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Why Black Village Arts pushes for the healing of NYC Black youth

For Brandi Jones, the founder of Black Village Arts (BVA), an emerging, independent, multi-purpose art store based in New York City, there is a glaring absence of Black-owned art stores available to people. Frankly, some communities of color lack the resources to fund arts education.

Raised in Queens, NY, the 23-year-old entrepreneur is an advocate for the arts and recognizes its importance in the development of Black youth

“I was one of the lucky ones that was blessed to always have the arts in my life,” says Jones, an alumna of LaGuardia High School and a recent graduate from the BFA Dance program at SUNY Purchase.

“A lot of people who look like me don’t have that and they need to understand that they can do this and that there is a space for you to express yourself in the arts.”

Brandi Jones, founder of Black Village Arts

How Jones launched Black Village Arts, a Black-owned art store 

Having officially launched in August, the platform first started as an idea only a week before coming to fruition. In the midst of the pandemic and the #BlackLivesMatter protests, something in Jones felt stagnant — a common feeling due to the stress of this year’s political and economic situation.

Combining her knowledge of the arts and passion for uplifting Black youth, Black Village Arts was born. 

“I’m an empathetic person and I always correlate my empathy directly to my creativity. I felt like I wanted to do more.”

Brandi Jones

Black Village Arts’ recent projects

Despite its recent launch, BVA has actively immersed itself in uplifting underprivileged communities.

Its first major project: to reinvent the storefront of GameStation, a Black, veteran-owned small business in Queens.

The owner survived a 5-week coma due to COVID-19 and awoke to the danger of his business closing down. With the goal of making his store more noticeable, BVA was commissioned by BlaQue Resource Network to design a storefront to attract the public.

Other projects of the Black-owned art store included working on community fridges in Jamaica, Queens, and designing the garage front for Pear Tree Explorers, a Black, woman-owned, daycare in Cambria Heights, Queens. 

Although Jones works full-time — as a front desk receptionist and dance instructor — she still manages to stay focused on her entrepreneurial objectives.

She works with a small team, her friend Dana Barnes acting as her creative director while also adding Black NYC-based artists to her collective to hire for different projects. 

“Creativity has been one of the only ways people have listened to us and heard our stories.  There’s something about the arts and creativity that makes messages resonate more with others.”

Brandi Jones

Building an accessible space

One of the main goals for Black Village Arts is to have an official community space in Queens. Jones describes her borough as being “the hub for NYC,” and diverse in its population.

Although she takes pride in her community’s diverse background, she notices a disconnect. Some racial and ethnic groups are separated. You might find a certain type of food in one area, while another section only encompasses another set of ethnic cuisine.

Jones wants to change that perspective. She wants BVA to be an accessible space for everyone in the borough to connect and learn. 

While the Black-owned art store will focus on kids 13 and up, some projects will involve adults. Although the pandemic left many ideas at a standstill, Jones plans to continue adding community outreach and projects to her roster — all while inspiring creatives of color to chase their dreams.  

“You can be anything you want to be and create what you want to create. Even if it’s something no one has ever seen before, or how untraditional it is, there is a way to make that thing physical and real.”

Brandi Jones

You can donate to the Black Village Arts GoFundMe below.

Black Village Arts GoFundMe

Blacktag founders are closing the wealth gap for Black creators

“The inspiration for Blacktag is to close the generational wealth gap for Black communities,” said Blacktag founders Akin Adebowale and Ousman Sahko.

It’s no surprise that iconic trends, past and present, have revolved around Black culture. From The Harlem Renaissance to the streetwear and hip-hop industry, Black culture continues to dominate across the globe.

But although Black ideas dominate mainstream media, the Black artists and creators responsible for these trends often lack a deserved financial gain.

What is Blacktag?

With the goal of creating opportunities for Black artists and creators, African immigrants, Akin Adebowale, 32, and Ousman Sahko, 28, founded Blacktag, a global platform for Black creators and content.

Set to launch in 2021, Blacktag will shift advertising dollars from brands into the pockets of Black creators. The multitiered platform will also connect these brands with artists and creators who are adept at building Black audiences — an often underrepresented group in marketing campaigns.

“Despite always being drivers of mainstream and pop culture, Black artists have not seen the financial return for their work. A dedicated platform like Blacktag, for these artists, will create economic opportunities for Black creators that haven’t existed before.”

Blacktag founders, Akin Adebowale and Ousman Sahko

Meet Blacktag founders — Akin Adebowale and Ousman Sahko

Before creating Blacktag in 2018, Adebowale and Sahko were building their resumes in their respective fields.

Blacktag founder Akin Adebowale
Blacktag founder Akin Adebowale

Born in Nigeria, Adebowale moved to the U.S. at three-years-old and was raised in Georgia. He can be described as a “multiple-time entrepreneur,” with the goal of amplifying Black voices and creatives through his work.

After working with a creative agency, BASE Official, Adebowale went on to create OXOSI, a fashion and design marketplace geared towards Black designers. His inspiration: a passion for sourcing mainly from African countries.

Throughout his career, Adebowale’s work impacted the careers of Drake, Kanye West, Common, and Jill Scott, while contributing to the growth of major brands like Thompson Hotels and Hilton Hotels.

Over the course of two years, he was able to achieve month-to-month-growth for his business, while using his tech background to propel him forward.

blacktag founder Ousman Sahko
Blacktag founder Ousman Sahko

Before founding Blacktag, Sahko narrowly escaped tragedy in war-torn Sierra Leone during the “blood diamond” era. At eight-years-old Sahko was forced to flee his country and then settle with his family in the U.S.

Sahko worked as a director and photographer — holding positions with major companies such as Google and Spotify. Similar to Adebowale, Sahko was inspired to become an entrepreneur, first founding Lunchbox Studios, a lifestyle marketing collective.

His experience and passion for building creativity led him to collaborate with Adebowale and thus create support for Black artists worldwide.

Closing the wealth gap for Black creators

Blacktag already raised $3.75 million, their second investment being from the Connect Ventures fund from the Creative Artists Agency and New Enterprise Associates.

blacktag founders
Right to Left: Blacktag founders Ousman Sahko and Akin Adebowale

They hold partnerships with major artists, including Issa Rae and Common, all of whom will release original content through Blacktag Studio.

As for what’s next, Blacktag continues to add creators to its platform ahead of the launch. The hope is for its audience to find a true connection with what it is set to produce.

“We hope that Blacktag becomes a place for people of color who have ever unsuccessfully scrolled through traditional platforms looking for people who look like them and content that truly resonates with their experiences.”

Akin Adebowale and Ousman Sahko

Creative cardio: How drummer Jahleel Hills uses fitness to stay energized

Staying creative and motivated during the pandemic can be stressful and challenging. For Jahleel Hills, a Brooklyn-born and raised filmmaker and drummer, good cardio and fitness is an important step in the artistic process. 

“Working out is really good for your mental health,” says the 22-year-old snare drummer. “When you work out, you feel accomplished for the rest of the day.” 

drummer cardio
Courtesy: @hypeman_hills

Hills is accustomed to performing for large audiences, one of his first major performances being at Citi Field when he was around 12-years-old. He later went on to perform at the 2016 VFiles Fashion Show and drummed behind Demi Lovato on Good Morning America in 2017. 

Some of his favorite performances include working with Spike Lee, having been featured on a Season 2 episode of Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It, and also performing at the third annual “Prince Born Day Purple People Party” in 2018. 

“I’m a huge fan of Spike Lee,” says Hills, who takes his film inspiration from the BlacKkKlansman director. Hills’ film, Black Fratsman, a comedy-drama about a Black college student joining a frat, was third place in this year’s New York Lift-Off Film Festival.

“I was not only able to showcase my craft during the performance, but I was able to see his [Spike Lee’s] dream come into fruition.”

Jahleel Hills

Staying active and good cardio are important for this drummer

Staying energized during his performances isn’t always an easy feat. The weight of a drum varies, with some weighing up to 22 pounds, while the carriers and equipment only add to the weight. When marching, drum at the waist, during a parade, the cardio-intensive performances can be long and exhausting.

“You have to stay fit and you have to stay active,” says Hills, who attends the gym regularly. “I always try to work out my upper body. You want to entertain the crowd and give 100 percent of yourself.” 

This is the same for working in film. The equipment carried isn’t always light and the hours it takes to shoot can be extensive. Hills’ film, Black Fratsman, was shot over two weekends in February.

As the director and producer, Hills was on set between seven to ten hours a day.

“It was a really different type of grind time,” Hills remembers. “We were still working on it in the midst of the pandemic and being quarantined in the house. I had to push myself.”

Drumming as an outlet

Hills started drumming at the age of 11 — first joining the drumline at The Berean Baptist Church in Brooklyn. He categorizes his drum style as “show-style snare drumming,” where a variety of tricks and dances are incorporated into his sets.

This includes bouncing his drum sticks off the drums, or throwing them into the air, and twisting them behind his back. These are variations that Hills says take time and practice to fully learn and develop. 

“It comes from a lot of drummers before and taking your own spin on it,” Hills says. “A lot of people in the community can learn from each other. We learn how to take a trick that’s already cool and make it even cooler.” 

Inspired by the drumming styles of Ralph Nader and Harvey Thompson, an innovative drumming duo collectively known as BYOS (Bring Your Own Style), Hills considers drumming to be his “canvas.”

He strives to bring his quirky and goofy personality to the stage. It’s this same energy that makes him stand out and provides him with opportunities to perform in front of thousands. 

“The crowd itself is a whole entity. As a performer, you have to go in and catch their attention from the jump,” Hills says. “That energy the crowd gives you helps to push you on.”

Driving an impact

Hills describes himself using three words: creative, ambitious, and visionary.

As a filmmaker, he yearns to tell personal stories based on the “young, black, city kid” experience.

During the pandemic, he faithfully works on creating drum videos, while collaborating with undiscovered artists on his college campus.

“I think it’s really important to work with different artists outside of your area,” Hills notes. “It’s exposure for you, but also gives people a platform to showcase themselves.”

The best piece of advice Hills can give to other artists is to “keep working on your craft.” For Hills, every day is an opportunity to work on your physical and mental health. Staying active, focusing on that cardio, and prioritizing time to expand his drum skills is a daily routine despite the limited circumstances. 

“I believe that this generation will become the next great artists,” Hills concludes. “I see myself and my team impacting the world and making a name for ourselves and those who look like us.”