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Interview: Ace Hood On Leading A 'Black Lives Matter' Protest & Inspiration For ‘Starvation V’

Ace Hood wants to be a leader in his community. 

Antoine “Ace Hood” McColister is known for hustling hard and waking up in new Bugattis. But there’s another layer of the Florida native that few give him credit for. Throughout his career -- that spans four studio albums and a handful of mixtapes -- Ace Hood is one of many vocal MCs willing to speak out in America during major tragedies. He has written emotionally charged songs like “Another Statistic” and “F**k Da World,” off his 2013 album Trials & Tribulations, to spread his message.

On Saturday (July 9), Ace participated in a peaceful demonstration for the Black Lives Matter movement in Miami while marching with other protesters to show his support and to motivate his fans to stand up.

Inspired by the police-involved deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, there are several tracks on his latest mixtape Starvation V (which was released this week) that address social injustice -- and the struggles young black men often face in America. There’s “Wishful Thinking,” a track where he hopes that better days are ahead of us, constantly dreaming that his wishes will turn into a reality. And on the tape’s final track, “Keep On Praying,” Ace looks to God for answers while encouraging everyone to keep their faith and to appreciate their blessings in these dire times. Ace says he made Starvation V out of a necessity to get some things off his chest. The songs represent a vulnerable side of him that his fans rarely get to see.

Earlier this week, VIBE spoke with the Miami rapper about his experience at the Black Lives Matter march, his most personal records from the mixtape, and his take on how rappers need to continue the conversation for change as we move forward from recent unjust police shootings. unjustly deaths.

VIBE: You participated in a Black Lives Matter march in Miami last weekend. What motivated you to do that?
Ace Hood: I just wanted to use my platform and show support at the end of the day. I wanted to take a stand. Be out there with the people. I just wanted to be there in the physical form.

How would you describe the overall experience?
When I first got there, I actually led the prayer to it which was incredible. What I believe in is what I stand for. I think equality [is important]. That particular march won’t change anything, but the fact that us unifying as people and me having some type of influence and people seeing that, it would allow people to be inspired in some way to want to move forward. It was real moving for me to be there [and] to be a part of it. I was honored to walk with them and to support the whole Black Lives Matter movement.

The Game and Snoop Dogg led a march to the LAPD in LA. What did you think about that?
I think it’s just important. We can use our platform for anything we choose to use it for. Whether it is selling merchandise, promoting our music, or whatever it may be. I just think for an artist to physically be out there with the people, trying to make a difference, trying to make a change and get people to unify. It is important. So me seeing that, I was inspired. I’m not even from LA and I wanted to be standing next to Snoop during that march. That was incredible, so salute to them.

You’re one of the artists who speak out when a major tragedy affects the world in your music and social media. Why do you believe your 2013 song “Fuck Da World” is still relevant today?
Because things haven’t changed. I think we continue to deal with these issues. A lot more awareness is being brought to these records because I’ve been speaking about these things. It hasn’t changed. Our lives are still being taken. There’s still no inequality. Police fear us. As a black man, it is important to educate ourselves. For me, it is bringing awareness. [It’s] from my understanding that these things are important. Yeah, the lavish life [is good], but there are actually real things going on in the community. Anytime I write or illustrate [something], I like to come from a place of not where I am per say but to what is actually happening in the world and our community and in the world nowadays.

As an artist with a platform, why is it important for you to address social issues?
I want to give the people a voice. I am their voice. That’s what Hood Nation is. It is speaking to every hood and everybody around the world. That’s the place I’m trying to come from and saying, ‘Hey, for this guy that just got harassed by the police or this guy who is going through this [or] a mother who has lost her child due to police violence.’ For me, that’s just awareness for them. That’s given them a voice and God is just putting me in place. He’s just using me for that. That’s my purpose for this Earth is just to speak for the people that can’t really speak and when things get overlooked in certain communities. This is me standing up and saying, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening. This is really what’s going on in the community.’ And me having the platform, I feel like it is important that I need to say that.

Why did you want to put out a fifth installment of your Starvation series?
I just needed to get a few things off my chest. I think the people needed it. I think that the world needed it. I think it was something that needed to be said. I think that’s what Starvation V is. You know, [there’s] a lot of people actually thanking me for the project in this time of need. I just think it was written. It was what God wanted to happen, and it happened. And get people to understand that I understand what you’re going through. I have my own issues, and this is me being more vulnerable than I ever been as an artist, as a man, and coming into more as myself saying ‘hey, I can relate to that.’ I haven’t gotten to the place where I’m just oblivious of what’s happening to my people. We need that. We need soul food.

One song that stood out to me was “Wishful Thinking.” You talk about being a Grammy-nominated artist, and wanting to work with Beyoncé. What made you want to write that song?
[I was] just in a place of daydreaming. When you daydream about the things that you want, that you aspire to one day have. I was just in a place of joy, happiness. Just a vision of me acquiring and having all the things. In the perfect world, ‘OK, cool. In a perfect world, Ace, what would it be for you? What would it be like for you?’ And for me, if I could change the world, I would put smiles on kid’s faces. I would want to do a record with Beyoncé. It would be so dope. We all got wishful thoughts. For me, it was just about explaining to the people that ‘Hey, I still got dreams. I am living mine’s to a certain extent, but I still got dreams.’ I still want to do great things.

You rap, “Eric Garner and many others mistakenly died / All these police killing us and get sweeped to the side / Be the change you want to see, it is up to you to decide.” What do you think it’ll take for someone to take action and make that change?
I think people need to understand that we all play a part. To me, it is all boils down to developing self, and developing self-love. I think we need to understand that we are all a part of the problem and we can also be the solution too. I think that’s what they don’t want. They don’t want us to unify. They don’t want us to come together—even more of a reason why we should come together. That’s just what that line meant. There is a lot going on in the community, but the moment you decide to stand up and say, ‘hey, I want to make a difference not only for myself, not only for my family, and not only for those around me, I think things gonna change.’

“Mr. Black Man” sounds like it was written from a perspective of a black man in America in current times. Were you pulling from your own experiences?
No, I’m pulling from my perspective of how I see things in this day and age now as opposed to the guy who might be going through the struggle of dealing with everyday life. Waking up. Bills are due. You are trying to make ends meet. He might have gotten caught up in the system. He might think about trying to make a quickfast come up or something like that. That’s why I kind of played back and forth, which is why when I switched I said, ‘That is you, and this is me.’

Initially, the guy who I was speaking of was just a guy who wants to make a change. Who wants to make a change, but he doesn’t know how to do it. Some of these younger kids that think about dope, it’s just the way to do it because some of these other people and artists put that type of content in their music, so we feel like it is cool. But for me and my perspective, that isn’t a cool way. They want you to shoot the block up. They want you to do this. They want us to get tricked by the system. But for me, the more I educated myself as a man, as a human being, I understood. ‘Oh, ok, we can’t be victims to the system.’ That isn’t the way to make change. And just be another statistic in our community. That’s what the black man perspective is.

“Cold Shivers” is record where you rap about hearing gunshots ring outside and waking up cold sweats. There’s also a line where you’re afraid it could happen to your mom one day. Do you fear something tragic could happen to you?
It’s not even so much my mom, that verse was worst case scenario. That’s what “Cold Shivers” is. “Cold Shivers” is that phone call I got--you know, R.I.P. to my brother Four Fifth who passed away years ago. When I got the call, waking up in the middle of your sleep and one of your homeboys just got killed. That’s an unsettling feeling for anybody, or a loved one or a loved one that got killed. That’s what “Cold Shivers” is. It is waking up out of that, and hearing something that’s happening. You are hearing gunshots. You hearing, ‘yo, such and such got hit.’ I spoke from that perspective. So many people can relate to getting a call. Nobody wants to get that call over tragedy, or a close friend or a loved one of theirs. That’s what “Cold Shivers” is. It is being paranoid that there’s so much going on in the world. I’m raising children and it is scary. I can’t sleep because there’s so much happening in the world today. We just gotta continue to stay prayed up.

With a statement like that, do you hope this doesn’t become an everyday reality?
It really is reality. It is sad to say. I got word about the Alton Sterling killing, his son found out about before the mother. The son found out on social media. How do you feel seeing your father murdered on social media? The type of nightmares that [it] gives you? And knowing that your child found out first as opposed to your parent? That alone gave me goosebumps. Nobody wants to go through that. My mom’s saying was she would never want to bury her kids; she would want her kids to bury her because she can’t live to see the sight of it.

On Instagram, you shared some thoughts on black men: “If you weren’t so valuable and didn’t have the potential to be so powerful the world would not be so hell bent on exterminating your existence.” We aren’t that far removed from Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas shootings. Do you still stick by your words?
I do. I do believe that our culture is powerful. It’s funny that people want to be black until it is really time to be black. I think there are a lot of people who adopt our culture that want to be like us. That listen to the rap music and adopt the culture, and want to be cool, which is fine. But when it is time to be that, people aren’t really willing to be that all the way. I just think that’s funny. For me, to understand as a black man, how valuable that is. How valuable we are to the culture, to the business, to everything, to sports. We decided to say, ‘hey, we don’t want to do anything else today.’ And we decide that every athlete—whoever—got to say no today, I think a lot will stop. There’s power in being a black man.

Do you feel a certain type of way when people are part of this rap culture and don’t necessarily weigh in when they need to?
I think people are who they are. I think for certain people, you are not really expecting that from certain people. I just chose to speak on it because that’s what I preach: I preach inspiration, I preach health, wellness. That’s me in my music. It’s how we can overcome? That real hustlin’ motivation. So for me, it’s important that I uplift my people, and uplift the world. Uplift the listeners. I don’t think we expect that from every artist, but if people want to speak up, I think they should. If they choose not to, [then that’s OK.] Some people don’t know politics. Some people don’t get it. I am not a politician, I don’t get into it. I just know from right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. Simple and plain.

How should rappers keep the conversation going?
I think activism and rallying people together works. Music is definitely a way. It’s one way, [but] there are many ways artists can use their platforms. I do think physically being there, that’s what is important. It’s cool to talk about it and it sounds good, but for me, physically being there, showing the people that I’m a person too. I’m with you. I’m standing alongside you. I’m here. I’m in the flesh. You can touch me, you can see me. I’m fighting for it too. My fist is in the air, and I believe in this just as much as you believe in it. I think the more of that happening, and we can see more of our hip-hop leaders, from old school to the new school guy, continue to bring enlightenment through the music, through anything. Music is just what’s move the world. It changes your mood, it changes your energy. It changes lives. Music does powerful things. But I believe physically being there could be more powerful than anything.

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Afrochella Sets Sight On Connecting The African Diaspora, One Festival At A Time

African music and culture are going global.

There’s a concerted effort to create and connect on the continent and to the continent. In Ghana and Nigeria specifically, a number of events, festivals, concerts, and activations have grown to prominence over the past five years, attracting newcomers and serving locals. This year, December will harvest a crop of opportunities for those abroad and at home to tap into the music, art, food, and fashion of the new-wave vanguard.

“Ghana remains home to the global African family,” Ghana Tourism Authority CEO Akwasi Agyemang said in an interview earlier this year. "We are positioning Ghana as a gateway to the West African market," Agyemang added. As African cultural productions popularize abroad, Accra and Lagos have become the go-to grounds for people of the diaspora to initiate immersion into experiencing Africa. 

The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have lined up a slate of activities in an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry. The government has taken initiative to further pushing for mobilization, galvanizing both descendants and diasporans to visit, invest, and live in the country.

Certain factors make Ghana appealing for visitors. Along with it being one of the more stable nations in West Africa, according to a 2011 Forbes report, Ghana was ranked the 11th -most friendly country in the world, ranked higher than any other African country. But as of last year, according to the World Atlas, Ghana didn’t rank amongst the top 10 African countries to visit for tourism in 2018. There is already a history of diasporans permanently relocating to Ghana. The government attempted to facilitate this process when it waived some visa requirements and passed amendments to a 2002 law that permits people of African origin to apply to stay indefinitely in Ghana. 

But this year has been a particularly important one for visitors. This December marks the ending commemoration of the Year of Return. Ghana 2019 is an initiative of the government formally launched by the President of the Republic of Ghana in September 2019 in Washington, D.C. as a program for Africans in the diaspora to unite with Africans on the continent. The mission transcends a marketing strategy. The year 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The program serves to recognize the surging people and the following generations of achievements, sacrifices since then. 

The past year has seen a steady influx to West Africa. According to a report in Quartz Africa, Ghana’s tourism sector contributed 5.5 percent to GDP in 2018, ranking in fourth place after gold, cocoa, and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. And the government is hoping for more growth. Ghana is reportedly projected to rake in an annual $8.3 billion from the tourism sector by the year 2027 in tandem with an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals.

But with the opportunities for connection and investment comes a slate of new concerns attached to old ones. Tourism, for example, can be lucrative for local business, but also can have a broader disruptive impact on the nation’s economy. Then, there are the issues that programmers face to bring locals and visitors the sought-after idealized experiences of Ghana— a taxing and a challenging feat to execute in an environment that’s still developing its infrastructure in multiple sectors. Along with improper documentation of visitors, the 15-year development plan put in place to help push the numbers, in ways, has not been implemented in full force.

But a rush to Ghana is still projected, and there’s a slew of events coinciding in the region at the same time this year aiming to accommodate this. One of the events slated for a return is Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival happening in Accra from December 20 to January 5. Separate from the official year of return events, each event also aims to fulfill a similar mission and market individual appeal amidst similar events. There’s AfroNation, the popular Europe music festival holding its first-ever edition on Ghana’s coastline at the same time as Afrochella, while Nativeland is planning a selection of panels and immersive activations with Melanin Unscripted focusing on music, art, and culture in Lagos right before it.

Afrochella was conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015. Abdullah, along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye, launched the full-scope festival with the hopes of curating a connection to the continent this year, focused on increasing visibility to the rising talent on the continent. Their 2019 theme is “Diaspora Calling,” aiming to promote networking within the Ghanaian community and diaspora, ensure African youth value and celebrate their native cultures while connecting communities through education, fashion, art, music, and business in Africa. 

Community involvement representative Emmanual Ansa states they want the event to become “the impetus and mecca for the celebration of African music, culture, and art.” But amidst the many options on the ground this year to fulfill these missions, where does Afrochella stand, and how does it stand out?

VIBE sat down with the Afrochella co-founder Abdullah to talk about the structural challenges of executing this initiative while appeasing the demands of a growing consumer base, the cultural significance of the event, and envisioning Ghana as a premier frontier for a global black connection.

Can you talk about the origin of Afrochella? What inspired it?

I went to school in Ghana for about seven years, and then I came back to the US and I went to high school in the Bronx—  High School For Teaching And The Professions. I went to Syracuse University in 2006 and got my bachelor's in psychology and biology. And then I got my master's in 2016 at CUNY Hunter college in public health. I've been working in medical research for eight and a half years. But this has been a passion of mine that I've always done on the side, which is throwing African-inspired events.

That’s when my team came together. It started out with me wanting to do a festival here in New York called Native Tongue festival, and that was geared towards food. I just wanted to explain the culture and engage people within the diaspora. But then, on our yearly trip to Ghana, I found that we would gather and we would have a great time, but we couldn't really have that much of an effect once we left. I felt like we could have an effect; we could encourage more people to reach back home and do certain things by creating a space where we can engage each other. I thought there was so much talent coming in from all over the world that were from Ghanian descent or African descent and if we could create a place where we can galvanize all of that and the people that are doing amazing things within those industries, we would be able to create something pretty good. [In] 2017, we decided to do something like that.

How has it changed since 2017? Has it been easier to translate what you're trying to do in terms of this new interest in Africa — Ghana and Nigeria in particular? 

My team is battle-tested. We understand what we have to do in order to make the event successful. But, I wouldn't say it's been easier; each year presented different challenges for us. In year one, it was financial. Until this year, it was navigating bureaucracies. Last year, it was navigating governmental agencies. This year is navigating competition, navigating finding more funding.  One of the things that we noticed about events in Ghana specifically is that once it [nears] completion, people tend to not attend it anymore. What we want to make sure we do is every year we want to increase the amount of people that attend— and each year we have at least by 30 percent. Each year, we've been able to define our message more clearly. 

Talk a little bit about the government in Ghana. How has it been dealing with things on the bureaucracy level?

I would say our event is doing a big service to Ghana. Afrochella has definitely given people an opportunity to visit Ghana. The government should support us in a way that makes gaining access to certain government facilities easier. But that has not been the case. We've had to be very proactive about that with regards to certain policies that may exist that are not written on an online forum. Like in America, if I wanted to do a special event in the park, I'd be able to go to an online source. I'd be able to see all the things that need to do in order to get a specific permit for a specific venue. In Ghana, these things don't exist.

For instance, this year we received an email from some agency. Out of all of the years, we've never communicated with them and in the third year, they're reaching out to us about musician copyrights and, apparently, we have to pay a tax. Those are the kinds of things that we've faced. You can end up paying people that are not actually supposed to get paid. And there's no way of you knowing whether or not it exists or doesn't exist. 

Last year, we had a very weird incident four days before the festival. We were told by the Ministry of Aviation that our stadium is right by the takeoff of the planes leaving Accra. I would think that the venue that we're renting out for this festival would be able to let us know, “hey, you need to do this with the Ministry of Aviation,”— they did not. The day before Christmas, we got a notification that we have to change venues because they feel our lights will interfere with flights taking off. It's, of course, an accident. So, we reached out to the Ministry of Aviation, sat down with the director and devised a plan in order to allow our event to continue. Those are the kinds of things we faced as an event that we are still trying to navigate. Hopefully, as we grow, it will get easier.

Do you think it'll get easier when some type of infrastructure is built to help those types of events move more smoothly?

I think that Ghana is going to have to look itself in the mirror. We all don't know what to expect in December. Because there are a lot of people going to Ghana in December, the anticipation is very high. All the major hotels in Accra are sold out. How Accra responds to the influx of people I think should inform the government on how they should prepare for events and things like this for the future. I do hope that there is an effort created to streamline policies. 

I would like for the government to encourage events. I think events is one of the major drivers of tourism. And if they're paying attention, they will notice that a lot of people are coming to Accra for Afrochella and the events that exist during that last week of Christmas. The double mission is to take a deeper look at this creative industry and figure out a way to encourage that positively in a way that it affects both the people on the ground and the people within the diaspora. 

The government has not been welcoming this with open arms or does it not have any type of structured initiative to help this run smoothly?

I'm not saying that. I just feel like in general, we do not know what changes in infrastructure or policy being made to accommodate the amount of people that are coming in. For instance, with Afrochella we understand that because there's going to be so many people—there was an excessive amount of traffic coming into the stadium last year—that we need to figure out a way to get people to the festival in shuttles. If we can get people that are shuttles, then we could reduce the amount of cars. We reached out to the Ministry of Roads to help us so we can avoid traffic in front of the stadium and that we can make sure that there's a safe way for people to enter. This is some of the planning that we have done. Until now, I personally have not seen any information come out, access [to] policies that exist. 

One of the major complaints that people from the diaspora face when they go to Africa during Christmas time is we feel that we should be having the same sort of customer service that we enjoy abroad. With the influx of people, I think that it's going to get worse.

We just wanna make sure that infrastructure exists to make sure that people that are coming do not disrupt the way of life in Accra.

There are a lot of other events happening around the same time as Afrochella. What is the concerted effort to kind of stand out from the rest?

Our goal is to highlight the thriving millennial talent from within the continent. So we take pride in making sure that we're highlighting people within various industries of food, fashion, music. With our Afrochella Talk series, we’ve been able to highlight people that have been doing amazing things within the creative industry. In December, we'll be doing one on music. And this is an opportunity to be able to educate people on opportunities that may exist within their field or create a platform for people to be able to discuss questions they may have. 

We're also involved heavily in charity. Last year, we supported Water Aid to help provide clean water to families in need. The year before that, we gave out school supplies to kids within Madina Zongo. This year, we're doing charity twofold. We're rebuilding an orphanage school, in Jamestown, Accra and also providing them with school supplies. We call this initiative Afrochella Reads]. We’re also doing Afrochella Feeds on December 26th. 

Our goal when we bring people to Ghana is not just to come and turn up, not just to have a good time, but also to give them a feel of the vibration of the country, what the culture is.For us, it's a holistic approach.

What does the full festival entail?

The festival itself is art, music, food, fashion and all of that culminates in our eyes what culture is. We believe that each part of these is equally as important. Not one part is more important than the other and that we should celebrate them together. In addition to people getting to go to our festival, we also give them the opportunity to be able to engage with the country through our tours, through our charity. The tours and the charity that we do is to make people understand that yes, Africa is a good time— you can go to all the clubs— but we want to make sure you leave and provide an impact at the same time. 

Talk a little bit about the Audiomack rising star challenge and that effort to kind of curate the connection with music and culture.

With the rise of afropop music in America, I feel these artists deserve a chance. Right now, the popular, mainstream artists are the ones that are getting the looks they deserve. But I think that there are a lot of talents that exist from the continent that deserve to showcase their talent.

The other aspect of it is, I feel that people in the continent are using all of these apps and all of these different services and they hardly get to connect with representatives from those services. One of our goals is to make sure that we partner with these companies and give them the opportunity to invest in the talent directly. With Audiomack, we're doing exactly that in that we're giving seven individuals an opportunity to perform at Afrochella. And the one with the most streams, we’re giving them $1,000 towards their career and we’re giving them an opportunity to for a studio session at our partners BBnZ Live. This is one model of the type of partnerships we want to, we look to create with companies in the future. 

Why is this year in particular so important for the reconnection of the diaspora in the context of the 400-year anniversary?

A lot of the conversation between the diaspora and the people from the continent is what makes us different, why we don't get along. What we want to do as a festival is take that conversation and change it into what can we learn from each other and how can we help each other. I think that it's very important that as you see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Americans and everyone reaching for Africa, that we engage the people in the diaspora to make them understand that there are opportunities that exist and there is amazing talent in Africa and they are interested in starting a business and you're interested in developing a space and you can engage with your counterparts on the continent and help build the continent yourself.

I think the more black people we get to invest in the continent, as a whole black will be helping each other. This year is absolutely important and I think that shoutout should go to Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana for declaring this year The Year of Return. Ghana is definitely a good site that people can visit, but we hope that as people enjoy themselves and have that experience that they use that as a platform to visit other African countries and see what opportunities are there for them to be able to leave a lasting impact on the continent.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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