February is designated Black History Month in the United States, basically a recognition of Black People’s contributions to America. The month-long commemoration, created by Black historian Carter G. Woodson, started as one week to coincide with the birthdays of both President Abraham Lincoln and Abolitionist African American Frederick Douglas, born February 12th and 14th, respectively. Celebrated since 1926, the month was made “official” 50 years later by President Gerald Ford in 1976. Since then, events are held nationwide by Blacks and for Blacks with still some pushback against the idea. Why? The contributions of Blacks to the building of America are still not valued by many. “Black Diaspora Voices”, a FB platform administered by jurists and activists Fatmata Barrie, JoJo Baron and Tamika BW posted about the Maria Montessori Academy in Utah, that actually offered parents an “opt-out” from Black History Month school activities. The opt-out was reportedly offered after parents asked for the option. That short-lived effort was resolved in a week with the school stating, “Celebrating Black History Month is part of our tradition…We are grateful that families that initially had questions and concerns have willingly come to the table to resolve any differences…” Differences?! Sadly, it will take more time for some US citizens to see and celebrate American history in its totality. Till then Blacks, including immigrants, are making names for themselves while making a difference for Black lives and livelihoods.
Love-Leigh Trimiew, based in Addis Abeba, is one of three all-female founders of HellaBlack, an e-commerce platform set to launch soon. According to HellaBlack.com site they are, “…a community-curated marketplace … (with) an array of Black-owned niche product lines to your classic staples, or become a seller and expose your brand visibility to thousands of consumers looking for Black-owned products.” Economics is a major concern for Blacks in America, who are disproportionately under and/or unemployed and challenges for Black business owners are also evident. HellaBlack.com will therefore help to empower small to mid-size Black-owned businesses by connecting them to consumers seeking exceptional brands from the Continent and the African Diaspora. Love-Leigh, graduated from Spellman College, the esteemed Historically Black College and University (HBCU) for women in Atlanta. But her journey into Black life and culture in the US was rooted right here in Ethiopia. Love-Leigh recalls growing up in the suburbs of DC, the daughter of an Ethiopian immigrant, who owned and operated the legendary Uptown DC jazz club and restaurant, TWINS. Her mom and identical twin sister were young migrants to America and after years of working for others in the club and restaurant business, they knew the time was right to start their own in the late 80’s. Love-Leigh recalls working with her mom as a pre-teen and admits, “…it was hard but they were resilient…building their American dream…it has inspired me to likewise build HellaBlack, building Black wealth.” HellaBlack is poised to be a fresh new e-business portal featuring the work of visual artists from Ethiopia and the entire continent as well.
Another success story is hairstylist, Yene Damtew, by now a household name after styling the beloved Michelle Obama for the Biden/Harris inauguration. Yene, known as a true artist when it comes to styling Black hair and beyond – reflects in a Vogue interview, “I’ve always been a stylist at heart…growing up, you’d always find me with a doll in hand, styling her hair.” Her passion led her to join cosmetology school at age 16 followed by a ‘follow your dreams’ move to DC where her career took off. Her star-studded clientele includes Hollywood actors Tracee Ellis-Ross and Hugh Jackman and ofcourse the Obama Family. Yene, a Marymount University 2015 graduate in Business Administration, didn’t rest on her laurels. Instead, she has committed her time and resources to several organizations including Color Vision, an organization focused on helping women of color achieve their career goals through a wide range of support including conferences, scholarships and mentorship. She also serves as a board advisor to Habesha Networks (HN), a cause near and dear to her heart. HN is a grassroots non-profit organization, based in several cities world wide, devoted to the development and implementation of projects that connect and create support systems between Habesha communities globally, “…bridging the gaps and growing a stronger Habesha Network”.
Historically, enslaved Africans taken to America, had profound impact beyond plantations, building the economy of the USA. They also had immeasurable influence on the arts, science, business, banking and more. Modern day stories of African migrants simply continue that legacy. From “The Official California Negro Directory and Classified Buyers Guide” 1942-43 to HellaBlack; from the Colored Musicians Club in Buffalo, NY 1918 to present to Twins Jazz Club; and from Black hair care millionairess, Madame C.J. Walker, 1867 – 1919, to Yene Damtew Salon, the contributions keep coming. So, whether you are into Black History Month or not, or if you’re like me and hold the notion that Black folk’s contributions are part of “world history” and therefore fitting to be celebrated 365 days a year, I encourage the investigation and celebration of African’s inputs at home and abroad. After all, if we don’t value ourselves, why should others?
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.