Oakland’s New Marijuana Law Aims to offer Economic Reparations


When I first heard that Colorado was legalizing marijuana, one of my first thoughts was “Man, everyone who is or has ever been locked up for weed is gonna be pissed.” But for people who use marijuana for medical purposes, that is a whole other story. You have to get a medical card before you are able to obtain this product, as it has to be issued by a doctor. I know a few people who use marijuana as a way of dealing with any pains they are going through. Once, a friend of mine showed me what the product looked like. When I saw it, I wasn’t shocked with the product itself, but more so for what it came it. It looked a little dodgy and a quite suspicious. I’m no designer, but these businesses need to really update their marijuana packaging, just so it doesn’t look so obvious that someone is carrying marijuana. The smell is bad enough so the packing needs to outweigh this somehow.

I would imagine one of those people is DeMarcus Sanders from Waterloo, Iowa. A few years ago, he was pulled over for playing his music too loud. The police officer ran his license and then insisted on searching the car because he smelled marijuana. During the search, he found a small amount and charged DeMarcus with possession. The tide is turning on marijuana laws across the United States and Canada. Legitimate businesses like my green solution are now flourishing, whilst also serving a real demand. Unfortunately, this didn’t come soon enough for DeMarcus.

DeMarcus Sanders and his son

DeMarcus plead guilty and served 30 days in jail. During that time he lost his job, his drivers license and credit for college classes he had been taking. Even though it has been a few years since he was arrested, Mr. Sanders still owes the state over $2000 for room and board at the jail, fines, court costs, and other fees.


Getting arrested for marijuana possession in Iowa automatically triggers a six-month license suspension. Before it can be reinstated, one has to pay off a percentage of court fees and fines. As you can imagine, it’s hard to pay off fines and court costs when you are unemployed. It’s also hard to find or keep a job when you don’t have a driver’s license.
Another case that is even more tragic is that of Bernard Noble. The 49-year-old father of seven is serving more than 13 years behind bars for being caught with the equivalent of two joints’ worth of marijuana in 2010. He was arrested after two police officers ordered him off his bicycle and searched him without probable cause.
They found 2.8 grams of marijuana. Because he had prior non-violent drug offenses — for small amounts of cocaine and marijuana — an Orleans Parish jury convicted him under a state law that gives harsher punishments for habitual offenders.

These men and countless others are going through all of this for a substance that is now being legalized. Imagine all the other stories that are similar or worse.032014-national-aclu-calculator-on-racial-disparity-marijuana-arrests

Marijuana Law

In an attempt to begin repairing the damage caused by the disproportionate targeting of Black people in the questionable U.S. war on drugs and give us a share of this multi million dollar green pie, Oakland’s City Council recently approved an “Equity Permit Program” that would make the city’s marijuana industry more inclusive of Black and Latino residents. The program was introduced by Councilwoman Desley Brooks.


Brooks has stated publicly that she wants a form of economic reparations for people and neighborhoods affected by the war on marijuana.

Under the new law, half of new marijuana business permits will be reserved for people who live in East Oakland or were incarcerated for a marijuana-related arrest. The applicants must also have at least a 51 percent ownership stake in the business they are seeking to permit.


The city plans to issue eight new permits a year, as well as introduce permits for other marijuana businesses, such as cultivation, production, manufacturing and transportation. There are also many marijuana seo businesses that aim to boost marijuana stores up the Google rankings in order to make more sales. Currently, there are eight dispensaries in Oakland, but the businesses that supply the dispensaries are not licensed or permitted by the city.


The program was opposed by the majority of Oakland’s own Cannabis Regulatory Commission, who worked on the expansion for 18 months. Council member Brooks added the permit program as a last-minute amendment, which passed unanimously at 1 a.m. one week ago.

Supernova Women, a support group for Black women pot entrepreneurs says the policy was too narrow and should be expanded to other areas of Oakland or they would not be eligible. The council said it plans to make amendments to the new law at a later date, which could include expanding the permits to more police beats.

Amber Senter (L), Nina Parks, and Sunshine Lencho (R) are the co-founders of Supernova Women

Other critics say handing out every other new permit to a tiny group of people will create a “licensing bottleneck” that will drastically slow down Oakland’s vast expansion in licensed medical pot nurseries, farms, kitchens, stores, and testing labs.


Over the next months, amendments will be offered to expand the eligibility area for equity permits and possibly include the children or spouses of individuals incarcerated for marijuana crimes.

In my opinion, the prison industrial complex is nothing more than modern day slavery. The new slave masters alter laws and policies that funnel an overwhelming majority of Black people back onto the fields, or in this case behind bars. Instead of picking cotton, many of these prisoners are paid near nothing to make products ranging from Victoria Secret lingerie to Starbucks packaging.

I’m all for a program or policy that can provide some type of economic empowerment to those who have suffered directly or indirectly from an unjust set of laws that weren’t really created to protect anyone to begin with.

Annie Turnbo Malone: One of the First Black Women Millionaires in the U.S.


If you haven’t heard of Annie Turnbo Malone before today, you aren’t alone. When we found out about her, we were amazed that despite her amazing achievements, she isn’t a household name. So, who is Annie Turnbo Malone?

Annie Turnbo Malone

Annie Turnbo Malone

Annie Turnbo Malone (August 9, 1869—May 10, 1957) is recorded as one of the U.S.’s first Black female millionaires based on reports of $14 million in assets held in 1920 from her beauty and cosmetic enterprises, headquartered in St. Louis and Chicago.


While Annie was growing up, the popular style among Black women was the “straight hair” look.  Black women were moving from the braided cornrow styles they’d associated with the fields of slavery and began to embrace a look which, for them signified freedom and progression toward equality in America. The beauty industry at the time, had critics who were concerned that the promotion and glamorization of hair-straighteners (and, worse, skin-bleaching creams) would lead to the internalization of white concepts of beauty. This is obviously still an issue to this day. (Think Lil’ Kim)

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro Advertisement

Annie was mindful that such products had a negative perception attached to them. Perhaps this is why she trademarked her beauty products under the name “Poro” (a West African word for an organization dedicated to enhancing the body spiritually and physically.) There also some elements of the term that indicate beauty.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro Advertisement

Annie began to revolutionize hair care methods for all African Americans in the early 1900’s. In 1902, she moved to St. Louis, hired some assistants and began selling her products door-to-door.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro products
Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro Pressing Oil

One of her protégés was Sarah Breedlove who would later be known as Madam C.J. Walker. Walker actually worked as a “Poro Agent” for Annie for about one year. Walker is often credited as the originator of the Black beauty and cosmetics business and the direct distribution and sales agent system that Malone developed.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Young C.J. Walker

By 1917, as United States entered World War I, Annie Malone had become so successful that she founded and opened Poro College in St. Louis. It was the first educational institution in the United States dedicated to the study and teaching of Black cosmetology.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro Shipping Department

By 1926, the college employed 175 people and franchised outlets in North and South America, Africa, and the Philippines employing some 75,000 women. Malone had become a wealthy woman.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro College, St. Louis, MO


Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro College, St. Louis, MO

Despite her wealth, Malone lived conservatively and gave away much of her fortune to help other African Americans. She is one of America’s first major Black philanthropists.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro Fleet of vehicles
Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro college delivery truck

She contributed thousands of dollars to educational programs, universities, to the YMCA, and to nearly every Black orphanage in the country. Her $25,000 donation to Howard University was among the largest gifts received by a private donor of African descent. She also served as board president of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home from 1919 to 1943.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro College Graduation Atlanta 1939

Malone died in Chicago on May 10, 1957. By the time of her death, she had lost her national visibility and most of her money to lawsuits and tax debts. Having no children, her estate, valued at $100,000, was left to her nieces and nephews.

Annie Turnbo Malone


La SAPE bid Papa Wemba Adieu


What a week…I thought that Prince’s death was the shocker and blower of the 21st century. And then, I saw a random post from a friend that said Papa Wemba, also, passed away. WOW. Papa Wemba too? I didn’t feel compelled to write a piece about Prince, not that he wasn’t worthy of my lamenting, but because I knew that others who are better equipped to do so – and thousands of people are – would.

Papa Wemba, however, is a different story.

A story that was unknown to me until several years ago when I started researching the sapeurs for The Dandy Lion Project. Credited as the leader of the contemporary sapology movement in the Congo, he was definitely a huge cultural icon known throughout Africa and Europe. La SAPE –  Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (The Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People) formally named Papa Wemba as their leader nearly four decades ago. 

His music, afro-Rhumba was infectious. Arguably, on a musical level, Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, the man known as Papa Wemba, was to the Congo what Fela was to Nigeria. Although his music was not as political, it was certainly as influential. He was a superstar in his own right. Additionally, his flamboyance and cult-like addiction to fashion was not understated. 

His film roles, controversial lifestyle and fashion made him a documentary worthy subject in the 2005 documentary The Importance of Being Elegant. While Papa Wemba may not have been a household name like the Purple One, he will definitely be remembered by thousands of fans around the world. 

Unrelated to his untimely death, the Museum of the Africa Diaspora will be screening The Importance of Being Elegant on May 19, 2016 as part of its Sweet & Dandy Film Series for my Dandy Lion exhibition, that will be on view there through September. Check it out.

Shantrelle P. Lewis

Growing and Maintaining Black Wealth: Watch your Ass-ets


This is the second installment in our series around the topic of “Growing and Maintaining Black wealth through sound legal strategies and problem solving.” Let’s continue with a discussion about Assets.

Growing and Maintaining Black Wealth: Watch your Ass-ets

“Gator Boots, with the pimped out Gucci suit

Ain’t got no job, but I stay sharp

Can’t pay my rent, cause all my money’s spent

but thats OK, cause I’m still fly

Got a quarter tank gas in my new E-class

but that’s alright cause I’m gon’ ride

got everything in my mama’s name

but I’m hood rich da dada dada da”

Still Fly by Big Tymers

Even though this song came out in 2002, it’s still a club banger that many of us get excited about as soon as the first beat drops. And most of us will shout the lyrics at the top of our lungs because it’s just one of those songs that brings joy to our dancing hearts. Raise your hand if you started bobbing your head a little while reading the lyrics above. Some of us relate to those lyrics a lot. My friend, in a bid to save money, decided to change his car insurance to get the cheapest car insurance quote possible. Money Expert helped him out tremendously. But getting car insurance can be really expensive for people though, there are some deals out there which have been designed to help people when it comes to getting car insurance. For example, you could check out this cheap monthly car insurance with no deposit.

Black Wealth

Big Tymers and many other rap artists brag about their wealth over hypnotic beats, easily impressing listeners with what they have. Chains that cost a condo. Expensive cars with even more expensive add-ons. Couture fashion. And there is some validity to what they’re doing. We all should be able to list out what we have, how much it is worth, and whether it is in line with our life goals and beyond.

Black Wealth

Have you ever stopped to wonder what your list of assets would be if, per chance, you decided to rap about it or brag a little? Have you ever wondered while listening to the rappers bragging about their purported wealth, “how liquid is [insert bragging rapper’s name]” and, more importantly “how liquid am I”?

Knowing what you have and what it is worth could possibly impress others. However, in the context of growing your wealth and estate planning, it is critical that you are actually able to list your assets as fluidly as Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, and the rest. At a minimum, you should:

  • be able to list everything that make up your assets;
  • know the individual and total value of your assets and the type of ownership; and
  • know what will happen to each asset when you pass away.

If you know all of these things about your assets, you are positioned to maximize the power to make your assets do the most for you and for those you plan to give them to when you pass away. If you do not know what you have, what it is worth, and what will happen to it when you pass away, then you just might be wasting a lot of hard work and hard earned money.


The focus of this article is on creating an inventory that identifies the assets that make up your estate, their value, and whether you need to make some adjustments or additions to your assets in order for you to develop an estate that meets your needs during your lifetime and meets your goals for when you pass away. Although there is basic discussion on the different types of assets that can make up your estate, you should make the time to do additional research to get a full understanding of each of these. This includes doing research online but also meeting with professionals who have solid, reliable knowledge about different financial instruments and financial planning. One feature of financial planning that many people do not quite realise the importance of is equity release. Equity release is a financial product for people aged 55 to 95 which allows you to release some of the cash (equity) tied up in the value of your home. To release equity from your home, you need to get expert advice from a qualified equity release adviser. You can actually calculate your equity by using something like this equity release calculator, just to make sure your finances are in the state they should be.

Black Wealth

You first want to list everything you own, how much each item is worth, and the beneficiaries of each item. Again, an estate is everything you own from real property (house) and personal property (cash, accounts, deejay collection, and etc.). To get you started on your inventory, we provide a worksheet you can download. Link

Most people’s estates also include a combination of some or all of the following:

  • Cash
  • Savings Accounts
  • Checking Account
  • Term Deposit Account
  • Life Insurance
  • Retirement Plans
  • Investments
  • Securities
  • Business Interests
  • Notes Receivable

Let’s take a more in-depth look at some of the financial vehicles above, because it is important to be clear on what you have and how it operates.

Term Deposit Account— This is a cash investment with a financial institution such as a bank that gives you an agreed rate of interest over a fixed period of time. A common term deposit account is a CD (certificate of deposit).

Life Insurance— Life insurance can be a significant part of an estate plan. Life insurance policies come in a variety of forms (e.g. term, whole, and universal), but the basic function of a life insurance policy is to provide a cash payment at the death of the life insured. This payment is known as a death benefit.

Black Wealth

The death benefit from a life insurance policy has numerous advantages and it takes careful planning to ensure that your life insurance is doing for you what it is intended to do. A major benefit of life insurance is to provide liquidity for your beneficiaries. In other words, it gives your beneficiaries cash and often it is soon after your death, which can be very useful, if not essential, to a surviving spouse and children. The death benefit is typically not taxable as income to the beneficiaries and it is paid directly to the beneficiaries rather than being paid to the estate of the deceased, so long as beneficiaries are listed.

Black Wealth

Other than a will, life insurance may be the best and only financial tool a person of modest means needs in their estate plan. Regardless of the policy owner’s means, it is critical to have a comprehensive understanding and strategy with your life insurance or the benefit can be lost.

Retirement Plans— As with life insurance, there are various types of retirement plans that you may have or that you will consider getting. Baby boomers and older generations often rely on Social Security, which is a government mandated plan, and pensions (an employer-sponsored plan profit sharing plan). Nowadays there are new, more robust retirement plans. For example, a 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan and most employers will match a percentage of what you contribute to your plan. Each year you can contribute up to $18,000 of your income before taxes are taken out, per federal law. Nonprofit and government employees usually have a 403(b) or 457 plan, respectively. You can also establish an Individual Retirement Plan (IRA or Roth IRA) on your own and there is a maximum amount that you can contribute each year. And if you leave your employer, you can roll your employer sponsored plan into your IRA.

Black WealthBusiness Interests— Whether you have a side hustle as a deejay or your main gig is your own business, know what your business is worth. More specifically, know what your share of the business is worth. Also, have clear instructions for what happens to your business or share of the business when you pass away. Should it be dissolved? Do you want to leave it to someone? Ideally, any business interest should not be compromised by your death undermining the effort and money invested in it. If you have a business partner(s), you should maintain life insurance policies on each other’s life and have a buy-sell agreement, so your interest in the business is not compromised when your partner passes away.

Black Wealth

Notes Receivable— This is a written promise to receive money from another person on or by a set date. The note formalizes a loan you make to someone and it is an asset. It is important to have any loan you make to someone put in writing and to use an attorney to draft this agreement to ensure your interests should the debtor file for bankruptcy, die, or disagree with the terms at a later date. Notes receivable can also be passed on to your heirs.

Black Wealth

Next Steps

After you have listed and determined the value of your assets, add them up to see the total value. You might find yourself impressed with what you have or you might realize that you need to make some changes to either grow your estate or to make sure what you leave behind is suitable for the loved ones you leave behind. Liquidity comes to mind again. Liquidity is an important and often overlooked characteristic of one’s assets. A basic way to determine your liquidity is to find out how much easily accessible money you have in the form of cash and equivalents, which you can do on your own or you may to speak to financial professionals to get the number.

Also, take a look at your debt and ask similar questions about your debt obligations as you do for your assets. How much is each debt? What happens to the debt when I die? How does it affect my potential heirs and beneficiaries? Keep in mind the assets that will go directly to the beneficiaries you named such as life insurance. Also, certain student loan debt is forgiven when you pass away, i.e. it does not become a debt of your estate.

Black Wealth


Nominate beneficiaries. Many of the assets discussed in this article are set up so that you can nominate beneficiaries and alternate beneficiaries to receive the assets directly when you pass away. It is critical that you nominate beneficiaries, plus alternate beneficiaries, on any account that you allow you to do so. Not nominating beneficiaries plus alternate beneficiaries can and will likely undermine your entire estate plan. In most states, if you fail to or intentionally do not nominate beneficiaries, the asset will go to your estate and be used first to pay the costs of administering your estate and then your debts. Only after those obligations are paid for will the money be received by your loved ones.

Do not rely solely on employer-provided life insurance and retirement plans. These may not be sufficient for your family’s needs and they often do not continue after you leave a place of employment.

Do regular check-ups. Regularly check in on your assets to ensure that you have the coverage you need; that they are growing to meet your goals; and that the beneficiaries are who you need or want them to be. Annual check-ups and life milestones, such as family changes, retirement or changes in health, are good times to do a check-up too.

Develop a plan unique to your needs. It is not uncommon for people to follow the financial advice of their parents or friends. Although they can provide helpful advice, you must pay attention to your unique circumstances. Many baby boomers would advise putting your assets in a trust. Trusts are complicated and expensive. One of the greatest benefits of a trust is avoiding estate taxes and you currently need to have an estate close to $5 million to be concerned about estate taxes. Likewise, if you are single and have no children, your financial goals can be very different. Life insurance may not play a major role and the money you would use for life insurance premiums can be targeted to financial vehicles with greater growth potential than life insurance. You can also consider leaving your assets to your alma mater or a non-profit.

Black Wealth

Don’t let debt undermine the value of your estate. Many people prioritize paying off their debt paid during their lifetime and when they pass away. Having no debt or keeping debt low certainly gives you more financial freedom. However, this is not a reality for most Americans, especially for people with student loan or mortgage debt. It is possible, though, to grow wealth in spite of debt. In order to do this, you need a plan and this plan involves a good estate planning attorney, a good CPA specializing in taxes, and good financial professionals. These professionals will help you build a strategy to grow wealth and sufficiently address debt to meet your individual needs.

A good estate planning attorney will assist you with creating an asset protecting estate plan. The cost for this is minimal compared to what you could lose to paying off your debt. A good CPA can assist you with tax planning strategies that allow you to put more of your income towards growth and reducing your tax obligations based on your debt repayment. Then financial professionals can address your specific circumstances and provide advice on financial vehicles that work for you.

Black WealthDeveloping a team of professionals to aid you will likely require a lot of work on your part in getting referrals, interviewing people, and doing research. This effort is needed and in the long run, benefits are priceless. Just remember: your ultimate goal should be growing enough wealth to take care of yourself while you are living and to take care of you any loved ones you leave behind or building a legacy.

Consider inexpensive life insurance policies to cover some debt. Inexpensive life insurance policies can cover some of your debt at your death or the death of a co-borrower. Your car loan lender may offer a policy that pays off your vehicle loans. If you have student loan debt, find out what happens to your student loan debt when you die. It may make sense to get an inexpensive policy to pay off the debt if you have a co-borrower. For example, it may make sense for you and a co-borrower on student loans to get policies each other’s life to pay off the loans when one of you dies. The same holds true for business loans and home loans. With student loans, though, you and your co-borrower should also seek removal of the non-student co-borrower as soon as possible, which is usually a few years into repayment of the loans. Many lenders will not tell you that you can do that. You have to be proactive.

Balance your funeral wishes with transferring your wealth regardless of its size. Historically and presently, many people have “funeral insurance” which is either a standard life insurance policy for which the policy owner wants the death benefit used to pay for their funeral or it is a policy very similar to a life insurance policy that will direct the death benefit to the funeral service provider to pay for funeral expenses. The difference is that with the standard life insurance policy, the beneficiary is legally under no obligation to use the money to pay the funeral expenses. It is merely a promise. In either case, if you have or plan to have a life insurance policy to pay for your funeral expenses and even your debts, consider whether doing so is really helpful to those you leave behind. Traditional funerals are expensive. The average funeral is in the ballpark of $6,000. Could $6,000 make a difference in the lives of your loved ones if it could be used for something other than your funeral? There are many options less expensive than a traditional funeral. Some options are better for the wallet and the earth. Go green!



Hopefully by now you feel encouraged to take an in-depth look at your assets. The goal is not to be able to brag like the rappers or even to see if you have something to be proud about. Regardless of your asset level, whether it is modest or very high, it is important to know what you have, how it operates, how it will transfer on your death, who it will go to, and the various scenarios of what can happen with all that you have worked hard to earn.
At the very least, you need to have a basic understanding of the financial assets you may have. Then, try to take it one step further and find out if what you have meets your needs and goals. Do you have the right type of assets? Also, find out if your assets are set up to meet your goals (i.e., have you nominated beneficiaries and alternate beneficiaries on accounts that allow it?). And once you have taken a good look at your assets, work with your loved ones to do the same by sharing this article and even sharing what has worked for you.

– Contributed by Mavis Gragg

Mavis Gragg is an attorney at the Gragg Law Firm, PLLC in Durham, North Carolina where she specializes in estate planning and estate administration. She is very passionate about maintaining and growing Black wealth through sound legal strategies and problem solving. When she is not being a justice girl, she can be found at an art gallery, trotting the globe, or on the dance floor.


Malick Sidibé, The Giant: Dawoud Bey and Other Artists Pay Tribute to the Malian Photographer


I saw a post from Senegalese contemporary artist Omar Victor Dip on facebook: “Abasourdi par une triste nouvelle, Malick Sidibé n’est plus… Je m’incline devant la mémoire et l’oeuvre de l’un des Grands. Vous qui l’avez connu, au delà des murs de son studio, je pense à vous.” Stunned by a sad news, Malick Sidibé is no more… I bow to the memory and the work of one of the greats. You who have known, beyond the walls of his studio, I think about you.

Could it be? I wasn’t sad in the way that I emoted at the news of the passing of Phife only a month ago. I felt something else. It’s the feeling of a great loss yet a moment where you find yourself engulfed by sheer awe when you take in the life and prolific work of a man who was a giant. Malian photographer, Malick Sidibé, took a camera and in return delivered to us our humanity, in all of its exquisite glory, right from his meta-progressive studio in metropolitan mid-twenty century Bamako. There would be no Dandy Lion Project without Sidibé – his photography defined everything that we love about US.

So it is with these thoughts and in my desire to pay tribute to giant of a man, turned ancestors, that I turned to my friends to – all enormous artists themselves – to pay tribute to someone who meant so much.

 – Shantrelle P. Lewis

Above Photo Credit: Benoit Facchi


Reflections on Malick Sidibé

“The representation of Africa has long been a fraught one. Conceptualized in the Western imagination as “the dark continent,” the images of and about Africa and Africans were often stereotypical at best and relegated to the misguided or the sterile realm of the anthropological more often than not.

Enter Malick Sidibé and his Rolleiflex camera, a fine German made instrument in the hands of this man from Bamako, Mali determined that there be a visual record of the West African community that was his home and the peoples who were his contemporaries as they emerged from the oppressive shadow of French colonialism in 1960. Photographing first in the spaces where people gathered and socialized and later setting up his studio, his photographs celebrated the exuberant and cosmopolitan Malians in the midst of celebrating themselves, dressed in the latest fashions, dancing the latest steps, posing for the camera in all of their “self possessed-ness” as their presence was permanently fixed and affirmed in his negatives. Colonial subjects no more, liberated into their full and public expressivity!

Sidibé became their collaborator, celebrating and mirroring their presence in his exquisitely crafted black and white photographs, all the while giving the lie to the image of Africans as essentialized peoples of one kind or another, either singularly oppressed and degraded or ennobled beyond the complex places in which they lived. Malick Sidibé’s pictures give the lie to all of that one dimensionality, replacing it with a richness and complexity, an attention to how form, gesture, attention to timing and psychology animate and elevate the person in front of the camera.

Yes, a great tree has fallen, but through his life and his glorious photographs his people remain standing tall, to be celebrated into eternity just as he will be.”

Dawoud Bey 

Malick Sidibe

“I once had the chance to be in his line of sight. Much like my father’s funeral, it was so surreal I honestly cannot recall many details. I remember his studio was in the middle of a crowded market. It was filled with photographs and cameras. I think I remember the color green. I remember that my shutter wouldn’t go off when I pointed my camera at him. I remember he gestured for me to put it down and turn around. I remember his son loaded his film but stepped away so his father could focus.
But I don’t remember the words we exchanged. Perhaps there were none.
I am because he is. Pure and simple.”
 Malick Sidibe
“Sidibé’s images have been one of the constant sources of inspiration for me for various projects I’ve worked on throughout the years. The emotional tenor of the works and the grace they display are a tremendous gift to our shared visual culture.”
“Teacher, inspiration, artist, pioneer, trailblazer Mr Malick Sidibè, is a man I discovered only a few years ago while on my search to discover more about my African heritage and the art and creativity it has brought forth. At the time I had no idea that there had been or were such incredible, conceptual thinking photographers in Africa, creating such eye catching images in the 1960s and 70s. He readdressed the narrative of African culture by representing a new generation of vibrant young Malians to the world in his trade mark monochrome black and white style. The iconic photographs he produced at his studio in Bamako (Mali) during the 1960s and 70s have influenced a whole new generation of image makers including myself. His images cross boundaries and really give us a window back to a time and culture we wouldn’t have otherwise. He was a giant and an inspiration and although today we’ve lost someone extremely special, I’m full of gratitude to God for the life of Malick Sidibé, grateful for his passion, his artistry and the impact his purpose has had on so many of us, as both artists and lovers of African art. RIP.”

“In most of our communities we understand the placement of the individual life as institution. We celebrate the mundane as monument. No one expressed that better than Malik Sidibé in Mali…His portraits were totems in the sanctity of community.”

Shawn Peters


SpelHouse (Spelman & Morehouse) Alumni Owned Businesses


We’re back showing more HBCU entrepreneur love! This time to our brothers and sisters at SpelHouse aka Spelman College and Morehouse College. Check out a few of the business owners that these esteemed institutions have produced.

Spelhouse Alumni Owned Businesses

DCity Smokehouse The Washington Post dubbed it “the finest barbecue establishment in town.” Founder: Melvin Hines


Mischo Beauty (Washington D.C.) is an Award-Winning Luxury, Eco-Conscious Cosmetics Brand. Founder: Kitiya Mischo King


Oyin Handmade (Baltimore) is a fun-loving hair and body natural product line for men, women, and children. Co-Founder: Jamyla Bennu 


Pindrop is an information security company that provides risk scoring for phone calls to detect fraud and authenticate callers. Co-Founder: Dr. Paul Judge

Perennial Strategy Group (Washington, D.C.) is a strategic advisory firm that provides government, public, community relations, and public affairs services. Founder: Lamell McMorris


Onion Cut & Sewn (Harlem) features beautiful effortless clothes that feel like lotion. Founder: Whitney Mero


Posh & Private (Houston) is a special event firm that offers event design, planning, and consulting for corporate and social events. Founders:  Husband and wife team Brandon Carson (Morehouse) and Brandi Carson (Spelman)


Dental Kidz (Newark) is a full service pediatric dental & orthodontic practice. Serving infants, children, & special needs patients, they offer in-office sedation & hospital services. Co-Founder: Dr. Lezli Levene Harvell, D.M.D


Florida Avenue Grill (Washington D.C.) is one of the Chocolate City’s oldest soul food spots New owner: Imar Hutchins


Frederick Benjamin (New York) is a premium grooming line that fuses the power of natural ingredients with the art of science, all while honoring the elements of style. Founder: Michael James


Bingham-Lester Dentistry (Maryland) offers preventive, restorative, and surgical care. Founder:Dr. Vickii Bingham-Lester DMD


The Law Office of Council & Associates (Atlanta) is a law firm specializing in representing victims of automobile accidents, trucking accidents, daycare center neglect, and slips and falls. Founder: Lashonda Council Rogers

Joyful Delights Sweets (Atlanta) makes designs edible, cake pop favors as well as dessert tablescapes. Their customized and handmade cake pops ship nationwide and have been given as favors for birthdays, bridal showers, weddings, graduations, retirements, and corporate events. Founder: Joy Andrews


Sanford Biggers (Harlem) creates art that integrates film, video, installation, sculpture, drawing, original music, and performance. Founder: Sanford Biggers


Bovanti Cosmetics (Atlanta) is a diverse family owned cosmetics brand that “empowers women through and educational workshops, seminars, makeup classes, and beauty tours.”  Co-Founder: Anita Bohannon


Source Booksellers (Detroit) is an independent bookstore that offers a unique niche of non-fiction books.  Founder: Janet Webster Jones


Tony O. Lawson

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Meet the Youngest Beauty Supply Store Owners in California


According to the Beauty Supply Institute, the beauty supply industry generates about $15 billion per year. Although 96% of the customers are Black, less than  3% of ownership within the industry is Black.

Breaking into the beauty supply industry is no small accomplishment. That’s why we were thrilled to discover that Kayla Davis, 19, and Keonna Davis, 21 had opened their own beauty supply store, KD Haircare Supply.

We had a chat with them and this is what they had to say:

SB: How did KD Haircare Supply get started?

KD: We started planning in the summer of 2014 and launched our online website March 2015.

SB: What made you decide on the beauty supply industry specifically?

KD: We did some research on the hair industry and since one of us is  natural and the other wears weave, we figured why not begin a natural & weave beauty supply store. We knew it was a good idea since our area lacks the natural products that are popular in the south and on the east coast.


SB: Do you have to juggle school or any other obligations?

KD: When we began, Keonna was out of school and Kayla was a high school senior. The business was online so it pretty much ran itself.

In order to effectively manage our time, we have to schedule events on days when we are closed or request coverage from other individuals. Mainly, we just focus on our storefront and attend social or personal activities outside of business hours.

SB: How is it working with a sibling?

KD: Well, very funny question! As siblings, we know each other too well. We have different strengths and we seem to be able to fall into our own roles to take care of business related tasks. We find that working with each other is probably easier than working with someone else.


SB: How has your age either helped or been a challenge as business owners?

KD: In the beginning, a lot of people probably didn’t take us seriously. Getting a lease was interesting because we’ve never had a storefront and owners were reluctant to lease to us.

However, our mom stepped in to help with that. She assured the owner that we were serious and able to handle our obligations.

We believe our age is the main reason for the social buzz now. Our community and the community across the country have been very supportive and we love it!

SB: Who or what inspires you? 

KD: Our community inspires us to do the best and to continue on our business journey. Our mother also told us to be self employed and that there’s nothing more fulfilling to work for yourself. Being in the beauty supply industry has given us a sense of pride in ownership due to all the support.
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SB: What are your future plans for KD Haircare supply?

KD: We hope we’ve just scratched the surface. We have plans to expand into different locations. We’re not sure if we will franchise but we plan on having more than one location.

SB: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs or people who want to start a business?

KD: We would tell them to be persistent, to research their market before jumping into it, and to network with other individuals in their industry. We also would say not to be discouraged because people will say no. But, if they feel their vision is what they want to pursue, then pursue it. Never say “I can’t “. Remove those words from your vocabulary.
KD Haircare Supply LLC is located at 4453 Sunnymead Boulevard, Moreno Valley, CA 92553

Move Over Instacart, OjaExpress Offers African and Caribbean Grocery Delivery


My friend, Chaz Olajide, recently connected me to OjaExpress, a startup providing grocery delivery services focusing on African and Caribbean products. Since Tony and I have become quite addicted to Instacart, because of its Whole Foods delivery service, this of course seemed like the perfect idea!

We sat down with Boyede Sobitan, CEO and Co-Founder of the Chicago-based OjaExpress. We discussed everything from businesses, pan-Africanism, African-American/Continental African relations, colonial mentality, fraternities and sororities and lots of stuff in between.


SB: So what did you and Fola set out to achieve by launching OjaExpress?

BS: We wanted to achieve several things. One thing was to give access to African products to everyone who is interested in African culture – not just Africans. There may be people see something and say, “I love jollof rice and I want to learn how to make it.”  

So, we want to give them that access. Secondly, we want provide an opportunity to create economies for our people. What does that mean? We need drivers. We have a platform for entrepreneurs who want to get into stores, now we have a platform to get their products out there.

So in doing this, very grassroots, we went to all of the African grocery stores, which funny enough, the majority of them are not owned by African people in Chicago, or Caribbeans.

SB: Interesting. Who are they owned by?

BS: The three major ones – 88% of the share of them are owned by two Greek guys and one Mexican guy.

SB: Wooooow.

BS: So we wanted to disrupt that market because one of the things you find in Chicago is that when you walk into these stores, there is literally nobody working in there who looks like us. We’re giving our money to these entities because we need these products.

These are our cultural products that we can’t get anywhere else. So going back to the spirit of the Pan-Africanist, where everything is transactional, how do we create a system or a product where the money is cyclical, and the money returns to you? That’s where we’re going with the whole concept of Oja Express.


SB: That is so interesting because even with the concept of Shoppe Black, some people have asked “don’t you think that’s prejudice, to just promote Black owned-businesses?” And we’re thinking, but every other community does this…and furthermore, what’s wrong with promoting ourselves so that wealth can circulate?”

BS: Collaborative work for African immigrants is foreign. People have the mentality of stacking their chips, purchasing a house back in Africa, and not really caring about what’s going on here. But, you have kids here who are struggling to find work.

I don’t have twenty-five friends I can call and say, “I want my kids to work for you.” So one of the things we echo in our team meetings is that we’re a company that’s for us, by us, and with us. As we grow, all of our vendors are Black – our lawyer, designer, printer…and we’re proud to say that. All of the things we need, we’ve sourced from our community.

SB: So what’s up with the Continental African versus African-American divide that sometimes plagues our community here in the States?

BS: Africans will come in with the mentality of “I’m not African-American” because they don’t come here [understanding] the history and legacy of slavery.

I look at African-Americans as family because honestly, you could be related to me. Also, some people come here with what Fela [Kuti] called “colonial mentality” which to me, is the same thing as “slave mentality.”

SB: Exactly! Sometimes I think that can actually be worse than slave mentality. Slavery ended here in 1865 and Brasil in 1888. Colonization/apartheid was on the continent until the 1990s.

BS: Precisely.

SB: How does this Pan-African philosophy show up in the company and how is OjaExpress different from Instacart in its philosophy?

BS: At first, a lot of stores didn’t want to work with us. One of the stores, we had a great relationship with the owner’s son, who loved what we were doing. Then we went to meet with his father who initially heard the ideas and said, “Let’s do it.” But, he didn’t know we were African.

The moment he saw us he rescinded his offer. I said, “Cool, no biggie.” Then, we met with a Mexican guy – loved it, great idea. But he looked us dead in the eye and said “how am I sure I’ll get my money from you.” We had a legal contract we were bound to right in front of him. We proceeded to bring his attention back to the contract right in front of him. So those were some challenges we faced but we didn’t want to stop.

So what we’ve done is gone into these stores and priced the items. We’re building out a network of wholesalers we can work with and have access to their goods and pay them on a consignment basis when people buy their goods.


SB: Wow. Do you think they had preconceived notions because you all are Nigerian? Because you’re African? Or because you’re Black?

BS: I don’t want to give that too much thought. One of the people said that they prefer people stopping in their store. That just lets me know that they were old school thinking you’re going to make more money with people coming into your store, not knowing that you’re leaving money on the table.

Another concept is that they think that young Black guys are going to disrupt the market, which wasn’t the plan. Our plan was to enhance the market, but now we’re going to be one of their direct competitors.

SB: How many people do you have working for you now?

BS: Right now we’re a team of five. We’re also hiring drivers. People can go to our website and sign up to be a driver. Our CTO is from Nigeria. Come to find out, we’re from the same village.

SB: Nice.

BS: Our Chief Marketing Officer, Dineo Seakamela, is South African. And we have two students, Muyiwa Adenaike and Ololade Martins from DePaul University. That’s really cool, because now we’re giving people at a very young age an opportunity to become part owners of a company. When I was their age, I definitely wasn’t thinking about having equity in a company.


SB: So the drivers both do the shopping and delivery?

BS: Ideally, we’d like the stores to do the shopping and packaging but since we couldn’t work that deal out with the stores, our drivers are the shoppers. They know how to pick out a great yam and know what a ripe plantain looks like.

SB: Speaking of which, did you all do a focus group to figure out which kind of products people really wanted that would allow you to focus on specific brands or  based on your own personal experiences?

BS: We did. We put out a survey. We also created a focus group.


SB: I know that Chicago is home to one of the largest populations of Nigerians in the US. Also, many West Africans eat jollof and most of the ingredients are the same throughout different cultures. But what about other Continental Africans? Do you include ingredients and products that would appeal to people from other parts of the Continent?

BS: We do. We’re constantly evolving. But we’re also very market-dependent. So for instance, our Marketing Officer is South African but there isn’t a large South African population here in Chicago.

But, there is a growing population from Burkina Faso, as well as Gambia. So we’ve tapped into those markets. Also, Haiti has a large population here. So we have a large inventory of Caribbean goods as well.

We want to make sure that wherever you’re from the Continent or the Caribbean, we have products for you.

SB: I’m sure people will have questions about Oja Express coming other cities. What are your plans for expansion?

BS: Those plans are coming along well. It’s also dependent on future capital. So far, we’ve been self-funded but as soon as we perfect what we’re doing in Chicago, we’re planning to take this show on the road.

SB: How do you all manage this while maintaining other full-time jobs and other businesses and manage Oja Express?

BS: Communication. My partner and I work together. We split responsibilities and communicate back and forth. We have each other so that our other jobs aren’t impacted by it.

SB: Do you bring different skill sets to the table?

BS: Oh for sure. Fola is nowhere near as loquacious as I am. (Laughs). He’s a very quiet guy but he has a great technical mind. I’m the person who focuses on business strategy and who does most of the talking.


SB: Have you all started reaching out to any venture capitalists?

BS: We’ve been focused on developing relationships. We want to make sure that we’re in a good place before attracting great investors. God willing, we can get an investor who really fits with our team, and who believes in our product and what we’re trying to do. We don’t want to take money just to take money.

SB: That makes all of the sense in the world. One of Tony’s best friends, who’s from Sierra Leone,  is working toward being able to grow enough capital to be able to support other African businesses and other Black-owned companies.

BS: That’s the same thing we want to do. We believe that we can become a 4 billion dollar business. Right now, conservatively speaking, we have an 800 million dollar market opportunity. We feel that if we can acquire a massive amount of wealth in this company, we’ll have five people who can turn around and help to fund your dream for a small piece of equity.

SB: Outside of this, what else are you involved in?

BS: I’m the president of the Nigerian-American Professionals Association.


SB: How big is that?

BS: Over a 100 people. But we get tons of people who come out of our events. I’m just really in the community, supporting as many community-owned businesses as possible. I’m an Alpha. I hang out with the bros. I’m just trying to engage with as many people as possible.

SB: As an Alpha Chapter Delta, I’m friends with lots of Beta Chapter Bros from Howard. #fiyahandice

BS: I’m from a single letter chapter, too: Theta Chapter, here in Chicago.


SB: Dope. I have love for everybody but for single letter chapters before.

BS: Yep.

"So you have gone and joined a cult Abi..." - *Ignore the grammatical faux pas
“So you have gone and joined a cult…?” – (Ignore the grammatical faux pas)

SB: We could probably go on all kinds of tangents but in terms of the role of non-African American Black people living in the US, what type of responsibility do you feel you have to Nigeria, if any?

BS: I cannot deny my Nigerian roots or heritage. My first degree was in nursing and my master’s degree is in health care administration. How I ended up here, I have no idea.

But I came up with an idea and put pen to paper and here we are. I definitely feel need to go back and invest, even in agricultural businesses. How do we develop non-Monsanto, organically grown food in Africa so that Africa can become the breadbasket of the world?

SB: How long have you been working on the idea itself?

BS: The idea originated in July 2014. I reached out to Fola and he made me go back and do more research. He wanted to see how serious I was. So I did, and he came back to him. We started working on it in January 2015 and went hard on it until we launched last November.


SB: In terms of your own education in this, what has been the biggest learning curve?

BS: Usually when I go out and do work, I have the backing of a company that gives me credibility. Now I have to stand out on my own and create my credibility. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. People think you’re just going to launch a business and sell it for a billion dollars and live on a yacht.

That’s at the latter end of the entrepreneur stage. I work two full-time jobs. I’m doing at least 60 hour days. It’s easy to do because I love it. I see the potential in what we’re doing.

An African guy who heard one of our past interviews has alkaline water and contacted us to ask if we could help sell it.  Sure. So we were able to put another entrepreneur’s product on the market without the validation of major grocery deliverers in the game. Now we’re building an economic eco-system.

SB: Lastly, in terms of support, how supportive has your family been? Are they customers?

BS: (Laughs). Funny enough, a relative has actually used the app and I went to fulfill one of her orders. It’s crazy because if she knew and didn’t use the app, I wouldn’t have left the house.

Fola was out of town and I treated it like it was a real order. I went out, bought the groceries and dropped everything off to her. I even handed her a receipt and told her to go through everything. I don’t want to take anybody for granted.

Even if a neighborhood kid uses it, I want to make sure that we deliver the same consistent service for everybody. We messed up on her order, so we gave her a free bag of plantain chips, on the company. It’s been a real labor of love.

SB: Yes!

BS: What we want to do is make African and Caribbean food as American as tacos and pizza. Now, when you go Chipotle, kids think it’s American food. So why not have jollof rice and jerk chicken as part of the American culinary lexicon?

SB: You better! You better!

Shantrelle P. Lewis

22 Howard University Alumni Owned Businesses


Howard University has produced some of the best and brightest minds in the world. Some well known Howard University alumni are Debbie Allen, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Taraji P. Henson. However, there are other talented Howard University Alumni that are entrepreneurs excelling in their respective fields. Here are just a few:

Howard University Alumni Owned Businesses

The Spice Suite (Washington, D.C.) is an interactive spice bar which features house made infused cooking oils and spice blends.  Founder: Angel Anderson


Volt Energy (Washington, D.C.) is one of the largest minority owned solar energy development firms that builds, operates, and maintains state-of-the-art solar energy systems for commercial, industrial, government, and educational institutions. Founders: Gilbert G Campbell III and Antonio Francis


The Envision Firm (Virginia) is a luxury lifestyle management & event planning company.  Founder: Raven White


Greenlight Design Studios is a full service Design company with over 15 years of experience. They provide Graphic and Web Design services, as well as Brand Identity packages. Founder: Jamal “Hug” Pope.


William + James (Philadelphia) is a bespoke bowtie company focusing on custom, handmade bow ties.  The line represents a marriage between the charming aesthetics and revolutionary philosophies of William Edward Burghardt, James Baldwin and more. Founder: (ShoppeBlack co-founder) Shantrelle P. Lewis


Smith Public Trust (Washington D.C.) is a rustic-modern tavern and progressive space that offers food, craft beer, spirits & wine.  Founder: Miles Gray


Integrated Design & Construction (Connecticut) is a full service architecture, construction management administration and sustainable design firm, which specializes in high performance buildings.  Founder: Thaddeus Stewart

Howard University Alumni

Urban Co-Lab (Austin) is an urban innovation focused co-working space and startup incubator. Founder: Natalie Cofield

Howard University Alumni

Justice of the Pies (Chicago) is a bakery that specializes in sweet and savory pies. The bakery’s mission is to implement job training and skill development for those who have faced significant difficulties and barriers in gaining employment. Founder: Maya-Camille Broussard


Jin-Ja (Philadelphia) is a combination of ingredients gathered from a number of international cultures including Asian, African and South American put together in a novel way to produce a unique blend that is both pleasing to the palette and provocative to the senses. Founder: Reuben Canada

Howard University Alumni

Cordially Invited – Party Paper Wrap (Los Angeles) is a an award winning boutique store that offers customers a one-stop shopping experience for stylish and elegant gifts, stationery, greeting cards, wrapping papers, and more! Founder: Yvette McNally



HillPoint Preparatory School (New Jersey)is a daycare and pre school that uses intentional, structured play to encourage critical thinking, independence and respect for cultural and social diversity. Founder: Jennifer Henry


The Flower Guy Bron (Virginia) provides bespoke design and styling experiences for events of all types in the Richmond, Hampton Roads, Charlottesville, and Northern Virginia areas. Founder: Bron Hansboro


Lisnr (Cincinnati)is a high frequency, inaudible technology; a new communication protocol that sends data over audio. It is a digital sound file that turns any speaker or piece of media into a beacon, working seamlessly across physical and digital spaces more effectively than all current solutions in the marketplace, most notably Bluetooth and traditional ACR. Founder: Rodney Williams


Victor Group (Los Angeles) is a multi-service branding agency that makes people and their brands fascinating. They help clients build their branding campaign from the ground up. They offer services ranging from designing logo’s to pitching to major opportunities. Founder: Victoria Reese 

Howard University Alumni

Tracy Chambers Vintage (New York) carries carefully curated vintage and contemporary clothing for today’s woman. Classic. Timeless. Style. Inspiration. Founder: Helen Nurse


Nelson Publishing & Marketing (Michigan) is a full-service press that publishes books with strong positive messages. They have printed 74 books which are distributed throughout the United States, Canada, and on the web. Founder: Lori Nelson Lee


ACE Media Corp (New York) is a Broadcast Media Sales, Branding & Entertainment firm. The company provides marketing for clients, from grass roots to high tech campaigns. They have recently, adding talent acquisition to their offering. Founder: Andrea Holmes Thompkins

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Ndemay Graphics (Washington D.C.) was created by Cheriss May. She has worked for The Washington Post and was the Assistant Managing Editor of Photo/Graphics for the European & Pacific Stars & Stripes newspaper. Her services include photography, graphic design and web design.



Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

The Funky Diabetic – Why Phife Dawg’s Death should Spark a Conversation about Diabetes


Like many of you, I was greeted by sad news this morning. Phife Dawg of the legendary group, A Tribe Called Quest, had passed away from medical complications caused by diabetes. He was only 45 years old. Phife had been battling diabetes mellitus type 1 since he was first diagnosed in 1990, the year that Tribe’s first album dropped.

56f2c71bac874.image Phife’s condition was hereditary (his mother had diabetes) and it was exacerbated by his hectic touring schedule which caused him to eat large amounts of fast food. In a 2010 interview , he said, “I was still waking up to a glass of Quik, you know what I’m saying? Oreo cookies for breakfast, just stupid shit. It didn’t make it any better that we were on the road performing, eating KFC, McDonalds, shit like that and I was going hard when we was younger”. At some point, his kidneys began to fail and in 2004 he started dialysis. Eventually, his wife became his donor and gifted him with one of her kidneys. He drastically improved his eating habits and seemingly regained control over his diabetes before A Tribe Called Quest’s reunion in 2008. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to prolong his life into old age.


His passing reminded me of the death of Patrice O’Neal, one of my favorite comedians. Patrice was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his early twenties and died at 41.


I’m 37-years old now, and thankfully, in good health. So as far as I’m concerned, these guys were way too young to die. Unfortunately, diabetes is one of the most life-threatening health problems plaguing the Black community today. Over ninety percent of people who have the disease suffer from type 2 diabetes. This is largely the result of excess body weight and lack of physical exercise. According to the American Diabetes Association, Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only five percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.

Word cloud concept illustration of diabetes condition

Compared to the general U.S. population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health (OMH) website, “African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. In addition, they are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and lower extremity amputations. Although African Americans have the same or lower rate of high cholesterol as their non-Hispanic white counterparts, they are more likely to have high blood pressure.”

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End-stage renal disease (ESRD) signifies that the kidneys are barely or no longer functioning after about 10-20 years of chronic kidney disease. Without dialysis or a kidney transplant, ESRD leads to death. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ESRD related to diabetes is about 170% higher in black men than in White men and about 131% higher in black women than in White women.

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Diabetes isn’t exclusive to the Western world though. This health condition is also becoming more prevalent in African countries. A report by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) states that the African continent counts approximately 13.6 million people with diabetes. Nigeria has the highest number of people with diabetes(with approximately 1.2 million people affected).

MCC-treating diabetes in Kenya

In Ghana, a large percentage of the population suffers from type 2 diabetes. According to Elizabeth Denyoh, president of Ghana’s National Diabetes Association, the country has no national diabetes program. Denyou said, “In Ghana, most people diagnosed with diabetes are the poorest of the poor. There is a lot of Type 1 diabetes in rural areas. ” Type 1 diabetes, although still rare in many areas, is becoming increasingly more prevalent. IGT (Impaired Glucose Tolerance) is also becoming problematic in many African countries. This counters the prevailing myth that diabetes is solely a disease of the wealthy west.


In numerous interviews (3 min mark), Phife mentioned how he used his celebrity as a platform to raise diabetes awareness. He said that he would love it if he could inspire others with the condition and let them know that they can still achieve their dreams and desires despite the hardships that come with diabetes. Like Phife, there are many other well known individuals who have been affected by diabetes directly or indirectly. Many are using their popularity as a platform to raise awareness.

For example, Lil Jon raised money the American Diabetes Association during his stint on The Apprentice. His now deceased mother had type 2 diabetes and suffered a stroke while they were the taping a season of the show. He went on to raise $195,000 for the cause. A lot of women also struggle with diabetes. There are many problems that are associated with this. It is always best to look into finding help. For example, you may struggle with having an over active bladder due to diabetes. If you are looking for help, you might want to look into a site like

1361555530_lil-jon-now-560Dennis Coles aka Tony Starks aka Ghostface Killah of the Wu Tang Clan, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1996. In a 2005 interview about his condition, he said “I didn’t know what that shit was.” He went to two doctors before it was detected. “My sugar was mad high, but it was a little relief to know what it was.” His doctor prescribed insulin along with a healthier regiment. “That meant putting down the blunts and cutting back on the alcohol and sweets.” It’s about discipline”, said Ghost. “You can quit the cigarettes and all that other shit but as a diabetic you fiend for sweets. When you sitting at the crib staring at them Oreos, you gonna fuck around and go in. You want those Fruity Pebbles and all that shit. I had to learn how to just chill, exercise, drink protein shakes and monitor my sugar.”


Let me be clear: this isn’t some pathological problem that’s simply impacting our community. Black people are dying and developing poor health, largely because of racism and oppressive systems. There are virtual food deserts in many Black communities across the U.S. Young people consume high amounts of soda and candy and other crap. There are rarely any healthy food options, let alone affordable options in many of our communities.


Most of us know someone or have someone close to us who are diabetic, if we’re not diabetic ourselves. If you are not sure whether you are diabetic, there are plenty of diabetic supplies on the market you can test yourself with. Eating habits are hard to break, especially considering the fact that sugar is literally in everything we consume. The impact of everyday racism and classism have a way of negatively impacting our immune systems and the physiological functions of our bodies. But to know better is to do better. Let’s all do what we can to prevent another loss like this. If you want to know about some Black owned businesses that are committed to health and wellness, check out our previous post.


To address this growing epidemic, the American Diabetes Association has created programs and materials to increase awareness of the seriousness of diabetes and its complications among African Americans. Learn more here.

Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Phife had type 2 diabetes instead of type 1.

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