Category Archives: Journalism

The Pop Stars That Swayed Nigeria’s Political Change

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By H’Rina DeTroy
Reporting contributed by Eromo Egbejule

Nigerian history was made this month when power changed hands peacefully with the defeat of incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan and the fifteen-year rule of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Here’s a roundup of how the glitterati of Nigeria were involved in this year’s elections and how some reacted to General Muhammadu Buhari‘s win and the landslide victory for All Progressives Congress.

Original here.

Editorial: The African King of Pinterest

By William Chitangala. (Edited by H’Rina DeTroy.)

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When Okayafrica came across the stunning Pinterest boards of German-Zambian luxury brander William Chitangala we quickly dubbed him “The African King of Pinterest.” When he’s not applying his marketing know-how to the Frankfurt-based company Saint-Germain, he’s creating collaborative pinning boards inspired by Afrocentric design, fashion and culture. In the op-ed below, Chitangala shares his ideas on color as a muse for reimagining and redefining the Continent.

I started “pinning” circa three years ago. My main motivation was I wanted to be inspired. I wanted to understand this divine love affair we have with design and art, and I wanted to cultivate ideas around the conceptual business, or an enterprise that corresponds with the environment.

Gun Violence Inspires Short Film Series

(Originally appearing here.)

A bullet is blind.

That was the message of Thurday night’s short film screening and discussion on gun violence in the neighborhood.

Almost 30 residents, students and organizers squeezed into LaunchPad on Franklin Avenue, a narrow renovated storefront space, and watched short documentaries addressing gun violence that ranged from poignant to informative.

“A Harlem Mother” documented the story of a woman who became a vocal activist after losing her son. “Halt” depicted how arms find their way to New York – a state with tighter gun laws – by passing through states like Georgia and South Carolina, where the laws are less strict.

Attending the event were the parents of Benny Lyde, a young man who was shot by a schoolmate. They appeared in one of the shorts and addressed the audience about the message of  “not snitching, but ditching” peer pressure around using guns and staying quiet about crimes. The documentary was part of a national media project called Beyond Bullets.

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Fighting Goliath in Chinatown


New York, NY.

To some, Mei Rong Song might seem like an unlikely hero. She’s owns a flower shop in Chinatown’s East Broadway Mall.  She’s a mother of three in her late 30s, who doesn’t let her limited English prevent her from being outgoing and talkative.

But Song has become strident spokeswoman against an allegedly corrupt management company that demand bribes, called key money, on city property. What makes her powerful is simple: she knows her rights and wields the law with confidence.

“People tell me that they admire me,” Song said, surprise on her face. “They’re afraid to stand out, like me.” She has been vocal and visible by talking to media and working with lawyers to push for investigations.

“I’ve been here for over 20 years and I know American law,” she said. It may seem like a minor, or obvious feat, but among the Fuzhounese– who are the majority of vendors in the East Broadway Mall– this type of courage isn’t common enough.

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LAVA Leaps Into 11th Year With Gala

(Published on Prospect Heights Patch)

The award-winning acrobatic dance troupe LAVA kicks off a benefit with a performance that somersaults, literally, into their 2011 season. The event also marks the 11th year that the Prospect Heights-based, all-female troupe have been defying gravity.

Ticket sales will help support this locally-grown dance troupe. The $111 price tag for a seat at the benefit pays for artists’ fees and make LAVA’s new projects possible.

“It makes it sustainable working with the same artist for many years,” said Sarah East Johnson and who founded LAVA in 2000. “And we can deepen its quality.”

Continue reading LAVA Leaps Into 11th Year With Gala

The Glass Shop: Tiny Cafe Serves Up Robust Flavor with an Australian Twist


(Published originally here.)
Before it housed a workshop full of glass windows that needed fixing. Now, the primary glass work involves filling one with espresso, texturized milk and a sprinkle of cocoa.
Prospect Heights resident Francesco Agostino is part-owner of the Glass Shop, an Australian-style café. Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Agostino brings the coffee culture of his birthplace to Prospect Heights.
That means that the drinks are espresso-based and have names that aren’t immediately recognizable to most. It also means that they are served exactly the way he’s used to in Australia: in eight-ounce Duralex glasses from France.
The glasses are plain and small, which means less milk, than the average cup of U.S. joe. The milk is steamed and poured in a certain way for a popular Australian foam-infused coffee called a Flat White. No mugs here – in a plain small glass on a saucer, the taste is strong yet smooth.
“We keep it simple,” said Agostino, 35, who uses beans from La Colombe, a Philadelphia-based roaster.

Continue reading The Glass Shop: Tiny Cafe Serves Up Robust Flavor with an Australian Twist

Solar Solidarity

Originally here, for Project Survival Media — teams of journalists and media-makers all around the world.

Survival in our cities. How does a massive city like New York reconcile environmental and economic agendas? With such high concentrations of people, buildings, cars, public transportation, and even the competing agendas of capitalism and environmental awareness, this seemed like an issue worthy of exploration.

Constructing and retrofitting sustainable buildings are the most effective ways to reducing the pollution and carbon emissions in New York City. There are many aspects of the story yet to be uncovered. What technologies exist to do this? Which ones have been implemented so far? What are the factors that make policy so hard to achieve, and why are people resisting these changes?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has done a few things to make the city more sustainable. He has put in place initiatives towards environmental sustainability – ubiquitous new bike lanes, making Broadway in Times Square an open pedestrian space, and requiring hybrid models for all new taxis and buses.

But the sacred cow of the Bloomberg administration is real estate development. This is the one place where he can truly make a difference in cutting carbon. Last week he folded on a bill that would have required that all new buildings conform to energy efficiency standards.

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Sudan’s Female Genital Mutilation Countered By Henna-Dyed Hands

Originally here, for the Huffington Post.

By H’Rina DeTroy

Sudan has tried to eradicate female genital mutilation since 1946 to little avail. But now women’s health groups have taken the crusade in their hands–or rather, their own painted hands–in an effort to subvert the practice.

NGOs are training midwives and henna artists to cooperate using a secret code communicated through henna tattoos. Called the henna technique, a special design dyed temporarily on the skin can indicate to a midwife that a mother wants to avoid genital mutilation on her daughter. The tattoos serve as a bridge to discuss what is traditionally taboo. In turn, a midwife can stage a fake circumcision.

“It’s underground,” said Mawahib Mohamed of the Sudan Council of Volunteer Agencies (SCOVA). “It’s totally something that women would invent.” She said that midwives from the eastern and mountainous Nuer region invented the technique.

Mohamed said that SCOVA supports organizations dedicated to social and health-centered initiatives, like educating midwives about hygiene, immunizations and the risks of FGM. In Sudan, midwives help deliver babies and circumcise the girls after they reach the age of 5.

Normally, NGOs train midwives on how to counsel mothers about the dangers of FGM. Now they are taking bolder steps, showing midwives how to make a bogus ceremony, without any cutting.

But training midwives wasn’t enough. Organizations also started teaching henna artists how to talk to clients about FGM. Unlike a midwife, who is present only during birth and circumcision, the interaction with a local henna artist is frequent because henna is applied on the hands and feet for occasions like engagements, baby showers and weddings. Married women always wear a basic design.

If a mother confides that she’s afraid or worried about circumcising her daughter, a henna painter can refer the mother to a list of anti-FGM midwives. If the mother feels shy about broaching the subject, she can rely on a henna tattoo to communicate what she can’t in words.

In traditional Sudanese communities, women who speak out against circumcision can be criticized for condoning promiscuity and infidelity.

“It’s the only thing that works,” said Mohamed, who was born in Sudan and lives in Brooklyn. She wore henna on the tips of her fingers, with a heart just below her thumb.

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Mak Hoi Yan VS. Oh Ba Mah

Originally published in The Huffington Post.

When state Senate candidate Dan Squadron went to Chinatown to accept an endorsement from the Lin Sing community group, he got a second gift: a Chinese name.

Squadron was tagged as Si Cot Ching, an approximation of the name “Squadron,” modified into Cantonese sounds and spelled with three Asian characters. He went on to defeat Senator Martin Connor, a 30-year incumbent, in the Democratic primary.

“If you want a good Chinese name, you have got to come here,” said Eddie Chiu, 60, director of the Lin Sing, a non-profit group based on Mott Street.

Oh Ba Mah’s Advantage

Part of Chiu’s job is to makes the names of politicians easier to pronounce and understand for Cantonese-speakers – particularly the senior citizens who represent Chinatown’s strongest voting bloc.

Chiu, who was born in Hong Kong, said election boards often botch translations of names like “Squadron,” rendering them incomprehensible to Chinese-language speakers on ballots. “A lousy translation confuses elders,” said Chiu.

He writes the Board of Elections and calls newspapers, alerting them to the “official” name he’s designated for each candidate. “They use a different name and a lot will think it’s a different person,” he said.

With Chinatown voters, Barak Obama’s name doesn’t pose as much controversy as it has with some Americans. Oh Ba Mah is easy to sound out and translate, even to the ears of those who don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese. Chiu said that for the Chinese American seniors, a name that is easy to pronounce and remember is enough to get their votes.

But with John McCain’s Cantonese name – Mak Hoi Yan– problems existed with his campaign’s palm-sized flyer showing his name written with an amount of characters not customary in Chinese. “It needs to be three, said Chiu. “If you bring a palm card, with five characters, it confuses [voters].” Chiu said that such a mistake can cost a candidate votes.

Sound Over Meaning
Continue reading Mak Hoi Yan VS. Oh Ba Mah