountaintop” half a century after King’s assassination, and understanding the sheer relevance that it still holds today points to why we should absolutely pay more attention to MLK’s legacy of fighting for economic justice and freedom.

Particularly in the wake of the current administration’s egregious failures to the American people including tax bill reforms that favor the wealthy, threatening to obliterate the shrinking middle class. Dr. King was unapologetic when he said that “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

That includes the economic freedom that we need to build long term, generational wealth for Black families and communities across the globe.

As Dr. King’s focus shifted toward solutions to poverty and fair housing conditions in addition to social inequity, it’s imperative that we consciously shift our focus toward his contributions to progressive economic models by further support of Black-owned businesses.

– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins, aka FlyMai, is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world with global bon vivant flair and the passport stamps to prove it. She currently works in Edtech, and is the author of several blogs including and and is a columnist for the music publication With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in International Affairs from The New School Milano, she reps her beloved alma mater Howard University every chance she gets. As a poet and a creative non-fiction writer, she looks forward to soon publishing her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter

Top 12 African Restaurants in The UK


Whether you’re looking for savory dishes that originate from the East, West or South of the Continent, this list of African Restaurants in the United Kingdom has some great choices to explore.

African Restaurants in the UK

Couscous Darna deals in the fragrant and warming dishes of Marrakesh. They serve a unique list of Moroccan beers, wines and cocktails to explore.

Ikoyi is a Chic space with decor that reflects the cuisine: a modern twist on authentic West African flavours.

Squires African Restaurant has over ten years experience of delivering authentic West African cuisine.

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen brings Ghanaian flavours to @Popbrixton and beyond.

Momo serves Couscous, tagines and lamb dishes in colourful setting filled with furnishings from a Moroccan souk.

Mosob is a family-run restaurant serving authentic, vibrant Eritrean cuisine in a setting that reflects the country’s culture, with original art and artifacts.

Sweet Handz blends a relaxed atmosphere with delicious authentic Ghanaian food.

Enish Restaurant is an upscale Nigerian restaurant in London serving the best Nigerian Food.

Hammer & Tongs entire menu is braai-cooked over Sickle Bush & Blackthorne wood imported directly from South Africa.

805 is a stylish, contemporary restaurant,in light and airy setting for Modern Nigerian and West African dishes.

Adulis serves Eritrean food, based on stews and unleavened bread, served for sharing, in modern-rustic setting.

Spinach and Agushi are famous for their home cooked Ghanaian street food sold at Exmouth, Broadway and Portobello Market in London.

Tony O. Lawson

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Drake Wants You To Invest In His Whisky Brand

Award winning rapper, Drake, in collaboration with entrepreneur Brent Hocking,  yesterday announced the intention to file an initial public offering that will allow any investor the opportunity to invest in their company, Virginia Black Whisky.

The company launched a national commercial campaign on November 19, 2017 airing nation-wide on CBS, ABC, and TNT among other networks during NFL, NBA and holiday season programming.

Drake’s father, Dennis Graham

A series of teasers for the commercial titled, “The Realest Dude Ever,” went viral after release on Drake’s Instagram receiving over 20 million views almost instantaneously.

The company plans to raise as much as $30 million.

Drake joins a long line of hip-hop stars who have introduced their own alcohol brands including Jay Z‘s Armand de Brignac Champagne, Sean “Diddy” Combs‘ Ciroc and 50 Cent‘s Effen Vodka.


Ancient Modern: Designer Hadiya Williams on Her Work and Inspiration


In 2018, we’re launching a new section: Aesthetics + Design. Our love of architecture, the arts and timeless design is married to our commitment to supporting the brilliant creatives that produce the work that adds value and beauty to our lives. Featuring architects, curators, artists, creators and makers, we’re excited to celebrate those most visually talented amongst us. Additionally, we’ll be sharing inspiration from homes and spaces that inspire.

For our inaugural feature, we sat down with Washington, D.C. based designer, Hadiya Williams, whose design has left in indelible mark on our lives, literally and figuratively. She was the mastermind behind our gorgeous wedding invitations for the #BlackestWeddingEver bka the ORIGINAL Jolloff and Jambalaya. (Believe it or not, some people actually stole our hashtag. Can you imagine?) But I digress.  She also recently completed a few larger scale projects in our Philadelphia home that was featured on HGTV’s Sneak Peek with AphroChic.

Check out what Hadiya had to say about her own personal aesthetic and process and look forward to more gorgeous inspiration to come.

Shantrelle P. Lewis

SB: Where are you from and how did you start working in design?

HW: I was born and raised in Washington, DC. I started designing while I was attending Bowie State University. I decided to take some computer graphics classes for an elective. I fell in love with the class and continued to teach myself how to use the design software. I eventually received by BFA in Graphic Design from Columbia College in Chicago.

SB: HBCU LOVE! And shout out to Columbia College. The Museum of Contemporary Photography(MoCP), on Columbia’s campus where Dandy Lion was on view in 2014, was one of the best things that ever happened to my career. Oh wait, you actually came to Chicago and saw the show there.

HW: I did! It was great to be back in the city. And of course, the exhibit was all of the things.

SB: Please describe what you do. How you self identify? As an artist? Designer? Creator?

HW: I would call myself all of the above. Depends on what I’m discussing or referring to. Ultimately, I am an artist. I know for a fact that what I do is art. I work intuitively most of the time. My work evokes emotion and very rooted in spirituality. Always has been.

SB: What inspired you to launch your 100 days of Black and white?

HW: I follow designer and book artist @eisroughdraft on IG. She shared a creative challenge, #The100DayProject with Elle Luna & The Great Discontent and I decided to do it. I was in a really tough space, creatively, at the time and thought the challenge would be a good way to help me focus and explore what I could do within that space. I had no idea how dramatic that release would be. I highly recommend a challenge like this where you do something for at least 21 days.

SB: What gave you gumption to start Black Pepper Paperie?

HW: #theblackestweddingever was the tipping point for me actually starting my business.  I did the invitation for this dope ass wedding which we all knew would be out of this world.

No one could have know just how amazing that experience would be. I came back from New Orleans in a completely different state of mind.

Before I left I was focused on working at my nonprofit gig and building up my position there. But I got back home and I knew I had to do work that I loved and that was exciting.

I began to plant the seeds for my stationery/event design business. Hence the “paperie” part of my name. I was pumped about that but there was still a part of it that I hadn’t figured out. I’m still learning and figuring out where this is going but it’s going definitely in the right direction.

SB: What are the most challenging and the most rewarding parts of owning your own business?

HW: The most challenging part about my business, so far is the learning. I have spent my career learning technical skills and design and being very focused with in the graphic design world.

Being an entrepreneur requires you to know so much more outside of art and design. That part is definitely challenging for me as a creative person. Like many artists, I just want to make shit.

The rewarding part, however, is the learning. Lol. Everyday I am faced with a new challenge. Creative and otherwise.

SB: Where do you pull inspiration? Who or what are your muses?

HW:  Black women. I am surrounded by an array of amazing, talented, dynamic women who guide me. They’re my muses. I’m also inspired by so many things around me. I have tons of design books, I go to vintage shops, thrift stores, outdoor markets, Pinterest.

I love West African art and design. It has always influenced my design thinking and the way I see.

SB: Tell me about your favorite personal/professional project?

HW: Ha! So, recently I painted designs on two walls in this home in Philly. Of course this is your home. That was something I hadn’t explored before and almost told myself that I wasn’t capable of. I consider it a favorite because it taught me that I have so much more work to do. And it reminded me that my work is spiritual.

I was inspired by the home itself and the history of the historically Black neighborhood, you and Tony’s roots in West African culture, and the open-minded spirit and boldness that you have.

Your curatorial work is bold and is all about taking risks. No one really thinks of home decor as risk-taking but it is the place where we are our most vulnerable and most comfortable. It says so much about who we are or at least it should. When people see our living space, if we are fortunate, it should tell them what we value most.

SB: Is there such a thing as a Black or African aesthetic?

HW: I think there is a thing that comes from Blackness that is innate, intuitive, not something that can be counted and measured. You know it when you see it and you actually feel the aesthetic, energetically.

I don’t think there is one specific aesthetic that is Black or African. I believe that we have a common aesthetic thread throughout the Diaspora.

The way we create music, dance, paint, and experience art in many forms, is connected. The evolved version of Black Americans is still connected to the Continent.

The same for the Caribbean. We all belong to each other. We consistently birth new art forms everyday. We are the cultural creators of the world.

SB: How would you describe your own personal aesthetic?

HW: Currently, my work is an amalgamation of West African cultural art, Black American cultural art and design, and early 20th century, western, abstract art and design that is essentially an appropriation or reinterpretation of West African art forms.

People who see my work tend to know or think they know it’s mine. So clearly I have an aesthetic, I have not found the words to describe it yet.

SB: What’s on your coffee table?

HW: A handmade vase from a fellow ceramics classmate, a book of matches, candle, my “genie bottle,” Dandy Lion by Shantrelle P. Lewis, Black Panther by Emory Douglas, Remix by AphroChic, The House Book, a Fire!! reprint, Black Society by Gerri Major, Taschen Publishing’s Logo Modernism.

SB: These days I’m becoming more and more selective about the kind of images I want to see in my social media fees. Who should we be following on IG? 

@BLKMKTVintage, @nicolecrowder, @justinablakeney, @andreapippins @ShoppeBlack, @nayyirahwaheed, @xnasozi, @tactilematter, @Afrominimalist @WalkieChatter, @ProfessionalBlackGirl and @Nachesnow. There are more but these are the first to come to mind.

SB: Lastly, what are tools that you can’t live without?

HW: My laptop.My cell phone (camera). #2 HB Pencils.

You can follow Hadiya on IG at @hadiyawilliams and @blackpepperpaperieco or visit to inquire about projects, to purchase items and for more information.

Black Owned Clothing Brands You Should Know


After H&M thought it would be cool to create an ad showing a young Black boy wearing a sweatshirt saying “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle”, we decided that enough is enough.

It shouldn’t take something like this to remind us that there are MANY other Black owned clothing brands that make casual wear and that actually appreciate your money. Here are some:

Black Owned Clothing Brands

SHOPPE BLACK (shameless plug)

Undefined Clothing

Black Bourgeois

black owned clothing


Salyel Paris

black owned clothing

We Wear Wavy

This Is Cultured


black owned clothing

Backtrack Vintage

black owned clothing

black owned clothing
black owned clothing
black owned clothing

Tony O. Lawson

If you would like to add your business to this list (or another) SUBMIT HERE.

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