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A Conversation with kweliTV’s DeShuna Spencer

Media has long shaped our perception of the world, often to the detriment of people of African descent. With the explosion of projects by independent filmmakers in recent years and new ways to circumvent mainstream avenues of distribution, finding holistic and educational African-centered programming has become less of a challenge.

Since its 2014 inception, kweliTV has counted among the pioneers in this space, providing a platform for creators of positive, holistic independent African-centered media to showcase their work. The name of this media program derives from the Swahili word Kweli (Kwah – lee), which means “truth.”

Upon securing a $20,000 grant, journalist DeShuna Spencer launched kweliTV from her suburban D.C. home. More than a year later, subscribers can glean through hundreds of quality black-produced documentaries, films, and web-based shows, including the Hidden Colors series, a gem in the worldwide conscious community. Contrary to popular belief, not every movie submitted to Spencer makes it on the site. Indeed, she spends hours on end watching each entry in its entirety to see if it fits specific criterion, including the presence of a complex plot.

In this AllEyesOnDC video, Spencer and AllEyesOnDC host Sam P.K. Collins chat about kweliTV’s humble beginnings and projects in the works before exploring why it’s important that people of African descent create and support films that accurately portray the complexity of their lives and heritage. SPOILER ALERT: This clip speaks to the need for Africans worldwide to African-centered institutions and shift away from asking others for their approval.

Healing Mama Liberia, One Shipment at a Time

Personal and professional success didn’t always come easy for Nallie Brumskine Moore, who endured abject poverty and widespread violence in Liberia before starting a new life in the United States. More than 15 years later, she’s a licensed practical nurse at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, wife, and proud mother of two.

Even with this change in fortune, Moore still finds time to help her fellow Liberians and advocate for the creation of sustainable medical institutions in her home country.

Since launching her nonprofit Delivering Good Community Health Services International in 2012, Moore has collected and shipped hundreds of pounds of medical supplies to Liberia. Her services proved especially critical at the high point of the 2014 Ebola outbreak when she provided protective gear for personnel on the ground tending to the sick. During an interview with AllEyesOnDC, Moore said she aimed to fulfill her country people’s medical and spiritual needs during those tumultuous times.

That unfortunate experience served as a reminder of the harsh reality of life in a country with a nearly nonexistent medical infrastructure. More than 90 percent of medical services in Liberia come from outside non-governmental organizations. Though the infant mortality rate has significantly improved since the end of Liberia’s civil war, it still counts among the highest in the world. Additionally, only 50 doctors are available to serve a population of more than 4 million. Since the Ebola epidemic, improving the quality of such services has been quite the undertaking.

In this AllEyesOnDC clip, Moore speaks with AllEyesOnDC founder and host Sam P.K. Collins about her journey, the nature of her business, and what’s next in her effort to ensure Liberians can access quality medical supplies easily and perpetually.

Nomad Yard Collectiv “Pops Up” on 14th Street

When the soon-to-be shuttered Eatonville reopens as Mulebone in mid-February, visitors can look forward to an experience that breaks the monotony of the 14th Street corridor in Northwest, courtesy of locally renowned vintage boutique Nomad Yard Collectiv.

Under a deal between Andy Shallal, restaurateur and owner of Mulebone and Desiree Venn Frederic, Nomad Yard’s founder and curator, eight vendors of vintage goods will set up shop in the newly renovated restaurant. There, a bevy of customers, many of whom represent D.C.’s professional class, will be able to purchase custom-made clothes and jewelry while connecting with members of D.C.’s burgeoning creative community.

“This is a new experience for us because it allows us to have a presence on the 14th Street corridor so there’s more of an accessibility of vintage goods. We want people to see that Nomad Yard represents the best of D.C.,” Venn Frederic, 25, told AllEyesOnDC.

“We have women and people of color who have a hard time entering the marketplace with their brands because they’re limited to e-commerce. With this collaboration, Mulebone won’t be one of those homogenous spaces. It will accelerate the effect of what Andy Shallal built and make people feel welcome to engage in dialogue and collaborate more often,” she added.

On Halloween of 2014, Venn Frederic, a native Sierra Leonean inspired by a seven-year fight for proper immigration status and a six-month stint in a detention center, opened Nomad Yard in a warehouse on New York Avenue in Northeast. Since its launch, offerings have grown to include the vintage material of more than 30 vendors, a couple of whom went on to open their own brick-and-mortar shops.

Nomad Yard also serves as a space for meetings and special events, even attracting the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center which visited during a citywide tour of cultural centers. Multinational retailer Urban Outfitters also took notice, letting Nomad Yard host a pop-up shop at its Georgetown location as part of the #urbannomaddc movement.

Shallal, who met Venn Frederic through a mutual friend, said he became enamored with the aesthetics of the Nomad Yard immediately upon his visit in early 2015.

“The crossover appeal interested me. Nomad Yard is unique in that it transcends ethnicity and race to represent the world,” Shallal said, telling AllEyesOnDC that the duo had been in talks shortly after he met Venn Frederic.

“I think we’ll feed off of each other’s aesthetic and customer base, introducing people on both sides to concepts. Those who will come to Nomad Yard at Mulebone will see that 14th Street isn’t a cultural wasteland. Those who go to Mulebone will see that Nomad Yard is part of their culture as well,” he added.

Applications for vendors recently opened, attracting a slew of entrepreneurs and collectors of vintage material from across the D.C. metropolitan area, including those who have worked with Nomad Yard since its inception.

For Uesa Robinson, Nomad Yard’s expansion to Mulebone represents an opportunity to meet new clientele and increase her presence locally. Under her UesaGoods Vintage brand, she has collected and sold vintage clothing throughout the D.C. metropolitan area for more than decade, including in Eastern Market, pop-up shops, private shopping parties, and a stint at Nomad Yard.

Robinson, whose work has been featured in The Downtowner, The Georgetowner, and Washington Life Magazine, told AllEyesOnDC that she hopes to count among the vendors on site when Mulebone opens next month.

“What Desiree does will fit perfectly with Mulebone. She turned her vision to reality because of the variety of the material she brought to Nomad Yard and the pop up shops at Urban Outfitters,” Robinson, a Southeast resident, said. “We’re kindred spirits in the sense that we focus more on color and texture than the era of clothing. Desiree loves my pieces and ‘shop[s] at UesaGoods religiously.’ She appreciates my collection and what I bring to the table. This collaboration will help all of our brands.”

The stakes are a bit higher for younger Nomad Yard vendors, some of whom have invested much of their time and capital to make their endeavor a reality. Thus was the case for Darius Stanton and Salasie Kallon, founders of The Rough, a men’s clothing line that speaks to one’s individuality “with a twist.”

Shortly after launching The Rough at the Broccoli City Festival in April, Stanton and Kallon set up shop at the Nomad Yard, exposing audiences to clothing they say people wouldn’t usually give attention otherwise. While it has yet to be determined if the duo will have a space in Mulebone next month, Stanton says their story aligns with that of the restaurant, making it more of a perfect fit.

“I like the 1940s theme of Mulebone that centers on just making it on your own. As two young black male college students jumping into a risky venture, it works perfectly for us,” Stanton, a 23-year-old graduate student at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University in Durham, N.C., told AllEyesOnDC.

“With so much traffic around the New York Avenue location, people just don’t walk by as much as we would have hoped. Having the store on 14th Street opens us up to a new market. It ultimately helps the brand. Through our work, we can show people the resilience of the today’s youth,” he added.

Meet the Brothers and Sisters Who Bought Black before It Was Cool

People of African descent across the United States refused to participate in mass consumerism last weekend, choosing instead to spend Black Friday with family and on the front lines of protests against major corporations they say fuel a system bent on ending black lives. .

Their efforts weren’t in vain.

For the second consecutive Black Friday weekend, sales fell by double-digit percentages with stores accruing $1.6 billion less in sales than the year prior – though experts pointed to a surge in online shopping for the slump instead of activists’ cry for change. While some question black people’s ability to sustain the mass boycott during and beyond the holiday shopping season, those who have long heeded to the call to keep their dollars in the community say it’s about time.

“If we’re going to spend dollars of Black Friday, we should spend it with black-owned businesses,” Alyssa Jerome, a social worker who lives in Landover, Maryland said, telling AllEyesOnDC that her study of slavery’s long-term psychological effects on people of African descent compelled her to change her shopping habits more than two years ago.

These days, Jerome shops at Black Owned 19XX and gleans the black business directory on AfricanUnification.com. During previous holidays, she doled out gifts from black businesses to family members, encouraging them to follow her in patronizing black vendors. Though Jerome has received some pushback, she says making the conscious decision to buy black has instilled a sense of pride in the work of up-and-coming black-owned ventures she encounters.

“We should start caring for each other more and shop among each other as soon as we get those paychecks,” said Jerome, 25. “The major companies don’t care too much about our communities. Once we start supporting our own, they should return the support to the community. That’s what truly constitutes as a black-owned business.”

A bevy of public figures, young and old have struck a similar note in their rhetoric as black people reel from the state-sanctioned deaths of Ferguson, Missouri teenager Mike Brown, Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Sandra Bland of Illinois, and countless others for which no one has been held accountable. With the character assassination of each victim and subsequent non-indictment, protestors have grown wearier, acknowledging it will take more than hashtags, hand-made signs, and chants to affect institutional change.

Such a mindset urged Rahiel Tesfamariam, social activist and founder/editor of the Urban Cusp, to launch the #NotOneDime movement last year, shortly after a jury didn’t convict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death. In the months leading up the “Justice or Else” march on the National Mall in October, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan too explained the need for an economic boycott, telling TVOne’s Roland Martin that black people have to “redistribute the pain” before the state hears their concerns.

Determined brothers and sisters in the D.C. metropolitan area did just that on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, gathering at the Columbia Heights shopping area and Walmart on Georgia Avenue, both in Northwest. Their actions bore some similarity to that of people in Chicago who converged on the city’s highly esteemed Magnificent Mile, days after a dashcam video showed a police officer shooting 16-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times at point-blank range.

While the few shoppers who chose to brave the lines at these stores suffered the scorn of protestors, those who ventured into local, black-owned businesses, like Nubian Hueman, an ethnic-centered boutique in the Anacostia Arts Center, had a different, more pleasant experience.

“They said they wanted to make sure they passed through. They were there to make a difference,” Anika Hobbs, owner of Nubian Hueman, told AllEyesOnDC.

Since its 2013 inception, Nubian Hueman has gone beyond selling custom clothes and wares, making its mark in the Anacostia community by partnering with Calvary Women’s Services, Orr Elementary School, and other organizations. Residents far and near returned the favor on Friday and Saturday. Hobbs said she saw more than 30 customers on those days — including Courtney Snowden, D.C. deputy mayor for planning and economic development — an increase of 75 percent from a regular weekend.

“For me, that’s a great thing,” Hobbs added. “We’re learning about the importance of supporting each other and the weight of where we spend our money. I hope this goes beyond the holiday season. Ninety-seven percent of our buyers are black so we’re maintained by the black community. This is not just good move for black business but black lives. That’s how we flourish as a people.”

Seeing black support of black business come to reality, however, would require much sacrifice, some people contend. A significant number of up-and-coming black entrepreneurs go into clothing; toiletries, fragrances, and restaurant management, leaving other industries remain without substantial representation. For the average consumer of African descent, the lack of affordable alternatives makes the idea of a mass boycott less appealing.

“We’re the entitlement generation so that’s the biggest challenge,” Yuri Norrell, regional manager of a black-owned mental health agency in Virginia, told AllEyesOnDC. Norrell, who said he boycotted major corporations in his holiday shopping more than two years ago, said he too found it difficult to convince family and friends to forego amenities from Wal-Mart and other retailers.

“Getting a mass group of people behind this movement will take a cognitive exercise in seeing the larger picture,” Norrell, 33, added. “The Montgomery Bus Boycott took a year. It would probably take five years of boycotting for [the state] to be ready to make a change. By the time they’re ready to do that, we shouldn’t even want to go back. We would have our ducks in a row and tell them ‘naw we’re good,’” said the Richmond, Virginia resident.

African Unification Hosts Workshop about Personal Finance

Even with the political and social gains made in recent decades, many black families across the country remain mired in debt and generational poverty.  Experts and common folk alike agree that a substantial change in the status quo will require a shift in the way African Americans collectively think about money.

Dozens of men and women recently took that step during a two-day personal finance workshop at Francis Gregory Library in Southeast. The D.C. metropolitan region chapter of African Unification (AU), a national organization dedicated to bettering the situation of black people in the U.S. and abroad, hosted the event.

“Much of the black community doesn’t understand how money work and we know little about investment strategies beyond 401k’s,” Ameer Baker, president of the D.C. metropolitan area chapter of AU, told AllEyesOnDC.

On Saturday, Baker and his colleagues opened up the workshop with a short discussion before showing “7AM,” a documentary featuring black economist and author Dr. Claude Anderson that explores the missteps African-Americans made in starting businesses and gaining wealth in the decades since the end of chattel slavery.  On Sunday, finance expert Rob Boyd talked about credit and AU members raffled off three finance books.

“We have issues with money management and that’s why we end up in debt. People don’t understand generational wealth,” Baker added. “This event will help people become more comfortable in understanding how money works so they can be more financially well off. They should be investing in their goals and knowing how a strong financial foundation looks.”

The poverty rate in black America currently stands at nearly 27 percent, a level higher than that of war-torn Iraq, according to data compiled in the U.S. Census. Despite $1.3 trillion of buying power, African-Americans own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth. A report released by the Urban Institute earlier this year said black families attained nearly $11,000 in assets, a dozen times less than their white counterparts.

Though some reasons for the wealth gap include loss of property and lack of retirement accounts, Claude points to a myopic mindset among black business owners and a lack of support for black-owned businesses in “7AM.” Some people who watched the documentary on Saturday shared his sentiments.

“It’s about self-love and self-respect.  Our money has to circulate in our community,” Doc Kahres, budding entrepreneurship and chess instructor, told AllEyesOnDC. Kahres’ business venture focuses on holistic health, particularly spiritual and emotional well-being. “We’re in an uphill battle with skates on. At this point, I’ve been so focused on helping people that I haven’t thought about profit. I have to be more profit-focused so I can put that capital back in the community. That scenario adds another aspect of the discussion for me,” added Kahres, 24.

Pamela Dobbins said the messages of the weekend resonated with her. She told AllEyesOnDC that laying a foundation for her young ones often weighs on her mind, noting that she has been able to do so by living a low-key lifestyle and spending as little money as possible.

“My main concern is providing for my children’s education,” Dobbins, a professional elementary school counselor of 20 years, said. “I didn’t come out of college in debt because my father paid in full. I live a humble life and I buy my cars outright. It’s all about passing on an understanding that we have to live within our means and invest in something that we can pass on to our children,” added Dobbins, 44, a resident of Richmond, Virginia.

Erica Jones agreed with Dobbins, praising AU’s efforts and expressing her hope that the organization hosts more information-packed gatherings throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. Jones, a program assistant for a Rockville, Maryland-based organization that assists adults with developmental disabilities, attended a forum about police brutality AU recently hosted.

“People don’t understand that making money isn’t just about starting a business. Financial stability is hard,” Jones told AllEyesOnDC. “We need to make more connections and spread this information through word of mouth. AU is a very humble group, especially for people who are conscious. They’re getting more organized and getting the word out.”

Local Business Owners Talk about Their Journey

Four local business owners/financial advisers visited AllEyesOnDC in September 2015 to discuss their foray into business before dozens of people of various ages and professional backgrounds.

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