arts + entertainment

arts + entertainment

FEATURE: Dr. Aymar Jean Christian + love, participation, and the people

Loving on, and investing in, our community is central to our core values at Khafra.

In fact, in October, we launched the second iteration of our Khafra Community Cohort, a three-month communal incubator where we offer strategy and dream development support to local nonprofits, small businesses, and startup entrepreneurs eager to take their work to the next level.

The fall 2017 cohort included:  Qulture Collective, Roots Community Health Center, Roots Healing, SoL DeVeloPMeNT, BE Imaginative Collective.

khafra community cohort qulture collective

While it’s important that we share with and support our community as they develop their visions and work towards shaping the world for better. It’s equally important that we highlight others doing the same - especially when it begins with love for, and representation of, the people.

Aymar Jean Christian mini pano_0.jpg

Dr. Aymar Jean Christian is an example of someone whose love for community and eye for innovation has resulted in the creation of an online space expanding the narrative of queer and trans Chicagoans.

Open TV (beta) is a Chicago-based platform for queer and intersectional television, currently a research project by Dr. Christian, assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University.

The online platform, which launched in 2015, develops and hosts web series created by women, and queer and trans folks of color - folks desirous of offering a nuanced perspective of life in Chicago. Open TV contributed to the development of the Emmy-nominated web series, Brown Girls, whose Cinderella success story has been a beacon of inspiration for millennial creators of color all across the interwebs.

brown girls still

We spoke to Dr. Christian this past summer about the origins of Open TV. He discussed his beginnings, where he hopes to see Open TV go, as well as its role in the Chicago community.

We’ve shared some of the most important pieces of that conversation below.   

On the origins of his interest in web series

“I stumbled upon YouTube in 2007 and I noticed people vlogging (video blogging). I started comparing that to blogging but then I realized they were serializing the expression of their identity. I wanted to track people and see how [they were using the platform]. For a long time I didn’t think [vlogging] would be a thing. Academia pushed me to figure out how this mattered. I thought, most ppl who make web series don’t get them picked up on TV. But I realized it was going to be a big deal. I knew I wasn’t just talking about some people online, I was talking about the transformation of TV.”

On the meaning behind the Open TV’s name

“The name is extended from the book which is also called Open TV. It argues that the web opened television by opening the development process to producers. Circumventing gatekeepers on the web can foment innovation.”

#weareopentv #emmys

A post shared by Open TV (beta) (@weareopentv) on

On the evolution of Aymar’s relationship with Chicago

“I came to Chicago as a newbie for the job at Northwestern. And when I got here I didn’t know anybody. It took me a couple years to find people. I didn’t want to be here for the job and not participate in the city. At a certain point I realized I knew enough people to make something happen. With Open TV, I had a couple of artistic collaborators. It was really about working through those networks. I really had been building a base of support in Chicago. The city has grown to support the project as it was its own. I’m happy about that and that it’s a project for Chicago artists. Open TV shows the world there is so much intention and beauty here. That’s especially important when the rest of the world only talks about violence.”

brown girls behind the scenes

On Open TV's diverse roster

“I asked myself, why isn’t this on my TV screen? Last year there were 455 shows on TV. I wasn’t seeing anything that I was seeing in Chicago. We have new genre hybrids [like Brujos] mixing telenovela with the supernatural thriller. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t see this except for the fact that the people who have the skills don’t have the access.”


On his television inspirations

“Black sketch comedy in the ‘90s was super influential. There are lots of problems with the In Living Color skit with Men on Film. But for me, that was Black, queer people. I didn’t understand that they were making fun of queer people. I thought these were two fabulous people.”

On Open TV’s future

“I think we will expand outside of Chicago once we’ve tapped all of Chicago. But that will take many years. The challenge for me is to match creators with production teams. The thing about Chicago is we have strong communities in theater, performance, music and dance but it’s not as competitive as New York or LA. In Chicago, we have everyone here and lots of talent. We have enough space to collaborate and support each other. That’s what you need when you’re doing independent television.”

Khafra's excited to see how far Open TV soars as it continues to focus on amplifying the voices of Chicago’s queer creative community. Developing the work of creatives eager to enhance the beauty in their community is why we do the work we do. Make sure to visit Open TV and dig into their amazing roster of web content.

SIDEBAR: Khafra Community Cohort is coming to Atlanta in 2018. Learn more here.

arts + entertainment, good news, entrepreneur tips

#WomenatWork: 'LADYLIKE' director Tiffany Johnson schools us on art as freedom

Welcome back to our "Women at Work" series, where you're introduced to a curated selection of working women discussing their professional lives as well as the impact they're making - through an audacious blend of professional and personal passions - on the world around them.

Closing out Women's History Month, meet Tiffany Johnson.

via @tiffanyjenellej

via @tiffanyjenellej

Admittedly, I wait until the morning each WaW story is due to write it. As an entrepreneur whose entire life is now guided by one giant Passion Planner, I get joy out of being able to wake and feel my way to useful words - hopefully, accurate words - describing these women who move me so much.

When I started thinking about Tiffany this morning, I started thinking about freedom. I started thinking about "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint," the "absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government," "the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved."

via @tiffanyjenellej

via @tiffanyjenellej

As a graduate of the Los Angeles Film School - one who majored in Directing and minored in Screen Writing - I can imagine that Tiffany knows a lot about engaging the right to speak, think and act without hindrance. I'm probably projecting my 8-year black girl experience as an English Ph.D. student, but I'm willing to bet Tiffany would bring brilliance to a discussion of art, particularly Hollywood filmmaking, and the feeling of foreign domination.

We just haven't discussed that yet.

I think about freedom when I think about Tiffany because (well, look at her, so in and of herself)  since graduating, she's worked for CBS, Overbrook Entertainment, and Academy Award-winning Producer Peggy Rajski.  She's also worked as an Associate Producer on numerous live television award shows, including MTV Movie Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, People’s Choice Awards and the 2011 Primetime Emmy’s. She also serves as assistant to another fave, Lena Waithe.

Tiffany is a woman not just standing in, but operating from her multiple freedoms: to desire, to choose, to create, to redefine. If you're not quite sure how I got there yet, you will be after further reading.


Check out the best from my correspondence with Tiffany below.


On owning her professionalism ...

I didn't always, but I definitely do now. I had to learn to change the way I speak. When asked what I did, I would say, "Oh I am an aspiring director." That's bullshit--I am a director. Filmmaking is what I do. 

On the logistics of life ...

There's definitely a lot of music ... Music gets me through my days. As an assistant to a Showrunner/Writer, my day usually consists of lots of emails and reading scripts. In the evenings, I'll sometimes grab drinks with friends, maybe catch a movie I've been wanting to see or go home and binge a new show. It varies.


On the last year ...

I actually have 2 important projects I completed last year. One was my short film LADYLIKE.
We screened it at a few festivals and even went to Cannes--such a wild, life changing experience! It's currently streaming on Issa Rae's YouTube channel.
I also completed a short documentary last year, entitled The Ride Home. It's the most emotional and personal film I've ever worked on. It was the first time I turned the cameras on myself--it follows me and my dad on the day he was released from prison and the ride home we shared. 


On what's up next ...

I'm currently in post on a short film I recently shot called Dead. Gay. Fictional. It's a fun rom-com send up, written by my good friend Caty Zick.


Also, my writing partner, Nick Williams and I are developing LADYLIKE into a feature which I'm really excited about!


On sustaining your craft ...

I think it's super important for creatives to fuel their craft. What I mean by that is: surround yourself with other creatives that inspire ... and encourage you. Learn from each other. Study those you admire and dedicate time to your [calling]. I'm constantly watching films or reading books or articles on filmmakers I'm obsessed with.  


Do you see why I'm thinking about freedom?

Before I began writing this, I kept scribbling a phrase in my journal: "Do not complicate your freedoms."

Over and over.


It wasn't until I reread Tiffany's correspondence that I realized what that phrase was really getting at. We, like Tiffany, will often have to enter into spaces that others might dictate as never having been meant for us. However, what's important is our presence there, that we have shown up, not the narrative surrounding our entrance.

Tiffany Johnson reminds us all that we have a right to exercise our freedoms, uncomplicated in whatever form they appear to us. We can show up as ourselves, for ourselves, and tell the stories we want to have heard. Or in Tiffany's case, seen.

via @tiffanyjenellej

via @tiffanyjenellej

 She is a vision, with sublime vision. 

The only appropriate way to end this is by butchering Bambara, is to say all of our freedoms are real, all of our dreams, attainable. "The failure to realize is the only unreality." 

arts + entertainment, good news

#WomenatWork - Maame Adjei inspires us to literally be all that we can

Welcome back to our "Women at Work" series, where you're introduced to a curated selection of working women discussing their professional lives as well as the impact they're making - through an audacious blend of professional and personal passions - on the world around them.

This week, I'd like to introduce you to Maame Adjei.

via (used with permission)

via (used with permission)

Every time I sit to write about anyone, I'm tasked with minimizing an overwhelming desire to type something like "I don't know what to tell you guys. It's ridiculous that you don't know Maame. She's important. Her face. Her eyes. Her body. Her being."

I don't write, "Most important is that I adore her ... that I saw her and she immediately felt like everything to me ... that I see her and can more clearly see myself - in ways that are incredibly important as an immigrant living in the United States ... as a future expat ... as a brown body full of curve and lyric and Liberian ..."

I don't write, "Can't you see she's a model of my most desired ways of being in this world." 

via Blavity

via Blavity

Instead, I turn what has already become a full-fledged unrequited love affair into the concrete language of Internet introduction.

So let's just get that out of the way.

Internet, meet Maame Adjei, more commonly known in cyberspace as Ms. Adjei, and, perhaps, most easily recognized as the confident, couture-clad, Zainab on An African City

via Blavity

via Blavity

Now that you've been formally introduced, I'll admit that most of that opening rant was true. I was less than halfway through the first episode of An African City, when I realized I loved Zainab. And because I am who I am, I decided that meant I loved the person who embodied her. A quick internet search would validate all of my feelings.

via (used with permission)

via (used with permission)

I soon learned that Maame Adjei was not only a talented actress, but also an artist and producer with an educational background in Psychology and Healthcare Finance and Administration.

As an actress, aside from playing Zainab and co-producing An African City, Maame has also had roles in "A Sweet Song,"a short film by Ghanaian director Asantewa Prempeh, and Coz Ov Moni, a Ghanaian musical.

As an artist, she upcycles vintage and antique furniture for private clients, and has produced visual installations for The Chalewote Street Arts Festival in Accra.

via (used with permission)

via (used with permission)

As if those passions weren't enough to consume one human being, Maame served as the Talent Director for the Miss Universe Ghana 2014 pageant, is currently Travel Editor for The Style HQ, and an influencer for Tastemakers Africa.

Maame's bio admits (as if one didn't automatically infer from her list of pursuits) that she is "committed to living life passionately, and to exploring all the opportunities that her natural gifts and talents bring her way."

Learning this, I needed to know more. And I needed it directly from the source.


Check out the best from my correspondence with Maame Adjei below.


On passionately multitasking ...

Each role definitely seamlessly rolls into the next. I'm an artist. I consider everything I do art. So from production, to making furniture to even teaching (which I do sometimes). I always pull my creativity into it. They are never mutually exclusive.

On the logistics of living ...

Being a self employed artist anywhere in the world is not easy. On the continent it's even harder. My day starts and begins and ends with emails. ... Constantly replying to emails. I'm usually heading to one meeting or another which, in Accra, means I'm spending a lot of time in traffic. At some point during the day, I always stop by my friend Dedo's cozy restaurant, Tea Baa, for some good eats. I always end the day in bed re-watching a movie I've probably seen a hundred times.

On her most important project ...

Everything I work on his super important to me because I'm in a space where I only do work that moves me. So An African City, of course, a short film project I just worked on. And of course my passion project Girl Going Places, a travel show that exposes the beauty and dynamism of the continent and implores Africans, and Diasporans especially, to travel the continent. I've been working on [Girl Going Places] for almost three years and I'm so excited to slowly be sharing it with the world.

On sustaining creativity ...

Diversify, diversify, diversify! It's important to work for the love of the art but at the end of the day artist still need to eat, and pay bills. I can't give the what, where and how cause I'm still trying to figure it out myself but I think that's definitely a good starting plan.

Diversify. Diversify. Diversify.


Received, Maame. Received.

I want to end this neatly, enveloped tight phrasing with a simple call to action. But, as the beginning of this article demonstrated, often words and will don't work that way.


For some reason, sharing Baraka's “How You Sound” (1959) feels best.

MY POETRY is whatever I think I am. (Can I be light and weightless like a sail??  Heavy & clunking like 8 black boots.)  I CAN BE ANYTHING I CAN. I make a poetry with what I feel is useful & can be saved out of all the garbage of our lives.  What I see, am touched by (CAN HEAR) … wives jobs, cement yards, where cats pee, all my interminable artifacts … ALL are poetry, & nothing moves (with any grace) pried apart from all  these things.  There cannot be closet poetry. Unless the closet be wide as God’s eye. And all that means is that I must be completely free to do just what I want, in the poem. 

Yea. That feels right.



arts + entertainment

A Tribe Called Quest's Phife Dawg passes on at 45

tribe called quest phife dawg
Malik Taylor, the rapper known as Phife Dawg whose nimble, clever rhymes helped launch A Tribe Called Quest to both commercial and critical success, died Wednesday at the age of 45. Rolling Stone has confirmed the rapper's death, though an official statement has yet to be released.
While the cause of death has yet to be announced, Taylor had had health issues for years, undergoing a kidney transplant in 2008 to deal with a longtime battle with diabetes.
"It's really a sickness," Taylor said in Beats, Rhymes & Life, Michael Rapaport's candid 2011 documentary on the group. "Like straight-up drugs. I'm just addicted to sugar."



good news, arts + entertainment

SiairaShawn launches new #FWYH merch

You know we love SiairaShawn.

So, of course we're honored to share this message from her. 


The "FLWRS WHILE YOU'RE HERE" design is my first foray into merchandise. "Flowers While You're Here" is the title of my recent e.p. series, but also a life philosophy. I believe that we should share love, vulnerability, and truth with our loved ones, "while we're here."  
I'm not on tour right now, but I wanted to still connect with folks who want to represent this message and support my music. My goal is to sell at least 30 items at the end of 21 days!

View all of Siaira's new merch HERE.

arts + entertainment

#Playlist | Kari Faux, Nicki Minaj, Sevyn Streeter, #WomensHistoryMonth goes rogue

As you might already know, in honor of  Women's History Month, we've launched our newest series, "Women at Work," introducing you to a carefully curated selection of working women. The series will, of course, explore their professional lives. However, it will also explore the impact these women are making - through an audacious blend of professional and personal passions - on the world around us.

And while we're definitely inspired by all of the entrepreneurs we're featuring this month, we're equally moved by some pretty amazing Bad News Women in the world. 

via @ninachanel (Instagram)

via @ninachanel (Instagram)

We'd like to think this soundtrack celebrates them ... and their constant bad ass Bad News grinds.

Listen, there's nothing like a lil' ratchet to help you take over the world.


EXPLORE: Listen to today's playlist -- "There Will Be Love" 

arts + entertainment

Listen to today's playlist -- "There Will Be Love"

In last week's interview with SiairaShawn, she reminded us that love has many forms and facets.

I write about all aspects of love; the good, the bad, the crevices, in what I hope is a true and nuanced perspective on an eternal subject. Even if the song is not a "love song" per se, the base of my art is always Love.

And since we're still thinking about that interview, and all the crevices of love, we decided we needed a playlist to take us into at least a few of them. It's a wild ride, but if you're up for it ...

Here's what's been getting us through the day in the office today.

If you're into SiairaShawn ... Save 35% on her entire discography for a limited time.

What else would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments.

EXPLORE: Remembering Maurice White


arts + entertainment

SiairaShawn talks to us about love, art, and the next level



Writing an introduction about SiairaShawn is painful - not because you have nothing to say, but because you find yourself wondering what combination of words could both explain and do justice to the subtle magnitude of Siaira's artistry.

Ok. The task is also hard because you find yourself slightly annoyed by the fact that in 2016 an introduction is still needed for an artist that VIBE has called "a leader of the new cool," and whose "whiskey smooth vocals and songwriting" Saint Heron has recognized as hitting you right "in the gut."

At this point, SiaraShawn's a household name, right?

Whatever the case, we're long time fans of just about everything Siaira does.

When it came time to choose someone who could help us discuss the gravity of love and Valentine's Day in a way that avoided the sometimes cheesy Hallmark nature of it all, of course she was the first person to come to mind. 



We were transparent in our approach.

We admitted that like a lot of folks, we consider SiairaShawn our favorite amour chanteur similar to how we consider Rumi one of our favorite love poets.  Siaira responded favorably, admitting she liked the comparison and even found it to be accurate. Go us.

I write about all aspects of love; the good, the bad, the crevices, in what I hope is a true and nuanced perspective on an eternal subject. Even if the song is not a "love song" per se, the base of my art is always Love.

With that win we felt like we could get a bit more personal.  

We wanted to know everything: Does she consider herself a romantic? Is she a fan of Valentine's Day? We, of course, wanted to get up close and personal about her process for making songs that so many of us date to, make love to, end love to ... Did we mention she's a gracious interviewee?

Below you'll find some of our favorite SiairaShawn quotes from the interview.

On Romance

I'm for the grand gestures, but I've found most people just want you to make an effort; let them know you've been paying attention

On Valentine's Day

I think it's cute ... My mom used to get me things all the time, when I was young.
[It's] one more day to honor your love. I usually make plans, or just make dinner or flowers, something!

On Creating

I write whenever inspiration strikes ... 

On Her Favorite Project

My favorite is definitely Ghost because it finally started and solidified my "sound" and my point of view as an artist. It also opened up a lot of doors for me and I was super involved in every aspect of the process that went into making it. 

On Her Next Level

... Full time artistry! I want to release merchandise with a fashion forward point of view. I want a full length album, and tour. I want to collaborate with my partner Alexis on some really cool media ideas she has.
Represent, shift, shape the culture - that's the goal. 

There you have it, folks. SiairaShawn's basically nailed our list of 2016 intentions on the head: lead with love, make effort, follow inspiration - all in an effort to represent, shift, shape the culture.

And ... just because Siaira loves the love, visit for a little gift from Siaira and Khafra.