SHOPPE BLACK

Get Your Website Right!: 10 Tips on How to Create a Dope Website

Every Black business owner needs to get their website right. Not now, but right now. Many of us want to support Black-owned businesses, but sometimes, business owners make it challenging to do so.

I’m sure you’ve had the following experience a time or two (or three): Someone tells you to check out a Black-owned business. You google them, go to their site, that is if they even have one, and quickly close the tab.

You’re either overwhelmed by the theatrics, underwhelmed, or simply aren’t able to get the information you’re looking for.

In efforts to help out some of you who may be entrepreneurs who may be in this situation, here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts for getting your website right and helping your business grow.

Tip #1: Have a website. This seems like a no brainer but you’d be surprised. There’s nothing in the world worse than googling a business or asking an owner for their website only to find out that it doesn’t exist.

Oh wait, there may be something worse: clicking onto a website and finding out that the page is down or under construction. If you’re Black and in business, you should have a website. In fact, make that your top priority for 2016. If this is something that you know that you are going to struggle with then it might be worthwhile hirign a professional like slickplan to help you with your website.

Tip #2: DIY and make it modern. A decade ago, if you didn’t know programming and code, there was no way that you could create a nice looking website on your own.

More than likely, you had to hire a web designer like www.reddropmedia.com.au to create a digital platform for your business. Well, that’s no longer the case. If you’re strapped, I definitely recommend getting a web designer to help you, but building a website yourself is possible.

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Modern Platform: xnasozi

There are several platforms that will give you all sorts of options you desire to do a DIY digital platform. From wordpres hosting (our personal favorite), to Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and Shopify, there are several user-friendly and modern platforms that will help you present a 21st century digital face to your customers.

Tip #3: It has to be responsive. When a site is mobile responsive, that means that no matter which device you are using to view online content – your computer, smart phone or tablet – the experience is seamless.

The first template we used when launching Shoppe Black a few weeks ago, was NOT mobile friendly.

The initial template we used was free – which means that it didn’t have all of the sexy bells and whistles that our current theme has. 82% of the thousands of views we’ve received on our site globally have come from mobile users.

Let’s face it, we’re a mobile society. Don’t turn off potential customers because your website is not responsive to their cellular phones or tablets.

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Tip #4: Aesthetics are key. In the land of visual culture, aesthetics are QUEEN. When it comes to aesthetics, as a people, sometimes we win. and sometimes we lose. There’s a way of expressing Blackness without being so literal.

In this day in age, we don’t need to saturate our branding with an excessive amount of djembes, RBG flags, kente cloth, black fists, and Adinkra symbols to prove how Black we are. We can articulate BLACK sans “tribal” prints.

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Create a clean website, with even cleaner looking images, logos, and aesthetics that will translate well to any customer. Leave the tacky and trite images for the an era bygone. Embrace your inner Afrofuturist and go beyond the expected.

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Progressive Logo: Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art (MoCADA)

Tip #5: Photography is EVERYTHING. Do something about those pictures. It irks me to the core when I go on websites and see blurry, dark, poor quality images.

Granted, I’m a curator by trade, so my eye tends to be a little less tolerant than the average consumer. However, I think with the invention of Instagram and the smart phone, everyone now has the capacity to try their photography skills on for size.

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Dizzy yet?

If you have a website, invest in some high quality photos that truly speak to the caliber of your goods and services. I’ve been known to not patronize a business strictly because I was turned off by their images. Hire a professional photographer.

Check out the images of highly successful brands on platforms like IG. Use free online stock photos. Invest in a good camera. Watch some tutorials and take your own photos.

Whichever route you take, please, pretty please, just say no to posting subpar images on your site.

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Great Image: DCity Smokehouse

Tip #6: Keep the content current. So you have a website. The aesthetics don’t look like something out of a Black liberation parade circa 1972. It’s mobile friendly. People like the way it looks. There’s only one problem: You haven’t updated it in years.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of creating something nice and then ignoring it. I’ve fallen victim to I.M.W. (Ignore My Website) myself – shantrelleplewis.com. If someone were to go to my professional site, they would think I haven’t curated an exhibit or done anything significant since 2013.

Of course that isn’t the case – I’ve been featured in national and international press, curated two highly successful exhibitions, traveled to multiple countries, received awards, launched two companies and a whole lot more. But you couldn’t tell based on my site. Moral of the story: Keep it current.

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Tip #7: Link your social media. COINTELPRO and Big Brother aside, it’s critical to have a social media presence. Don’t lose out on any potential marketing opportunities because you haven’t linked your twitter, facebook, tumblr or instagram accounts to your website. The goal is to get more follows, more follows, more follows!

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Tip #8: A facebook page isn’t a website. Having a presence on social media is awesome. We all need it. But a facebook page shouldn’t substitute having a website.

You communicate how serious you take your business when you have online presence. It tells your customers that you believe enough in your brand to invest in its online presence. Get a website. If you don’t have one yet, see Tip #1.

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Tip #9: Keep it real. All races and ethnic groups spend money. We know that. We also know that it’s not always smart to pigeon hole our clientele. Some of us cater specifically to Black audiences. Many of us don’t.

We can be a Black-owned business with diverse customers and still be a shining example of what it means to be Black and in business. What’s NOT cool, however, is when you click on a website that’s supposed to be Black owned and not one, single, solitary image is of a Black person.

That’s just wack. Newsflash: Sometimes that turns customers off too, especially your Black customers who came to you for the specific purposes of supporting their own.

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If attracting Black customers is not important to you, cool. But if it is, diversify your portfolio a little more and let your website reflect it.

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All Around Greatness: Oyin Handmade

Tip#10: Hire a Professional. There are maaany professional web developers in these streets who can create a beautiful site for you. It usually won’t cost much either. As a serious business owners, investing in a professionally done website should not be a hard decision when you consider the potential return on investment. Shameless plug: Shoppe Black offers web development services.

Honorable Mention:

Here are a few businesses that pass our Shoppe Black Website Test with flying colors:

Justice of the Pies | Chicago based Pie Maker
justiceofthepies.com

Lolo’s Seafood Shack | South-side Chicago Based Restaurant
lolosseafoodshack.com

Tastemakers Africa | NYC based Travel to Africa App and Content Platform.
tastemakersafrica.com

Leisure Life NYC | Casual Vintage Inspired Men’s Wear Boutique
leisurelifenyc.com

DCity Smokehouse | Washington, DC based Restaurant

dcitysmokehouse.com

William + James (self-promotion is the best kind) | NOLA/Philly based Haberdashery
williamplusjames.com

What updating tips did you find useful? Need any additional support? Leave a comment or email us at info@shoppeblack.us.

Shantrelle P. Lewis

Intra-Africa Trade: The Key To Unlocking Wealth On The Continent

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The majority of African trade is conducted with Europe, North America, and China. Only 16% is with other African countries. By comparison, 60% of Europe’s trade is with its own continent. The same is true in Asia. In North America, the figure is 40%. The main factors responsible for the low rate of intra-Africa trade are restrictive trade policies and poor infrastructure.

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It costs Africa’s largest retail and fast food company, Shoprite, over $20,000 a week to secure import permits to distribute goods within one country. As if that isn’t enough, 1600 additional documents are required in order to send ONE of its trucks across the border to neighboring Zambia.

AECOM-IDEV-Trade-Hub-3-e1444412385145-802x531Another problem is the excessive amount of border check points.  To transport goods from Nigeria to neighboring Ghana, you have to go through about 5 border checks. The legal and illegal payments made at these borders are all costs that are passed onto consumers in order for the traders to make a profit. At one checkpoint in Mali, border agents extort as much as $4,000 every day. In addition to the aforementioned high costs of trade, unclear policies are another hindrance. Seeds from Kenya can be held indefinitely at an Ethiopian border because they don’t meet Ethiopia’s standards. Tanzania may ship corn to Kenya only to find out that a ban has been implemented on the importation of corn.

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The issue of poor infrastructure also needs to be addressed. The lack of adequate road, rail, and other physical infrastructure, continue to impede trade within and between African countries. According to a report from the UN Economic Commission for Africa, only about 30% of African roads are paved.  As a result of this, shipping a car from Japan to Abijan costs $1500 while shipping that same car from Addis Ababa to Abijan would cost $5000. Some of these unpaved roads have potholes big enough to swallow an SUV. The railways in Kenya and Uganda face multiple constraints, including aging equipment and infrastructure that is over a century old.

Nagulu Ntinda access road to ken joy supermarket which is likely to develop into a pond. Most of the roads around Kampala are getting worse day and night. INDEPENDENT/JIMMY SIYA

These are just some examples of red tape and trade barriers that are costing Africa billions of dollars and depriving the region of new sources of economic growth. However; in spite of all this, there is reason to be optimistic. It seems that for the past few years, this issue has become too dire to ignore and strides are being made to rectify it.

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In 2012, South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, unveiled a plan to spend $97 billion on infrastructure by 2015 to upgrade roads, ports, and transportation networks. At the World Economic Forum held last May in Abuja, Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, called on African leaders to work together in removing obstacles that hinder movement across the continent. In his speech, he said free movement would help Africa meet its development targets. He also announced plans for Kenya and Nigeria to sign agreements that will boost trade and investment between the two countries. Since then, the Nigeria Export Promotion Council, NEPC, and its Kenyan counterpart have pledged to explore the vast market opportunities in Africa to promote trade and investment.

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Also at the 2014 World Economic forum, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, spoke on the matter of visa issuance stating that presently, he and other Nigerian businessmen are required to obtain visas to enter about 38 African countries but a foreigner has more access to these same countries than he does because all they need to do is get a visa at the airport and pass through. Steps are being taken to streamline the visa process so that African businessmen and investors can invest in other countries with ease.

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In Kenya, barriers that formerly prevented professionals like doctors and lawyers from practicing in Rwanda have been removed. Now, a Kenyan lawyer can practice law in Rwanda without sitting for the bar all over again. This will also lead to a reduction in unemployment because new graduates will have more job options and not so new graduates will have more opportunities to provide services.

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Increased intra-Africa trade is the best way for Africa to use all of its resources and talent to become self-sustainable and prosperous. The less cumbersome the trade process is, the lower the cost of goods and services will be. The lower the cost of goods and services, the more people can afford them. The more people can afford them, the more empowered the people will be to gradually improve their economic status and begin to thrive.

 

Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

Kidz Cab: The Black Owned, “Uber For Kids”

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Kidz CabAireal Taylor is founder of Kidz Cab. Her company transports children ages 4-16, back and forth to school and various extracurricular activities. If you have a child, you know that these days, managing the kiddies’ schedules requires an assistant, a manager, and a junior assistant. They’re busy little people! We can barely keep up with them half of the time.

We chatted with Aireal and this is what she had to say:

Kidz Cab: The Black Owned, “Uber For Kids”

SB: Parents are usually overly safety conscious when it comes to their children. What are some of the lengths do you go to to ensure the safety of your passengers?

Aireal: Safety is definitely our number one priority at my company, highly vetting our employees is first and foremost. Our employees undergo a federal background check, identity verification, random drug and alcohol screening and more. We also use a fleet technology that tracks all of our vehicles in real-time, it also sends destination alerts to parents and tracks the drivers driving and vehicle idle time on location.

SB: Since your launch in August of this year, you have had over 200 parents register for your service. To what do you attribute this demand for your service?

Aireal: I really didn’t know that my service would take off so fast! I believe that the concept itself is what brought on demand for my service. In the busy times we live in, parents need help! I brought them a safe alternative to their transportation dilemma.
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SB: You came up with the idea of Kidz Cab while doing research for a marketing assignment in college. What data did you come across that convinced you that this was a good business idea?

Aireal: Honestly, not finding a multitude of companies with the concept out there! I thought the idea was something that would be so valuable to busy parents and I was very surprised there was not much out there.

SB: If you could develop a skill overnight that would improve your life or your business, what would it be?

Aireal: A skill I’d love to develop overnight to improve my business would be graphic design. Graphic design is such a valuable skill to have, from creating your own social media templates, letter heads, business cards, websites etc. it gives you more control over your business.
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SB: What has been the most gratifying part of your entrepreneurial journey so far?

Aireal: Knowing that I’ve created something that I can continue to expand on that will not only help individuals but will also be something that I can leave to my family is most gratifying.

SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Aireal: My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to plan diligently. Making sure to thoughtfully plan things out before executing is so important for sustainability. A lot of times entrepreneurs are so excited to get their product or service out that they skimp a bit on planning, DON’T!

If you’re in Detroit and want to contact Kidz Cab, you can reach out to Aireal at: 248.719.4885. They’re booked for Fall 2015 so get your requests in early for 2016!

Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

What Africa Needs: Trade Not Aid

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“Trade Not Aid” is a popular phrase used by proponents of the idea that instead of giving ‘free money’ to Africa to fight poverty and hunger, donors should support job and business creation through foreign direct investment. Don’t get me wrong, not all aid is bad. I am not referring to emergency aid given in situations like a natural disaster.

Nor am I referring to donations given to help a child go to school or clothe an orphan. My sister actually runs an NGO, Change A Life Africa (www.changealifeafrica.org) whose focus is providing disadvantaged children with a quality education. While some NGOS are also guilty of exploitation themselves, I have seen the difference such organizations can make and applaud and support their efforts.

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The type  of aid I am referring to is government to government aid. It’s time we recognize that this type of assistance is not only the least effective in terms of poverty reduction but is also destructive. It is stunting the growth of an African middle class that is needed to spur economic growth. Zambian-born economist and author of the best seller, Dead Aid, Damiso Moyo states that “Over the past 60 years at least $1 trillion of development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa.

Yet, real per-capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s, and more than 50% of the population live on less than a dollar a day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades.”  If this economic development model is CLEARLY not working, why is it still being imposed? Why is it being used in Africa only?

China moved 300 million people out of poverty in 30 yrs. India has approximately 300 million people in its middle class. They did not achieve this by relying on aid to the extent that the entire continent of Africa does today and has for the past half century plus.

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A serious issue is that African governments are now relying on this aid  as a source of income like a welfare recipient waiting on their monthly check, instead of looking for alternative means of revenue generation. Some say that aid promotes government corruption because the funds are just moved to private accounts abroad.

I’m certain that this happens a lot of the time. However, that is not the only issue. Even where there is no corruption involved, you have a situation where African governments are relying on western countries to provide their people with goods and services that they should be providing e.g. education, healthcare, infrastructure etc.

Who will respect a leader that does not care for his own people? That’s partially the reason why many African ‘leaders’ get zero respect in the global community. They are perceived as beggars. They are sitting on priceless natural resources that can be traded, begging for money from countries that are in actuality, broke themselves. But I digress…

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Another issue is that aid does not create a meaningful amount of jobs or opportunities to start and grow a business in Africa. Aid also comes in the form of goods donated. Why not invest in local producers of these goods or invest in a manufacturing plant to produce the goods that are currently being shipped to Africa?

This is a sure way to spur job creation and invest in a local business instead of flooding the market of charity goods that will put local producers out of business. There is no way to reduce poverty if there are no jobs or means for individuals to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors as a means to increase their income and start to create wealth for themselves.

Therefore, if there is no middle class to drive the economy you are left with a situation similar to that in Nigeria where there exists the extremely wealthy and extremely poor with a few middle class citizens sprinkled in the middle. I’m sure you can see how this would also lead increased crime, whether it’s the latest 419 scheme or good old fashioned armed robbery.

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The good news is that in recent years due to the slowed economic growth in Western countries, the amount given in aid is now gradually reducing. Now, more than ever, the focus has turned to Africa, not just as a poor desperate continent in need of help, but as a place where Western and Eastern countries need to do business in order to not only stay competitive in the global marketplace, but to survive.

This in addition to business friendly policies that have been implemented in several African countries  have led to economic growth in different regions of the continent over the last few years.

Trade Not Aid

The aforementioned to me is proof that we do not need handouts. What we do need, however, is to be taken seriously as players in the global trade market. We have the resources, we have the talent and we have the potential. What we need to do now is phase out aid and increase the amount of trade deals and investments that help move the Continent in the right direction.

– Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

The Biggity Blackest Moments of The Wiz Live and Why We Loved It So Much

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If you’re Black and you have a TV, then last night you were watching The Wiz Live with every other Black woman, man and child. We all know remakes aren’t always the best. Matter of fact, they’re oftentimes the worst. So I think we all held our breath, while truly wishing for the best, for last night’s live performance of The Wiz. Well, guess what? NBC didn’t disappoint. Well, if you were expecting Michael’s spirit to come down and possess little Elijah Kelley, then, you only have yourself to blame for feeling some kind of way. But if you came with an open mind about reminiscing over an iconic tradition in contemporary Black history while introducing a new generation to all of its glory, then I’m sure you experienced nothing short of joy for 2. 5 hours last night. Here’s our list of the top Blackest moments of last night’s performance of The Wiz:

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#11 Representation: When was the last time you saw a dark skin, full figured heroine/goddess on prime time television? When Shanice proclaimed “she’s so beautiful!” whilst Nigerian powerhouse Uzo Aduba floated on stage, I could have fainted. All body types, complexions, hair textures – even a Latina moment “no problema!” – graced that stage tonight. 

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#10 The Aesthetics: The Set, the costumes, the hairstyles… EVERYTHANG. Speaking of hairstyles, did y’all see that Basquiat throwback from the scarecrow? S/O to Morehouse student @hermesxos for pointing that out. Speaking of hairstyles, did you see those beards? My Twin Joan (Morgan), just turned me on to @postbadbeards recently. Who’s here for fine Black men in beards? All of us.

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#9 Blackspeak Everything from Mary yelling out something about Dorothy’s “skinny ass” to Neyo’s “mollywop” to Dorothy’s “conversate” the sound of Black American vernacular took me back to my grandma’s house circa ever year of my life.

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#8 The Choreography: Fatima Robinson put her FOOT in it. Geoffrey Holder has to be sitting somewhere smiling. While the main crew could have put in an extra step or two in their footwork…the range of choreographed genres gave the people what we wanted. Especially the millennials. From Nae-Nae’ing, the stilt walkers, the stepping, the Quan – pure Black genius.

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#7 Mary J. Blige: Who knew Mary could act? That’s the 411. She gave us mean. She gave us shade. She gave us 1992.

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#6 Black Queer Realness: There are no words. None. Wait, I lie. There are a few. WERK. SERVE. SLAY. Paris isn’t burning, it burned down and the Kids Showed Their A$$es. I was about to feel some kind of way about them not singing the Emerald City Sequence but I changed my mind after those few minutes of pure magic. I think Son of Baldwin said it best when he said “Oz being home to queer folk makes PERFECT sense.”

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#5  Those Sexy A…Poppies Period.

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#4 Orisha Representation Maybe it’s just me…after all, I am an Iyawo at the moment…but The Wiz was definitely giving me Orisa Realness. First, Amber Riley steps on stage with matriarchal everything in all blue, definitely giving us Yemaya energy. Then Queen Latifah comes through with the thunder and lightning like my daddy, King of Kings, Sango, KAWO KABIOSILE (BTW, Happy Sango’s Day everybody!). She even said “I got a throne room!”  Where they do that at? Somebody’s clearly been all up in Orisa 101. Then, Uzo, drops down from the clouds wrapped in golden swaddling threads and white boas bringing us home with Osun’s regality. I could even take it a bit further and attribute the bravado and maroon aesthetics of Evillene to Oya, the goddess of storms and the winds of change. Whether it was intentional or not, for people in the Ocha community, it looked like a Yoruba cosmological visual symphony.

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#3 The King Queen! Chile WHAT? I mean, I haven’t really genderbended since my tomboy days in highschool but can I be Queen Latifah’s understudy when the show goes to Broadway? Queen Latifah was EVERYTHING. And I do mean EVERYTHING. If I had to give an award for best performance, I think she got it. She was a whole MAN chile. Not a half of one, but a WHOLE one. And then she was a Miss again. And her skin. And her highlights. Just yes.

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#2 Crash Course in Intersectionality Feminism, Class, Race, Queerness it was all there. Discourse for us to engage, respond to, feel good, break down for our young ones and smile about.

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 #1 It was All Black Everything. With the exception of the David Bowie looking dude in Emerald City who could be from New Orleans for all we know…The Wiz Live was ALL BLACK. We finally got something.

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Despite not getting the memo to join a watch party somewhere, I was definitely not alone. I kept good company with every other Black person in America via Black Twitter. This production of The Wiz is going to be a historical intergenerational moment for Black families from now until infinity. While I was watching in Philadelphia, my parents were watching in New Orleans, my 6-year old niece in Chicago, my older brother and his family in Maryland. During commercial breaks, I facetimed the 6-year old, recapping this production in all of its glory. It was like talking to my good girlfriend on commercial breaks during Scandal. I asked if she remembers watching the original movie at my parents. She looked at me, made a face, in disbelief. She was only about two at the time so probably doesn’t recall wearing the dvd out to the point that it stopped working one day. Friends were retweeting their parents’ memories of seeing it on Broadway. People were reliving their own personal nostalgic moments. Considering the level of visual brutality and violence we’ve been subjected to incessantly, it felt amazing to indulge in uninterrupted Black joy for a moment, no matter how brief. I’ll be able to relive this moment with the 6-year old and all of you, for many moons to come. Thanks NBC for giving us the most wonderful night of Biggity Blackest television that we’ve experienced in a very long time.

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P.S. Shout out to David Alan Grier. The fact that he comes from that old school classical training was clear. I THOROUGHLY enjoyed his interpretation of the Mean Ole Lion. Probably the most nostalgic nod to the original production.

Shantrelle P. Lewis

20 Black Owned Businesses in the UK

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By now you must have seen our first list of Black Owned Businesses in the Diaspora. On that list, we mentioned several Black owned businesses based in the UK. This time, we are showing even MORE love to our brothers and sisters across the pond with a new list of dope businesses you should most definitely check out and support from your country or when you visit the United Kingdom.

20 Black Owned Businesses in the UK

Home Decor

Eva Sonaike is a lifestyle company that produces luxurious home décor, fashion accessories and textiles.

Black Owned Businesses

 

Fashion

Uptown Yardie is a British company inspired by Jamaican heritage, selling a lifestyle captured through shoes and clothes.

Black Owned Businesses

Afrination is an urban clothing brand inspired by African culture and tradition.

Black Owned Businesses

Dionne Gooding is a footwear designer that combines the latest London styles and soft leathers and suede with jaw dropping fabrics from West Africa.

Black Owned Businesses

Tsemaye Binite  is an award winning contemporary fashion label characterized by exquisite clothing encapsulating a love of luxury and innovative design.

Black Owned Businesses

 

Duro Olowu is impressing the right people with his vibrant mix of African prints, seventies tailoring, and unlikely color combos.

 

Hair/Skin Care

Hug My Hair

Curly by Nature

Almocado

Root2Tip

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Jewelry and Accessories

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Afro Deco 

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MaroonDawta

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Sapelle 

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Food

The Black Farmer

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Check out our most recent list of Black owned businesses in the UK !

Follow ShoppeBlack and The Busy African  Instagram!

Nigerian Billionaire, Tony Elumelu announces the 2nd Round of his $100m Entrepreneurship Programme

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Last year, Tony Elumelu, a philanthropist and one of Africa’s most successful businessmen, announced the creation of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) for emerging African entrepreneurs. The goal of the programme is to help up to 10,000 African entrepreneurs  develop their ideas into sustainable businesses.

 

In 2015, TEEP empowered 1,000 African entrepreneurs, selected from over 20,000 applicants, with start-up investment, active mentoring, business training, an entrepreneurship boot camp and regional networking across Africa.

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The foundation invested a total of $4,860,000, including $1,405,000 in agriculture; $410,000 in education and training; and $365,000 in manufacturing.  The program funded start-ups across a further 20 industries, all based in Africa.

Mr. Elumelu believes that the initiative will enable African entrepreneurs transform the continent. “In 2015 the African entrepreneur will emerge on to the global stage, as a new generation shows the world what those of us doing business in Africa have long known: that our continent is home to some of the most exciting and innovative entrepreneurial talent.”

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TEEP opens for entries at 00:00am West African Time on 1st January 2016 and will accept applications until midnight WAT on March 1st, 2016.  To be eligible, entrepreneurs must complete the online application form with questions on their background, experience and business idea, plans for growth and proposed pan-African impact. Further guidance and application procedures can be found on the online portal.

Cajun Fire Brewing Company: One of the Only Black Owned Breweries in the U.S.

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Last year, the U.S. brewing industry contributed over $250 billion to the economy and is still growing. With 90% of the beer  made by only 11 breweries, you could say that this is a tough market to crack.

However, one company is ready to take on the challenge and is poised for much success. This company is New Orleans based, Cajun Fire Brewing Company. We chatted with Jon Renthrope, the founder and here is what he had to say:

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SB: Please tell us a little about yourself.

Jon: My name is Jon Renthrope, I am a husband, father, and entrepreneur.  I am a brewer by trade and founder of Cajun Fire Brewing Company.  Born and raised in New Orleans.

SB: You and your family were in New Orleans when Katrina hit. How did that disastrous event influence you?
Jon: Katrina was a breaking point for many.  In a span of ten years I have seen my community destroyed and all but forgotten.  For the sake of perspective, I was 17 when the storm hit.

It is ten years since that incident. Knowing what I know now, it is truly unfortunate that the truth has never received critical or empathetic thinking.  ‘Til this day, the event influences me to reinforce and advocate entrepreneurship.

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SB: Out of over 3400 breweries in the U.S., less than five are Black owned. That would discourage some people from even considering this market. What gave you the motivation and confidance to pursue this venture?

Jon: What gave me the motivation was the effort and commitment I made to focus research with a plan of action in mind.  Maintaining a discipline and reading other Black business pioneer chronicles and interviews eases most doubts.

The support is definitely appreciated and helps.  When digesting the statistics, I must say it can be daunting given the odds of success and the economic/demographic data available in the palm of your hand these days.

However, the main push from day to day comes from within.  You have to put yourself to action and go for what you want.

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SB: You operate the business with four friends. What advice do you have about successfully mixing business and friendship?

Jon: Operating a business in general is difficult.  Working with friends and family can further complicate those difficulties if you or your business models are ill-prepared.

Setting protocols in advance can save your company in situations when emotions and passion take precedence.  However, with the right discipline and plan of action in place, the loyalty and altruism that comes with working with a team that values one another past their pay check is invaluable to not only the efficiency of the business but also the psyche of those involved on the team.

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SB: What would you say has been the biggest obstacle in your business journey so far?

Jon: Ensuring that all of state, federal, and local permits and licensing are valid and in place.   Manufacturing alcohol is a highly regulated industry and it is critical that all your licensing and permits are current up to date and have not lapsed.


SB: Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years?

Jon: I am hopeful that I am in good health.  I see myself being a more seasoned professional in my crafts and Cajun Fire maintaining unique brand direction and delivering evolving experiences in the craft beer industry.

SB: Who has been your greatest inspiration in life or in business?

Jon: My grandmother, Annie Simpson-Bruner.  Her experiences and struggles paved the way for my opportunity.  She is a very strong person and being exposed to her courage has definitely left lasting impressions on my personal character.

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SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Jon: Entrepreneurship is a journey that breads sustainability.  As mentally and physically engaging of a battle entrepreneurship can be it is without a doubt in my opinion one of the most fulfilling experiences you are likely to take part in.

Ultimately, it is the single most effective economic method to create a healthy and competitive community.  The most successful ideas are rarely validated in their infancy.  Proactive self determination is key to empowering your unique ideas.

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

Coming to America: The Evolution of Oluwatoyin

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Like a sizeable amount of other Nigerians, I was born in the U.K.  and actually didn’t move to Lagos, Nigeria until I was 5 years old. I cried my eyes out when I heard the news that I would soon be leaving my  friends and life in London to move to back home. I had no idea where this place was and my older relatives that visited us from there, “talked funny.”

I had no say in the matter, and made the 3270 mile journey, kicking and screaming, at least according to my adolescent memory.  When I arrived, it was a definitely a culture shock. The music was different, I could not stand the constant power outages and the lack of access to my favorite British foods was frustrating.

However, the transition into life in Lagos became much easier as I made friends at school and developed relationships with my grandparents and other relatives who I am very close to – cousins and children of family friends that I played with.

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My Mother still teaches at the grade school I attended, the American International School of Lagos (AISL). What was great about AISL was the fact that I was able to make friends with kids from all over the globe and learn about their cultures. During most summer breaks, my mom would take my two younger siblings and I, on a trip abroad, mostly to the U.S.

My Dad usually stayed back home to keep an eye on the house and car since he didn’t trust the driver or house girl to act right if the whole family was away for an extended period of time. (Still laughing about that). New York City!  As soon as we would land at LaGuardia, my siblings and I were ready to head straight to the mall to rack up on school clothes and party outfits to take back home. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and begin Operation Stunt 101 with my newly acquired gear.

The Secondary School I attended, Home Science Association Secondary School was at that time, a new private Nigerian school. My class was its first set of students. This was my first experience at a school where everyone looked like me. I immediately clicked with three guys, Ose, Ekene and Ejike. We were inseparable. Due to our self-identified coolness and rep, we saw ourselves as the Boys 2 Men of the school (definitely because of our style…not our singing ability).

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Heavily influenced by Black American culture that was exported overseas, in high school we listened to a lot of RnB and Soul, so Boys 2 Men, Jodeci, Silk, Blackstreet and Shai were in heavy rotation, especially at our house parties. This genre was most likely so popular at that time because it was the perfect opportunity to slow dance with the girls from my school and neighboring schools.

I remember watching the video for one of our favorites, “Baby I’m Yours” by Shai. The video was filmed on Howard’s campus and opens with a shot of the main Howard University sign. That was my first introduction to HU but I didn’t really take much note of it at the time. The next time wouldn’t be until I saw a Howard University sweatshirt being worn by Mohammed, a cast member on MTV’s Real World III: San Francisco and figured I would look it up because now I was curious and I was in the process of researching universities anyway.

At the time I was also watching “A Different World” religiously, complete with my own pair of Dwayne Wayne flip glasses. While I was living in a country of 170 million people who for the most part, looked like me [read: were Black], I never considered that going to a university in the States would afford me the same experience. After doing some research, I was excited about the possibility of attending a real life version of Hillman College. It was then that I made my decision to attend HU.

In 1996, I moved to Washington, D.C., from Lagos, Nigeria to attend college. This was a pivotal moment. Arriving on Howard’s campus was the start of a point in my life where I had moved out of my parents house, moved to another country and was learning more about myself. I met and befriended Black people from around the world. Up until then I had never met anyone from the Caribbean.

I had not even met that many Africans from countries outside of Nigeria. It was amazing to discover all the differences in our various cultures as well as all of the similarities. I hung out with everyone from bookworms to weed heads. Aspiring rappers to aspiring politicians.

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The more I learn about African history and the history of Black people in the Diaspora, the more I understand why people devote their lives to the study of this subject matter. It’s truly fascinating stuff and it has given me a new appreciation for my people and my own homegrown Nigerian culture.

The music that my parents used to listen to that was once unappealing was now the hot ish New Afrikans and Afropolitans were bumping, jumping and funking to. My love for all things Black American culture now included an appreciation for the fashion, music and style made in Lagos.

Nigeria is the new hot scene – the music dominates the African pop music industry. The fashion and the movie industries are also billion dollar money makers. Nigeria is HOT, pun very intended. Somewhat like my immortal country men before me, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, it took my Coming to America to change the game – shifting my entire outlook.

While I’m no scholar or historian, these topics have become an important part of who I am and I feel a responsibility to do my part to move us as a people in the right direction. Many people feel the same way and have a variety of solutions they feel are the way forward.

Just as I have an appreciation for our history and culture, I also appreciate the process of creating capital and how it can be used as a tool improve the lives of my family, friends and community. So, for me,  business ownership and group economics make the most sense, in the U.S., in Africa or in any other part of the world where a people with so much potential are on the bottom of the economic totem pole.

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This is a huge force behind what has led me to start my own business. It is what drives me start other businesses. It’s why I get satisfaction from encouraging  others who have started a business and those who are considering  doing so.

Everybody won’t get it. For some reason, the idea of shopping Black doesn’t sit well with everyone. However, what I do know is that for many compelling reasons, more people are Shopping Black than ever before. It’s time to get our wealth back, one Naira, Dollar, Pound and Yen at a time. #shoppeblack

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

Artwork by Glen Marrero