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Racism, poor education systems and lack of opportunities bring problems that Afro-Brazilians have to face during their lifetime. However, there are some who challenge this and reach heights beyond those they have dreamed about. This is the case for Ingrid Silva, a Black ballerina and activist from Rio de Janeiro who is revolutionizing the professional ballet scene in New York.

The mother of a 1-year-old girl, works as a lead ballerina with the Dance Theater of Harlem.

Ingrid Silva gained global prominence by becoming the first Black ballerina to have her pointe shoes painted in her skin color. Seen during her performances in New York, the ‘afro’ pointe shoes have become so popular, that in 2018 they were sent for exhibition in The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

But, this Black ballerina has more to offer than dancing itself. She has also become an important voice for more diversity within the ballet world.

She is the co-founder of Blacks in Ballet, created with the purpose of highlighting black ballet dancers and sharing their stories.

“Every Black ballet dancer has a different background, a different path, a different story to tell, and that’s what Blacks in Ballet wants to share with the world,” Ingrid Silva told Travel Noire.

In 2017, she founded EmpowHer NY, a non-profit organization that aims to amplify women’s voices in matters regarding various areas, while fostering female sorority.

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“We are a platform that generates opportunities for education and network for those aspiring to claim their own path.”

Last May, she returned to perform “The Movement of Motherhood,” now available on video on her YouTube channel.

Silva’s story is remarkable, indeed. It started when her mother, a house maid, decided to put her in a dance school in order to take her away from the streets at the age of 8.  The dance school was part of a social project located in a slum in Rio de Janeiro.

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“Although I have always been involved in sports, it was there that one of the neighbors introduced me to the social project called Dançando para Não Dançar (Dancing for not being in Trouble, in Portuguese), created by Thereza Aguilar. I didn’t think much of it, but I took the test and passed. I was only 8 years old. Little did I know that, later, that simple activity would take me to the United States,” Silva told Vogue Brazil Magazine during a past interview.

It was at this Dance School that Ingrid Silva’s life changed.

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Seeing her remarkable talent as a ballet dancer, one of her instructors told her to send a video to the Dance Theater of Harlem School for a scholarship opportunity.

She got her place out of 200 girls who had auditioned when she was 19.

The next step was to find the means to survive in New York. Without knowing a word in English, she had to think not only about the classes, but also finding a job. She worked as a dog walker, nanny, at events, among other occupations.

Often times, she thought about quitting. Feeling upset and frustrated, she called her mother to share her feeling.  Her mother’s answer was always the same, “Daughter, there is nothing for you in Brazil.”

But soon after,  things started to change for the better, after she was noticed by the director of the Dance Theater of Harlem,  Arthur Mitchell. Since then, Ingrid Silva has become one of the most prominent Black dancers, with several good reviews from dance experts who pointed her as one of the most talented dancers in the US.

Now, she is committed to promoting her book in order to inspire other Afro-Brazilians to pursue their dreams.

Photo Credit: Courtesy

“Dancing was able to take me to other areas that made me grow not only as a professional, but as a human being. My book is not just about ballet. This is the story of my life, which led me to be this woman who, today, is very sure about her importance and her place in the world”, said the Black ballerina.

The book was written during the pandemic, and it is only available in Portuguese.

After winning the right to be counted   as part of Mexico’s population in 2020, Afro-Mexicans are still fighting for the right to protect their heritage. In a country where roughly 2.5 million people self-identify as Black, these communities are working to pass better legislation that protects the human rights to Afro-Mexicans.

“It’s extremely important that they count us as Afro-Mexicans,” said García, an engineer in the community of Cuajinicuilapa. “We’re of African descent – but we’re Mexicans because we were born here and we built this country.”

On June 8, 2021, the Mexican Federal Congress returned a reform bill with changes being presented by the Mexican Senate Culture Commission, which was sent to the United Commissions of Culture; Indigenous Affairs; and Legislative Studies, for its corresponding ruling.

Named ‘The New General Law for The Protection of Cultural Heritage of Indigenous and Afro-Mexican Peoples and Communities in Mexico,’ the act intends to recognize the right to property of Afro-Mexican and Indigenous communities over the elements that make up their cultural heritage, which is their knowledge and expressions.

In general terms, the reform is an attempt to harmonize national legislation with international legal instruments on the matter, trying to give a seal of “inclusivity” to minorities, demonstrating the recognition and respect deserved by Indigenous and Afro-Mexican people.

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“We are convinced that with this reform is an act of social justice for our peoples. That is why it is very important, because we will be able to achieve reconciliation with ourselves, with those who are different from us and, of course, reconciliation with the entire Mexican society and that this is the turning point for the regeneration and rebirth of our homeland,” Adelfo Regino Montes director of Mexico’s National Institute for Indigenous People told Reporte Índigo, a Mexican news outlet.

In June, Afro-Mexicans achieved a very important victory within the Mexican political system. The Mexican Federal Government took affirmative action to include Afro-Mexicans in the country’s legislative branch. 37 Afro-Mexicans were elected as representatives under the rules of this new program.

Afro-Mexican cultural contributions

Despite the fact that Afro-Mexicans constitute a significantly smaller segment of the population than indigenous peoples (who make up 10% of the Mexican population), the Afro-Mexican contribution to popular Mexican culture, economy and industry cannot be overlooked.

Historically speaking, Afro-Mexicans, alongside helping advance the Mexican silver mining industry and develop farmland and sugar plantations during their slave days, were vital in overthrowing Spanish rule during the War of Independence. In fact, the second post-Mexican Revolution president was Vicente Guerrero, an afromestizo with possible Filipino ancestry.

Culturally speaking, much Mexican cuisine shows rich African influence, thanks to the use of peanuts, plantain (which arrived via the Canary Islands) and tropical fruits like cassava, malanga, taro and sweet potatoes.

However, the principal African legacy in Mexico comes undoubtedly from music and dance, from Veracruz’s son jarocho style of music (of which La Bamba is the most famous example) to the Danza de los Diablos along the Costa Chica and the use of the typically Afro-Mexican musical instruments guijada (a percussive made from donkey jawbone) and bote (a friction drum).

Jamaican officials are petitioning Britain to compensate them 7.6 billion pounds (around $10.5 billion USD) as reparations for the European country’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, Reuters reports

Reuters reports Jamaican lawmakers are preparing to submit a petition to Queen Elizabeth II seeking billions of pounds in compensation over the enslavement of Africans that generated fortunes for British merchants. Enslaved Africans were forced to work on plantations, cultivating sugar and other crops.  An estimated 600,000 Africans were shipped to Jamaica to be chattel slaves, according to the National Library of Jamaica.

Jamaica became an English colony in 1655 after the British seized the Caribbean island from the Spanish. While the country gained its independence in 1962, Jamaica remains part of the Commonwealth, and the queen remains head of state.

When Britain formally abolished slavery in 1834, it paid reparations…to slave owners. As Reuters reports, the British government took out a 20 million pound loan to pay them, and only finished paying the interest payments in 2015, a reminder that history that seems like a distant past is still very much shaping our present.

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“We are hoping for reparatory justice in all forms that one would expect if they are to really ensure that we get justice from injustices to repair the damages that our ancestors experienced,” Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s minister of sports, youth and culture, told Reuters.

“Our African ancestors were forcibly removed from their home and suffered unparalleled atrocities in Africa to carry out forced labor to the benefit of the British Empire,” she said. “Redress is well overdue.”

The British government in the 19th century took out a roughly $27-million loan to compensate slave owners after the empire abolished slavery, recently paying off the interest payments in 2015.

Reuters reports Jamaican lawmaker Mike Henry, who is a member of Jamaica’s Labour Party, said the price tag of reparations could be worth some $10.5 billion.

“I am asking for the same amount of money to be paid to the slaves that was paid to the slave owners,” he told Reuters.

The petition will be filed pending advice from the attorney general and several legal teams.

 

Thousands of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday to protest a lack of food and medicine as the country undergoes a grave economic crisis aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic and US sanctions.

According to one Cuban, who spoke to the BBC on the condition of anonymity, “there is no food, no medicine, there is no freedom. They do not let us live.”

The outlet further reports that at the crux of the Cuba protests lies the issues that have arisen from American economic sanctions, the Cuban government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and food and medicine shortages. The perfect storm of these three issues has collapsed the country’s economy.

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The issues were exacerbated by the Trump administration, according to CNN. During the Trump era, tourists — which power the economy — were limited from visiting, and some even canceled their travel altogether. This further contributed to the failing economy — and it was all but toppled when the pandemic hit.

That’s why Bernie Sanders blamed the American sanctions on the island for the current Cuba protests.

“It’s also long pastime to end the unilateral U.S. embargo on Cuba, which has only hurt, not helped, the Cuban people,” he said.

But the real answer isn’t that simple. While protests are common in the United States  and enshrined in the Constitution. They’re forbidden in places like Cuba, where protesting against the government will result in arrest and incarceration. That’s what’s happening to these protestors — and according to the BBC, the only reason we know about it is that the Internet is shining a light on all of it.

For Sanders, though, the Cuba protests speak to a larger need of the people that’s no longer being met by their government.

While this is not to say that American-style democracy is the correct choice for Cuba — the Batista administration was just as corrupt and murderous as the Castro regime — it is to say that anything’s better than what they have now.

For his part, President Biden is supportive of the Cuba protests.

“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” Biden said in a statement.

 Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in an attack on his private residence, the country’s interim prime minister said in a statement Wednesday, calling it a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act.”

First Lady Martine Moïse was hospitalized following the overnight attack, interim Premier Claude Joseph said.

Mr Joseph said that “all measures had been taken to guarantee the continuity of the state”.

Haiti was already in a precarious political situation before the assassination, having grown increasingly unstable and disgruntled under Moïse. The president ruled by decree for more than two years after the country failed to hold elections and the opposition demanded he step down in recent months.

“The country’s security situation is under the control of the National Police of Haiti and the Armed Forces of Haiti,” Joseph said in a statement from his office. “Democracy and the republic will win.

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In the early morning hours of Wednesday, the streets were largely empty in the Caribbean nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince, but some people ransacked businesses in one area. After the attack, gunshots could be heard throughout the capital.

Joseph said police have been deployed to the National Palace and the upscale community of Pétionville and will be sent to other areas.

Joseph condemned the assassination as a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act”. He said some of the attackers spoke in Spanish but offered no further explanation.

Moise has faced fierce protests since he took office as president in 2017, with the opposition accusing him this year of seeking to install a dictatorship by overstaying his mandate and becoming more authoritarian – charges he denied.

In addition to presidential, legislative and local elections, Haiti was due to have a constitutional referendum in September after it was twice postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

 

Soul Cap, a Black-owned brand that creates swimming caps for natural hair, was denied certification for approved Olympic swim gear.

The hats, made by the company Soul Cap, have been rejected by the International Swimming Federation (Fina) for use during the olympics, citing: “the athletes competing at the International events never used, neither require to use caps of such size and configuration,” adding the caps deviate from “the nature form of the head.”

Soul Cap, created in 2017, is a company that designs swimming caps specifically for natural hair in order for athletes to compete easily without struggling with cap size or the threat of damaging their hair. Following the decision to not be allowed at the olympics, Soul Cap released a statement explaining their disappointment and what it means for inclusivity within the sport.

“We hoped to further our work for diversity in swimming by having our swim caps certified for competition, so swimmers at any level don’t have to choose between the sport they love and their hair.”

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SOUL CAP founders Toks Ahmed and Michael Chapman were understandably disappointed, calling out FINA’s “failure to acknowledge the diversity of competitive swimmers.” The duo established SOUL CAP in 2017 when they took adult swim lessons and found that they couldn’t buy caps to fit over their hair. The brand also partnered with Alice Dearing, the first Black woman to compete in swimming for Great Britain at the Olympic level.

“For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial,” Ahmed told Metro. “‘How do we achieve participation and representation in the world of competition swimmers, if the governing body stops suitable swimwear being available to those who are underrepresented?’ There’s only so much grassroots and small brands can do — we need the top to be receptive to positive change.”

On Twitter, the brand noted that they’re not considering the decision as a setback, just an opportunity to open the dialogue around inclusion in swimming.

 

Youtube Music is opening applications to the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund Class of 2022, with the aim to enable Black artists to commercialize their work.

Launched last year, YouTube’s $100 million #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund was created to support emerging Black musicians to produce art that amplifies the voices, perspectives, and stories of all Black artists around the world

Applications for the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund Class of 2022 will open on 21 June 2021.

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YouTube Music is also launching a new partnership with music education institution 1500 Sound Academy, founded by Grammy-award-winning songwriters and producers, James Fauntleroy and Larrance “Rance” Dopson. Through the inaugural #YouTubeBlack Music Future Insiders Scholarship, YouTube will fund ten full scholarships to the Academy’s Live Online 1500 Music & Industry Fundamentals programme.

Alex Okosi, Youtube’s EMEA managing director for emerging markets, said, “The YouTube Music team is excited to expand the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund and create new opportunities while also reflecting on the progress made to date.The six-month scholarship term will see recipients undertake courses in music production, engineering, songwriting, mixing, music business and much more.”

Through the inaugural Class of 2021, the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund provided resources which included dedicated one-on-one support, seed funding, training, and networking programs that enabled the 21 grantees to achieve incredible growth – in YouTube and in their careers.

 

 

For more info visit blog.youtube.

 

LeBron James is teaming up with Ghanaian-born designer Mimi Plange for a four-part LeBron 18 Low collection that celebrates diversity and a sense of community. The series of colorways collections is the second collaboration between the NBA star and a female designer. It is the first-time-ever Plange is designing sneakers.

Plange is a household name in the fashion industry and most notably known for her designs worn by former first lady Michelle Obama, Rihanna, and Gabrielle Union.

“We are so honored to have created ‘Higher Learning,’ our first sneaker design in collaboration with LeBron James and Nike,” Plange announced on Instagram. “We are beyond excited and thankful to have had this opportunity to continue to share inspirational stories with the world.”

She added that the latest design was inspired by James and varsity style.

“There is nothing more empowering and enlightening than education,” said Plange. “The design is inspired by Lebron James and varsity style. The shoes are a powerful symbol of sport and school.”

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Plange, who migrated to the United States from Ghana at the age of five, said she has had a lot of experiences with many different groups of people. “…So I’ve lived through contrasts, like coming from Ghana and growing up in California, like not having a lot of money growing up and yet participating in honors classes, which included a specific kind of student. I think those experiences, along with the ability to travel as an adult, were big reasons why I design the way I do, because you’re able to see that the world is a lot smaller than you think, and that people are not as segmented or opposite in thought as you might think they are.”

Working with James, according to Plange, has been nothing short of amazing. She got the opportunity to bring forth his personality and influence in education, sport, and culture in her designs, thus making the world see James from four different perspectives. The four-part series will show him as a young superstar, as a family man, as an educational advocate, and more.

The collection of four shoes will drop throughout the Holiday season, with the first going up on Plange’s website, SNKRS and other select retailers from June 2.

The Afro-Bolivians are descendants of Enslaved Africans  that arrive during the Spanish Empire from the 16th to the 19th centuries to work in the mines of Potosi, a city in southwestern Bolivia. But most of the about half a million Enslaved  that arrived in Bolivia (then the colonial territory of Upper Peru) could not adapt to the cold weather of Potosi.

So by the beginning of the 19th Century, they were relocated to the Yungas where it was warm to work on the Spanish-owned hacienda plantation estates. There, an unofficial kingdom was formed among a group of enslaved Afro-Bolivians in 1820. It would take decades before this kingdom would be officially recognized by the Bolivian Government

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Mururata, a village, has been the “center of this kingdom”. And it is where Julio Bonifaz Pinedo lives and “rules” as the king of the Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians, numbering about 26,000, have over the years lost much of their history including their languages and religions but not their royal heritage. They still have their king, who is highly respected.

Living in the small village of Mururata, about a two-hour drive north of the capital La Paz, the 78-year-old king does not have a throne or a court, though he does have a cape with gold embroidery and a metallic crown. He doesn’t wear them all the time – only on special occasions like local festivals, according to AFP. In fact, one might not be aware of his presence among his community’s 2,000 residents. His home, where he lives with his wife, the queen Angélica Larrea and their son, doubles as a grocery store that sells oil, bananas, soft drinks and canned sardines.

Pinedo, who has mostly worked in agriculture, still goes out to the fields often to farm coffee, citrus fruits, and coca. His wife helps him manage the grocery store while their son and sole heir, Prince Rolando, is studying law at the Universidad de Los Andes in La Paz. “I would like to keep pushing forward to make the Afro-Bolivian community more recognized and visible, the way my father has done until now,” he told BBC.

His father Pinedo is the first king to be officially recognized by the Bolivian state. This was after Bolivia’s minority ethnic groups were acknowledged by the state in 2006. Pinedo, who inherited his title from his African ancestors and was crowned in 1992 by the community, was in 2007 crowned again by the government of La Paz. This helped raise awareness of Afro-Bolivian customs and traditions, including their kingdom, according to one account.

Pinedo’s title is mainly symbolic. He is not recognized as a political authority and does not collect taxes. “My title [as king] is mostly symbolic,” he was quoted by BBC. “I’m not like these rich kings of Europe, but I represent the Afro-Bolivian community, and this is a huge responsibility to me.”

How it all started for Pinedo

Pinedo is a descendant of Uchicho, a prince from the ancient Kingdom of Kongo who was brought to Bolivia as a slave by the Spaniards in 1820. Uchicho worked at the estate of the Marquis of Pinedo, whose name he adopted. In 1832, he was crowned by other enslaved people in the Yungas. He was succeeded by Bonifaz, next José and Bonifacio.

King Bonifacio, who was Pinedo’s grandfather, was crowned in 1932. “King Bonifacio only had daughters, so one generation was skipped, leaving the kingdom without a king for 38 years until Pinedo was crowned in 1992 by the community,” the BBC report explained.

Years after Pinedo’s official coronation ceremony in La Paz, his image has become “a strong source of cultural identity and belonging” for Afro-Bolivians, Jorge Medina, the country’s first black congressman, told AFP. Medina and the king however believe that there is still a lot of work to be done to tackle discrimination faced by indigenous people, including Afro Bolivians and other vulnerable groups.