Welcome to the blog for Project Live Unchained, a multi-media anthology created for and by black women across the African Diaspora. Here you can learn more about the women and supporters of Live Unchained as well as issues, events, opportunities and people we think you'll find interesting. Please visit www.liveunchained.com to learn more.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Discover, Explore, Unleash: TaMara Campbell Discusses Beautifully Me

Live Unchained had the opportunity to ask TaMara Campbell a few questions about her business Beautifully Me. TaMara describes Beautifully Me as a company that offers empowering, creative and innovative services that include: The Art of Pole Dancing, eXotic Dance & Sensual Movement,the trademark class SEXYROBICS®, SeXy Education classes including HIV and STD workshops Women's Wellness and Education among several others.

TaMara's business and other initiatives inspire women to embrace their sexuality, beauty and femininity in an un-apolagetic way. With the alarming rate of HIV and STD’s in our communities, TaMara’s efforts are significant as Beautifully Me empowers and inspires women to make safe choices about their sexual encounters and sexuality.

I'm honored that TaMara has shared some of her thoughts on Beautifully Me, Sex and femininity, with Live Unchained. In addition to the interview below, you can find out more about her and her project at: www.beautifully-me.com, and her blog at: http://beautifullymellc.blogspot.com

Can you tell us about Beautifully Me and your blog?

Beautifully Me is dedicated to creating experiences to empower women with the knowledge and skills necessary to embark on a journey of self-discovery, self-love, and self-efficacy, hereby increasing confidence which will enable women to feel good about making safer and healthier decisions that will increase the quality of life in the five dimensions of wellness, increase the value of reproductive health, and reduce risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI). It was important to me to create a place where women could feel safe, supported and free of judgment. We offer a variety of empowering, creative and innovative services that include: Our Blog, The Art of Pole Dancing, eXotic Dance & Sensual Movement, our trademark class SEXYROBICS®, SeXy Education classes including HIV and STI workshops, adult novelty home parties, "girls, night out" and our Savior-La Femme Pleasure Series, Women's Wellness & Education and much more!

Our Blog is dedicated to addressing women’s most intimate questions and providing sexy and sassy practical educational information to empower women with knowledge, skills and tools needed to become a sexy, empowered and confident woman in and out of the bedroom.

It’s important for women to have a safe space to discuss sexuality, sensuality, love, relationships & much more. The Beautifully Me Blog serves as this place. Here, women can express themselves openly and honestly without fear of judgment and/or conditions.

The sharing of knowledge is invaluable! We as women embody a unique voice and wealth of experience from which we can all learn and grow. I respect and appreciate your input and invite you to share your thoughts, ideals, adventures and experience by becoming involved in the Beautifully Me Blog!

What inspired you to create Beautifully Me?

I have always been about women’s empowerment even from a very young age. But the inspiration for creating Beautifully Me was very different and very personal! Beautifully Me grew out of my journey to self empowerment. I was at a very interesting yet challenging place in my life. I had just lost my job. I wasn’t happy in my marriage and I was in a new city where I didn’t know many people. I felt isolated, alone and I was unhappy. I knew I needed to make some serious changes in my life because I was on the edge of losing myself.

One morning, I woke up and decided that enough was enough! If I didn’t take back control of my life, I was going to spiral downward into a depression that I may not have been able to overcome. I made up my mind that morning that I was going to do something about it.

I began searching for classes that I could take to strengthen my mind, body, spirit and soul and also to meet some other ladies. I just so happened to come across a listing for pole dancing classes. At first, I thought what the heck? They’re really classes for this? Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try. Although I didn’t make the initial deposit when I originally was suppose to because I almost allowed myself and other people talk me out of it, I’m so glad that I did because from the very first night of the class I was hooked.

By the end of the six week class, I began to notice the transformation taking place, my body was more tone, my walk was a little taller and I was feeling more confident. I thought to myself, if this class has had this type of effect on me, I know other women could benefit from this amazing feeling, empowering feeling. Right then and there Beautifully Me was born.

My vision was to create a one-stop-shop business for women’s sexuality education and empowerment. I already had 15+ years experience in the field of HIV/AIDS and Sexual Health, so I decided to add a pole dancing component to compliment the experience and work that I had already done.

When I began Beautifully Me, keep in mind that pole dancing as a class was a very new phenomenon, so no one knew whether or not it would last long. So with that in mind, I never used pole dancing as the foundation of Beautifully Me but rather as an innovative tool to empower and educate women on all aspects of sexuality.

As we approach our 5th year of business in September 2009, Beautifully Me is still remaining true to our vision. The beautiful thing about Beautifully Me is that I take pride in the fact that it is a lifestyle company that grows and changes with life. The more I grow and mature, the better Beautifully Me becomes. Beautifully Me is Love and there’s nothing in this world that I love more than helping to empower women!

You promote the celebration and power of being a woman unapologetically—confident, expressing our sexual desires. Do you think aspects of American and Global societies create an environment that makes that expression difficult? What is your advice to women in navigating these environments?

In many aspects yes, I do think that some societies make it difficult for women to express not only their sexual desires but sexuality as a whole. One of the reasons being is that sexuality is still taboo among many cultures and societies. In addition, society has over-glamorized and over sexualized women in such a negative way by displaying images of scantily clad women behaving in such a degrading and disrespectful manner that disempowers women.

However, in some societies, sexuality is positively embraced from a much earlier age. It’s normalized as a part of their culture and/or society. Women are taught to appreciate their sexual self. Transition into womanhood is a celebration of honor and respect. I think that if the Western world would open their hearts and minds to understanding sexuality as a normal and healthy part of life, then that would help to create opportunities for open and honest conversations about sexuality, reduce teen pregnancy and transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

My advice to women in those environments is to first love and empower themselves regardless of their current circumstances because the love that they generate from within is the love that will transcend time and circumstances.

There are so many misconceptions, societal taboos regarding sex that often times people fear what they don’t know. Knowledge is power! Educate yourself on all aspects of sexuality and use it to empower yourself and your community. Be become an advocate for healthy sexuality for individuals and communities! Many people don’t realize the socioeconomic impact of sexuality on a community. I believe that if we begin to stop looking through judgmental lenses and begin to see past the moral aspect of sexuality and start to focus on the emotional, social and financial encumbrances, societies will begin to take more of a proactive role in creating an environment that supports development of healthy sexuality.

Why do you think it is so important for women to embrace their sexuality? What does that mean to you?

Women must embrace their sexuality in order to save their lives! In addition, in order to facilitate safer, healthier and more fulfilling sexual experiences, women must begin to take their sexuality into their own hands.

Embracing sexuality is a lifestyle. It’s being aware of your needs, wants and desires. It’s being able to communicate with your mate. It’s intimacy. It’s feminine. It’s vulnerability. It’s strength. It’s a power that women posses to give life or destroy it if used incorrectly or irrationally. It’s art of giving and taking. It’s pleasure undefiled. It’s unconditional. It’s who we are and were created to be.

Beautifully Me works to empower women to make safer, healthier sexual choices. Often discussions about safe sex and sexuality are discussed separately. Do you think it is important to talk about these two issues side by side? If so, why?

Sex and sexuality are often times used interchangeably when in fact; they are two very different concepts. Sex is only but a small part of sexuality. The term sex usually refers to the biological and physiological aspects of sexuality i.e. reproduction and intercourse. While sexuality is the larger term that refers to how individuals experience and express themselves as sexual beings. Sexuality has many aspects:

* Biological and physiology includes hormones, reproduction, pleasure and physical aspect such as intercourse,
* Psychological includes emotional response, sexual attitudes and behaviors,
* Sociological includes cultural, political and legal aspects,
* Philosophically includes the moral, ethical, spiritual or religious aspects.

I think it’s important to discuss these issues not side by side but rather as one because you can’t have one without the other. It’s important for women to have a true understanding of sexuality in order to facilitate and experience a healthy sexual life. Additionally, this empowers you to advocate for issues of sexuality that matter most to you. It also helps to provide a platform for healthy discussions around sexuality.

At what age do you think it is a good idea for women to start learning about not just sexual behavior, but their sexuality as well?

I think discussions about sexuality can happen at any age just as long as it is done in an age appropriate manner. But I would definitely say prior to the time a young woman begins her first menstrual cycle and budding breast. It’s important for her to know, to understand and to be comfortable with her body. She should also be taught that the changes that are taking place in her body are normal and natural. She should be taught to embrace her entry into womanhood. Discussions also should be open and honest. She hould be allowed to ask any questions. The discussion should focus on all aspects of sexuality not just sex/intercourse. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation discussing sexuality, then you always can refer to a professional who is more experienced dealing with this. Please do not attempt to answer questions that you are unsure about or do not have the answers to, as this only helps to contribute to an already confusing time. Providing partial and/or inaccurate information can actually end being more harmful.

What are your future goals for Beautifully Me?

As Beautifully Me approaches year five in September 2009, we are undergoing some amazing changes. We are taking this time to reflect, reconnect and renew in an effort to continue to provide the most effective, purposeful and empowering services. We are very excited and hope that women will continue to support us in our growth. Visit our website frequently or join our online interactive community to stay abreast of all the upcoming activities. We will be making major announcements after September 16, 2009.

Finally, What does living unchained mean to you?

Living unchained is living life to the fullest without allowing self-defeating behaviors and societal constraints to limit your potential. It’s self-awareness! It’s a respect and an appreciation for where you are at this moment in time. It’s being fully present in the moment. Letting go of all regrets and moving forward. In essence, it’s love just the same as Beautifully Me.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Africa HuNa--Black Political and Social Networking Site, Entirely in Spanish!

Africa HuNa is a political and social networking site, which was created in Spain. The network has grown to include people interested in issues affecting Africans and people of African descent throughout the world, who prefer to communicate in Spanish.

The title, Africa HuNa, has a couple puns. HuNa represents Hu-Humanidad and Na-Naturaleza; the unification of Humanity with nature or, in other words, roots. Also, an alternative spelling of Africa is Africah, to emphasize the last syllable and show reverence. The spelling of Africah Una, translates to Africa Unite (like the Bob Marley song).

Sese Site, a sociologist and co-creator of the site, explains and shares her thoughts on the project.

For those of us who did not learn Spanish as a first language, the site is a great place to practice your Spanish, while keeping up with current topics and events in the world. People of various races, ethnicities and nationalities are communicating in Spanish regarding activism, music, politics, literature and many more topics. When I see that someone has posted something interesting, I leave a message directly for that person. Whenever I have a question about an issue related to Africa and I want quick feedback, I visit Africa HuNa.

Friday, August 21, 2009

This is a MOVEMENT: Alicia Anabel Santos on Afro-Latinos, The Untaught Story

The documentary film series Afro-Latinos, The Untaught Story, developed by the independent production company, Creador Pictures, broadens our notions of movements and the experiences of blacks in the Americas. Afro-Latinos brings to fore the history, culture and contemporary challenges facing blacks in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.

Here is the English version...

...and here is the Spanish Version.

Clearly, the team recognized that such an ambitious and important project could only be complimented by an incredible website. Afrolatinos.tv (designed by Magdalena Medio) is the perfect blend of style and substance. There you can learn the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that received the enslaved Africans and from where in Africa they came. Each country the crew visited or plans to visit includes an historical and cultural overview of the African populations there. Also, you can share facts or stories with the team for a given country. You can also learn the personal perspectives of the creators, Renzo Devia, Alicia Anabel Santos, Camilo Mendoza and Leonardo Reales. There are several hours of their very intimate and personal reflections and conversations throughout the filming process.

I am so happy to have had the opportunity to speak with Alicia Anabel Santos, one of the series co-creators regarding the project. Alicia explains that this project represents not only a tribute to African ancestors and their descendants currently living in Latin America and the Caribbean, but a movement.

How did you become involved with the Afro-Latinos project? How did the idea for the project come about?

I became involved in the Afrolatinos documentary after writing an article published in Urban Latino magazine entitled, “Two Cultures Marching to One Drum,” which honors the contributions of Africans in both the Black and Latino community, our shared history, and define what it means to be Afro-Latino—aiming to unite these two communities. Renzo and I were both on a journey of self-discovery searching for the answers to very specific questions-- Why have Latinos rejected their African ancestry? Why are we denying our African roots?” Renzo invited me to join him on this investigation to learn more about Afrolatinos throughout Latin America.

Let’s talk about the title. The full title of the documentary is Afro-Latinos, The Untaught Story. Why was it important for the project to be titled Afro-Latinos—a term many people criticize or do not take seriously?

The title AFRO-LATINOS is intentionally used to highlight a group of people that have barely been written about. We wanted to tell the untaught story of Afro-Latinos… to take people on a journey as we discover who Afro-Latinos are and how the African influence mixed with Spanish culture has made Latin America what it is today. In countries such as Mexico and Peru the focus has always been on the Indigenous and Spanish contributions in history… what about the African part. It was important for us that this story be told.

Why do you think the experiences and history of Afro-Latinos has received insufficient attention?

There are many reasons why the Afrolatino population has received NO attention. Some of it has to do with race, class, and economy, but mostly it has to do with education. There are many people who do not know where they come from. Countries throughout Latin America aren’t teaching a COMPLETE and INCLUSIVE history. Yet another reason Afro-Latinos are not acknowledged or seen has much to do with the color of their skin. There is a reason why most of these communities are still undeveloped and receive very little resources or economic attention and it has much to do with being black. Discrimination is alive and well throughout Latin America.

Covering a large span of time, the documentary includes a review of enslaved African uprisings. Why was it important to include enslaved African rebellions in the documentary?

We have found that in the history books throughout Latin America people are only being taught a particular version of a story… not the ENTIRE story. Not the TRUTH… there is something missing throughout Latin America a pride in their history and where that history started… most of the versions of history we are taught even in the United States about Latin America, is that “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492” and that he came and saved us. But we were not taught about the millions of enslaved Africans that were taken against their will and brought to the Caribbean, Central and South America by force or how our people were brutally killed. We were not taught about the many rebellions throughout Latin America where men and women escaped and formed their own communities called Palenque’s… it was important to include these warriors so that afrolatinos understand who they really are and the rich history that lies in their blood.

I think it is great that you and Renzo are very honest and candid when sharing your personal reflections throughout the making of the documentary. You reflected a lot on identity—national, cultural and racial. What have you learned about your own identity? Has working on this project complicated earlier ideas you had about identity, in general?

Renzo and I would both agree that the MAIN gift we have gained throughout this journey is an appreciation of people, culture and differences… about my own identity I wouldn’t say that this discovery has complicated anything… but solidified who I am… I feel more grounded…more proud of my culture… I am still learning what identity means for me—but this journey has certainly brought me closer today than I ever was. I can identify myself as Afro-Latina, Afro-Dominicana, a label and title that I am proud to wear… Not only am I Latina, Dominican, Hispanic but I also share a bloodline with Africa and that only makes my identity stronger.

Race is considered, by some, a political identity. Outside of politics, however, is there any other connection you feel with people of African descent across the African Diaspora? Spiritual or personal, for example?

Besides race and history… the spiritual connection is incredible… religion is what connects us to Africa… our Santa Marta, Yemaya, I think people have a misconception about religions such as vudu or Santeria… some people get frightened believing that these religions are to cause harm when it is the total opposite when you go to a fiesta de palo event… you find that the music and rituals are to connect with the ancestors, to communicate to celebrate life and death… that cycle. My personal connection is not only racial and political but absolutely a spiritual one. This journey has brought us closer to the answers Renzo and I have been searching for…

You say that Haiti was the country that most impacted you. Why?

Haiti was a profound experience for me. Mostly because I wanted to understand and see for myself what the other side of the island that my family is from was like. Haiti needs help. Haiti needs support. We did not visit the tourist areas, which we are told are breathtaking. We decided to stay near Port-au-Prince and learn about everyday life and what we discovered was that Haitians work incredibly hard yet incredibly poor. Renzo and I are looking forward to returning to Haiti and all of the countries we have visited to help DO MORE.

Why is the term African Diaspora important to you? What do you think the term African Diaspora captures that would be lost if we simply used terminology like “black populations in different countries,” for example?

The term African Diaspora is very important because it includes the descendants of Africans who were dispersed throughout the world. Using terms like “black population” puts people in a small group… it’s limiting and isolates a group of people. African Diaspora groups us with a larger more inclusive group and honors where we all come from.

You consider one of the most important chapters in the documentary the contemporary challenges facing Afro-Latinos. One of the common challenges you saw in Afro-Latino communities was the lack of government support. What are some examples of this? What are other common challenges facing Afro-Latino communities?

CORRUPTION is my fast answer… but it is much more complicated than that… U.S. Agencies send money to countries like Colombia for example who receives over 10 million dollars from the U.S. and you assume that this money is getting into the right hands and is being used for the purposes intended, which is rarely the case. Renzo traveled to Chocó where funds were provided to restore or create plumbing and fix roads this work has not been done. This is just one example but a common problem throughout Latin America.

What are examples of the changes you would like to see people working towards to improve the life changes of people of African descent in Latin America?

Renzo and I have discussed in great detail the importance of INDIVIDUAL involvement not just government agencies sending money, but regular people like you and I going into these communities and seeing for themselves what is needed and then they can determine what resources they can provide to assist us… we would like to see more people going to visit these countries and donating their TIME, teaching students skills, bringing educational resources, computers and books. Go see how your money is being used! If you own a construction company send family and friends to communities like… Haiti and the Dominican Republic to help build schools…

Finally, what does activism mean to you? Would you consider this an activist project? Would you consider yourself an activist?

Activist to me means fighting for the rights of those who don’t know how to or are afraid to fight for themselves… to me it means being ACTIVE - - doing something… working with others towards change and for the greater good. Is this an activist project—ABSOLUTELY… but we see our selves as recruiters… Renzo and I need more people joining us to help these communities.

Anything else you want to share…

Lastly, I would add that THIS IS A MOVEMENT… the Afro-Latino’s documentary is a call to service. We are asking people to join us as we work towards educating and helping these communities. Please visit us at www.afrolatinos.tv.


After reading Alicia’s last comment, I considered e-mailing her to ask for clarification about what it means to "do more." Now, however, I think this is something we should decide for ourselves. I'm reminded of poet Antonio Machado's words: "Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar." This line translates to, "Traveler, there is no path; you make the path by walking." No one can tell you the form your activism can take and no one can decide for you what activism isn't.

The Afro-Latinos project shows that the challenges facing people of African descent across the world is global in scope with a long and complex history. It is easy to feel like such matters are too big to resolve. As a result, we may become so discouraged that we make no effort to resist. Or, conversely, we try to take on a problem in its entirety and wonder why we’re more irritable and exhausted than normal. We can contribute to this movement in a variety of ways given our interests and resources. We can at least show the seven minute trailer for Afro-Latinos and/or introduce the website to at least one person. We don’t have to do everything, but as Alicia said, we can all do more.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Flamenco and African Rhythms, Jazz, Rock and Gospel: For Astrid Jones it's all in the mix

I came across the photo to the right while playing around on MySpace. When I visited her page and put a voice to the face, I knew I had to contact her. Initially, I just wanted to say hello and that I liked her songs. However, I also wanted to share it with others who I knew could appreciate it. When I told her about Live Unchained she was eager to contribute to the anthology. Writing back and forth, we said that if we ever had the chance to meet in Spain, we would connect. We both followed through and I am so happy that the supporters of Live Unchained will get to know her voice. If you like fusions, especially with African roots, as band member Alex Ikot says, Astrid Jones Ndjoli is a musician you should know. After meeting Astrid in person, I think this photo reflects her well. Her smile is big and sincere, she is as confident as she is humble, and really is that beautiful in person.

Astrid writes and sings for a group that combines soul, jazz, rock, flamenco and African rhythms. Although Astrid, Nacho and Alex have been together for over three years, they are not rushing to decide on a name for the band. For now, you can look them up online as just that: Astrid, Nacho and Alex Ikot.

In this performance for Repertorio on Solidaria TV Astrid, Nacho and Alex Ikot share original songs, covers and jazz standards. I had never heard The Police's "Roxanne" and Barry White's "Never Never Gonna Give You Up," interpreted with both Flamenco percussion and skat. I loved it! They truly have a special and distinct sound. The group gives concerts about twice every month. If you are in Madrid, you should visit their MySpace page to see when they'll be performing.

Astrid also sings with a gospel choir in Madrid called Gospel Factory. I heard them sing and felt like I was at a Sunday morning service in Chicago.

Although music is such an important part of her life, Astrid says: "If I say I want to be a singer and that's it...It's not enough." Astrid's parents came to Madrid from Equatorial Guinea over thirty five years ago. Although she was born and raised in Spain, people, including the police, often assume that Astrid is an immigrant. "I go to work and a police man asks me for my identity card...it's a very common thing." Such experiences, in addition to the relationships she has with other people of African descent here, have made her conscious and concerned about the situation facing the black population.

To Live Unchained, Astrid is contributing "Mujeres" and "Life Happens Everyday," which you can hear on her MySpace page. You'll be able to hear her songs and contributions from other women on our website at www.liveunchained.com soon.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lucía Asué, Living Unchained in Madrid...

Live Unchained brought me to the best part of Madrid, the terrace of Lucía Asué Mbomio Rubio. A place where I had a wonderful welcome party, great conversations and filmed the video you see above.

One day, many months ago, I decided to promote Live Unchained via facebook and came across a page posted in Spanish for an organization called Alto Consejo de las Comunidades Negras. I contacted every member that was on Facebook at the time, including Lucía, the director of Communications and Media. She sent me back a beautiful and encouraging response--the last line of which read: "Vuestra lucha es también la mía," Your fight is also mine. True to her word, she has been eager and generous in supporting and promoting Live Unchained.

To Live Unchained she is contributing a documentary, "The Invisible City: Voices in the Cañada Real Galiana." The documentary portrays the largest illegal settlement in Europe. Lucía artistically captures the challenges facing the forty thousand residents that occupy the Cañada Real. Diversity and contrasts characterize this zone; One can see, "chalés of luxury and shacks, addicts and volunteers, businessmen and pariahs...without access to a hospital, nor a school" (for a more detailed description see this PDF). The documentary has been shown at the World Social Forum in addition to receiving various accolades in different countries. Here is a teaser.

Aside from her art, she has one of the most enviable jobs in Madrid. She is a television personality for Españoles en el Mundo, which airs on the national channel, RTVE. As a reporter for this program, she has had the opportunity to travel all over the world including my hometown Chicago and her Father's homeland, Ecuatorial Guinea. You can see the full episode of Ecuatorial Guinea here.

Fluent in Spanish, French and Portuguese, her language skills have served her well. Her most recent trip for Españoles en el Mundo was to Lisboa, Portugal. On Friday, she will visit Montreal.

Lucía's Fall trip, however, is for her own interests. In October, Lucía will travel to Paris, France to conduct an interview and research for her next documentary. Her next project is about the life of José Carlos Grey Molay, also known as Carlos Greykey. A black man who fought in the Spanish Civil War and served in a concentration camp during World War II. (Lucía is still in the documentation phase and if you have any information you would like to share with her regarding this project, you can reach her at: luciambomio@hotmail.com.)

A major goal for Live Unchained is that it be a platform where women from various and, in some cases, very distant places, can share ideas and resources; to be what it has been for me and my new friend. I am so happy to have met Lucía, to have learned from her and to have eaten her food (she's a great cook). She has encouraged Miriam and I to follow our dreams for this project. Given her boldness and the many things she puts her energy into, Lucía continues to lead by example. She Lives Unchained.


Here is a picture from the party Lucía threw on her terrace in June. The women depicted are from, in no particular order, Columbia, Russia, Guinea, Chile, Spain and the U.S. (of course). We had the BEST tortilla Española and sang along to "Me and Mrs. Jones."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Calling All Journalists...Creative Opportunity!

Hello journalists, newsies and information lovers! Enter the International Center for Journalists' (ICFJ) competition to win a Flip Cam and share your opinion with the committee and followers of ICFJ. Submit a video in any language (if not in English, you'll need subtitles) that shows why you think quality journalism matters. You have creative license to submit whatever you want--a song, music video, poem, etc. I suggest you Live Unchained, plan and bring it!