It’s complex: Halloween & other mainstream holidays

I encourage you to check out the works of Iyalosa Akalatunde, Stephanie Rose Bird, Naazir Ra, Luisah Teish, H’ru Assaan-Anu, Imakhu Mu Nefer-t. They all speak to the roots (beyond Europe) of mainstream holidays. Their books, youtube videos, blogs are very informative. Keep in mind that their views will probably take you outside of your comfort zone. Initially that’s how I felt although in the long run they’ve helped me grow immensely. Now my views are more balanced and no longer steeped in dogma.

P.S.- Let’s be very careful of buying into Eurocentric interpretations of any of these holidays. There’s a back story to all of them which is absolutely beautiful and cultural relevant. Remember many Europeans have a way of turning things on their heads. As a result once they get their hands on something it changes dramatically ie. that which started out as one thing (positive) ends up becoming something very different (largely negative). The thing is we always have the power to change that on a very personal level.   We have the power to return things to their essence in our own little way. WE CAN DO THIS. All of these holidays fall when they do for very specific reasons. Europeans don’t own that timing. Europeans don’t own the original symbols and rituals either.

Cartoons for our children

23 Animated Series That Have Black Lead Characters or are Set in Africa

– June 20, 2014


The last time my daughter saw black people, aside from her father and I, we had driven for two hours to attend a birthday party hosted by another Jamaican expat who lives here in Japan. As a black child in Japan, she will be constantly conscious that she is of a different complexion, ethnicity, nationality and culture than all of her friends. I want her to understand that being different doesn’t signify that she is deficient — just different. I also want her to find belonging and build her social identity in her ancestry and cultural heritage. I want her to be confident in who she is and proud to be identified by the colour of her skin. Yet, I know that I will have a major role to play in how the process, as she shapes her racial identity; and I know that both racial consciousness and cultural confidence are key elements in the social development of black children everywhere.

When I was a child I never saw many cartoons on TV that featured mostly or completely black characters. However, this was not a significant factor in how I viewed myself or the world, because persons of African descent account for more than 90% of Jamaica’s population. Nonetheless, the only memory I have of a black cartoon was the movieBébé’s Kids – which my brother, sister and I loved – simply because all the main characters were black. I’ve since come to understand that many African-Americans disapprove of that film – so, I won’t be including it in my recommended list ;) Now, my daughter is growing up in ‘homogenous’ Japan, where most of the other foreign residents are of either European or Asian ancestry. It just happens that the English-language media here, is heavily influenced by the American media and pop culture, making it is very easy for a black child to absorb the negative subliminal messages that are prominent in American mainstream media. So, clearly, I was at a loss as to what kind of edutainment I would be able to show to my baby girl. Since she is a toddler, we introduced her to nursery rhymes and she took a liking to the very musical preschool videos from the Mother Goose Club. Although the lead character is a African-American woman, I found myself searching through their Youtube Channel for all the videos that featured black children or adults. This is because, I definitely want her to see herself in the images and sounds that we use for playful learning time.

My searching has lead me to a treasure trove of vibrant, entertaining and educational material. Many of these cartoons have their own Youtube channels or websites, where you can check out the episodes before buying the DVDs. Some of them are still being aired on television and others are streaming online (for e.g. on Amazon or Hulu). I hope you’ll find some favourites for your little one, as I have for mine.

Animated Series:
Tinga Tinga Tales
Description: Tinga Tinga Tales is a British, American and Kenyan children’s television series, based on African folk tales and aimed at 4 to 6-year-olds.
Available on Amazon, Hulu and Netflix

Description: 12-year old Cornelius Fillmore (voiced by Orlando Brown), a juvenile delinquent with a record, was caught raiding the school’s new chalk shipment. He was arrested and given a choice by the safety patrol officer who caught him, either help him solve another case or spend the rest of middle school in detention. Fillmore decided to help out and he eventually decided to join up with the safety patrol.
Available on YouTube

Jungle Beat
Description: Jungle Beat is a fun, family friendly series of CGI animated, self-contained, dialogue-free, 5 minute episodes focusing on different animals and the bizarre situations they encounter in nature. From the firefly who is afraid of the dark to the giraffe with a stiff neck, this wholesome series aims to entertain and delight young kids and their families.
Available on Amazon

Static Shock
Description: Fifteen-year-old Virgil Hawkins, harassed at school by a dangerous bully, is transformed by a powerful gas mutagen into a master of electromagnetic energy and decides to use his powers for good … as a superhero.
Available on

Bino and Fino
Description: The Bino and Fino Nigerian educational cartoon was created to give parents looking for genuine African educational content for their children to watch more of a choice. Created by Adamu Waziri, a Nigerian animator and produced by his Nigerian based animation company EVCL, Bino and Fino is an African educational cartoon about a brother and sister who live in a modern day city in sub- Saharan Africa. In each episode Bino and Fino, with the help of their friend Zeena the Magic Butterfly and their family, discover and learn things about the world. The show is for children mainly between the ages of 3 and 6.
Available on YouTube,

Description: Dr. Arthur Bindlebeep is the head of the family and a high school teacher. He and his wife, Norma, try to be model parents while learning a few things from their three children: 16-year-old Angie, 12-year-old Roy and 6-year-old Katherine and their dog Guinness. At the same time, Arthur’s own parents, Lester and Louise, still have some lessons for him.
Available on Amazon

Description: The half-hour series features young mummy Tutankhansetamun (based on real-life Tutankhamun and usually called “Tutenstein” as in the title) who is awakened about 3,000 years after his accidental death and now must face that his kingdom is gone. Cleo Carter is 12 year old African American girl who enjoys Egyptology. After chasing her cat, Luxor, she accidentally brought Tut back to life.
Available on Amazon

The Proud Family
Description: “The Proud Family” follows the adventures and misadventures of Penny, a 14-year-old African American girl who’s doing her best to navigate through the early years of teen-dom. Penny’s every encounter inevitably spirals into bigger than life situations filled with hi-jinks, hilarity and heart. Her quest to balance her home, school and social lives are further complicated by friends like the sassy Dijonay, Penny’s nemesis LaCienega Boulevardez, her loving, if not over-protective parents and her hip-to-the-groove-granny, Suga Mama.
Available on YouTube, Daily Motion

Tsehai Loves Learning
Description: Tsehai Loves Learning is an Ethiopian childrens TV show. The characters are puppets and animated characters speaking the local language of Amharic.
Available at

Doc McStuffins
Description: The series chronicles a six-year-old girl named Dottie “Doc” McStuffins who decides she wants to become a doctor like her mother. She pretends to be a doctor by fixing toys and dolls. When she puts on her stethoscope, toys, dolls, and stuffed animals come to life and she can communicate with them. With help from her stuffed animal friends – Stuffy, Hallie, Lambie and Chilly – Doc helps toys “feel better” by giving them check-ups and diagnosing their illnesses with “The Big Book of Boo Boos”. Each 11-minute episode includes original songs.
Available on Amazon and Disney Junior

Happily Ever After: Fairytales for Every Child
Description: Each episode details a classic fairy tale, but in the style of greatly different cultures with characters voiced by famous actors, comedians, singers and political activists of varying cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicity.
Available on Amazon

Little Bill
Description: The stories are based on Bill Cosby’s Little Bill book series, set in Philadelphia and feature Bill Jr. learning a lesson or moral. It was developed through research and in consultation with a panel of educational consultants.
Available on Amazon

Abeba and Abebe
Description: Abeba and Abebe is the first ever animated series to be made in Ethiopia by and for Ethiopians. It is aimed at an audience of 6 – 12 year olds
Available on YouTube

Animated Short Films:
The Legend of Ngong Hills
Description: The Ogre, who has a habit of attacking the Maasai Village, falls in love with the beautiful young maiden Sanayian. Based on a Maasai folktale, this animated short film produced by the Apes in Space studio in Kenya won a 2012 African Movie Academy Award for Best Animation.

Sule and the Case of the Tiny Sparks
Desscription: In a young African girl’s quest to learn the meaning of the proverb – Great Fires Erupt form Tiny Sparks – she seeks guidance from the proverb detective, Sule.

Bouba & Zaza Protect the Earth
Description: A cartoon based on UNESCO Dakar’s children’s books collection.

Wayans Family Presents: A Boo Crew Christmas Special
Description: It is Christmas time in “Boo” York, and D-Roc, Dee Dee, Chad, Slim and the entire Boo Crew discover the true meaning of Christmas.
Available on Amazon

Koi and the Kola Nuts
Description: In this humorous African folktale, Koi wants the villagers to honor him as befits the son of a chief. But unless he can accomplish three impossible tasks, he will end up in the cooking pot instead. His problems begin with a scrawny Kola tree, and they end when three unlikely new friends who help him find his rightful place in the world.
Available on Amazon

Animated Feature Films:
Kirikou and the Sorceress
Description: Drawn from elements of West African folk tales, this movie depicts how a newborn boy, Kirikou, saves his village from the evil witch Karaba. It was so successful that it was followed by Kirikou et les bêtes sauvages, released in 2005, and adapted into a stage musical, Kirikou et Karaba, first performed in 2007. Another followup, Kirikou et les hommes et les femmes, was released in late 2012.
Available on Amazon

Kirikou And The Wild Beast
Description: The film is a sub-story to Kirikou and the Sorceress rather than a straight sequel. The movie is set while Kirikou is still a child and Karaba is still a sorceress.
Available on Amazon

The Princess and the Frog
Description: With a modern twist on a classic tale, this animated comedy is set in the great city of New Orleans. Featuring a beautiful girl named Tiana, a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again, and a fateful kiss that leads them both on a hilarious adventure through the mystical bayous of Louisiana.
Available on Amazon

The Proud Family Movie
Description: Penny goes on a family vacation to the tropical Legume Island instead of celebrating her 16th birthday with her friends. It turns out the island is full of mysteries and Dr. Carver lures them in hopes of stealing her father’s secret formula and take over the world.
Available on Amazon

The Golden Blaze
Description: The bond between son Jason Fletcher and father Gregory Fletcher, known throughout their town as “The Fletcher Flops”, strengthens after an accident with one of Gregory’s inventions grants him the superpowers of Jason’s comic book hero, The Golden Blaze.
Available on Amazon

Mommies, do you have any animated shows to add to the list?

Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

NOTE: is another one. You can have it translated into English if need be. Kid Positive also puts out some great media, games etc.

Healing tools for our children

Folks, some have asked me about this. Children’s meditation & yoga classes  are great. Check for them in your area. There are all sorts of  children’s oracle/meditation/yoga cards out here too. Lots can be ordered online. Of course there are plenty of mandala & labyrinth colouring books to help too. Crystals too.

Be sure to look at the imagery in advance since some of it may not resonate with you.

P.S. – For those of you who are looking for children’s meditation resources there are some books and CDs online too. ie.

A food co-op of our own

After Years Without a Grocery Store, Greensboro Neighbors Are Building One Themselves—And They’ll Own It

Fed up with essentially begging for access to quality food, residents of this predominantly African-American and low-income neighborhood decided to open their own grocery store.

This article is presented as part of New Economy Week, five days of conversation around building an economy that works for everyone. Today’s theme isThe New Economy Is Close to Home.”

Still from video about Greensboro food co-op.

A still from a video in which residents of northeast Greensboro speak about their support for the Renaissance Food Co-op.

In the late 1990s, the local Winn Dixie that had served the neighborhoods around Philips Avenue for many years closed down. Winn Dixie and other large grocery chains had divided up market territory, resulting in the closing of some stores despite their profitability. The loss of this Winn Dixie turned Northeast Greensboro into a food desert.

For more than 15 years, there were many efforts to lure a new grocery store into the space. However, while the store would be profitable, it wouldn’t be profitable enough to satisfy the demands of the shareholder-based economy of a large corporation. Fed up with essentially begging for access to affordable, quality food, residents of this predominantly African-American and low-income neighborhood decided to open their own grocery store.

After learning about cooperative businesses, they decided to open a community-owned grocery store. The store would meet local residents’ needs for access to quality food and dignified, well-paid jobs. And now it’s going to happen. When the Renaissance Community Cooperative opens in 2015, it will be a conventional grocery store (like a Food Lion or Kroger) where wages start at $10 per hour.

Can cooperatives like the Renaissance Community Co-op play a role in making affordable food accessible to low-income communities? Can they provide well-paid jobs to communities that desperately need them? Can they create community wealth in some of our most blighted neighborhoods?

There are those who believe they cannot do these things because cooperatives will not work unless your community is wealthy enough, educated enough, and white enough.

But the Renaissance Community Cooperative is showing everyone that cooperatives can and will be used to solve these problems. Indeed, the struggle that Renaissance is undertaking draws on the rich history of cooperative economic development found in poor communities of color. This history has been beautifully unearthed by author Jessica Gordon Nembhard in her recent book Collective Courage.

So, while the residents in northeast Greensboro just wanted a grocery store, they are doing something much bigger and more important. They are demonstrating that communities of color, while dismissed by some as inadequate, have the power and ability to develop their own economic future.

Dave Reed is a community and cooperative organizer at the Fund for Democratic Communities.

This post was written for the New Economy Coalition’s second annual New Economy Week, a collaboration between YES! Magazine and the New Economy Coalition. The project explores what it will take to build an economy that works for people, place, and planet. To learn more, visit New Economy Week.

Dia de los Muertos aka The Day of the Dead

Facts and Misconceptions About Mexican Día de Muertos

As Día de los Muertos has grown in popularity in the United States, so have the misconceptions surrounding it.

In researching the most common falsities associated with Muertos, we were a bit overwhelmed. There were too many! We’re going to try to clarify a few, and hopefully provide some helpful information for those seeking to learn more about this very special Mexican holiday.

• Muertos Does Not Celebrate Death

Before European contact, death for the Mexica and other Indigenous Peoples was not seen as final. Death was the place of silence, of regeneration; it was a natural part of life.

Because Día de los Muertos uses skulls and skeletons as symbols; and because, of course, it’s called Day of the Dead in English, the assumption by many is that it celebrates death. It really celebrates the lives of our ancestors and deceased loved ones.

• Muertos Is Not Mexican Halloween

There’s no such thing as “Mexican Halloween.” Halloween and Muertos are two completely separate things that aside from proximity in date, have really nothing to do with each other.

A traditional Muertos celebration includes offerings of food (pan de muerto, mole, etc.), water, tobacco, fruit, sweets (sugar skulls) and alcohol (depending on the deceased).

Blood, ghoul, spiders and spider webs, and Halloween motifs are not traditional elements of a Muertos celebration.

• Muertos Is Not Latino

Most serious scholars and news outlets refer to Muertos as Mexican Day of the Dead. However, several make the mistake of calling it a Latin American holiday; some even claim it originated in Spain.

Yes, Día de los Muertos is celebrated on the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day, but let us not confuse the traditional with the colonized.

Long before our ancestors ever heard the words “Día de los Fieles Difuntos” and were forced to follow the Catholic calendar, they were following their own calendar, both solar and ceremonial, and were honoring their deceased in months long festivals.

The fact that today we celebrate Día de los Muertos on November 1 and 2 — the same days many others honor their dead — is a result of colonization, not a choice our ancestors made freely.

Nevertheless, the essence of Muertos is directly tied to the ancient ways of our ancestors. Whether it’s sugar skulls, papel picado, pan de muerto, cempasúchil, and even “La Catrina,” — all which are uniquely Mexican — Muertos is an affirmation of our Indigenous heritage. Calling it a Latin American holiday is simply inaccurate.

• Muertos Is Mexican

Día de los Muertos, or Día de Muertos, as it’s more commonly known in Mexico, is an Indigenous Mexican holiday that traces its origins to two 20-day festivals that were once a part of the Mexica (Aztec) ceremonial calendar.

The first, Miccailhuitontli, which means Feast to the Revered Deceased, is believed to have been celebrated between present day July 12 and July 31. It honored deceased children.

The second 20-day festival, Huey Miccailhuitontli, or Feast to the Greatly Revered Deceased, was likely celebrated from present day August 1 to August 20. This festival honored deceased adults.

In 2003, UNESCO proclaimed Mexico’s “Indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead” as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

• Muertos Is Revolutionary

Artist José Guadalupe Posada’s famous Calavera Garbancera, more commonly known as “La Catrina,” was made in protest of the Porfiriato, the regime of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, whose repressive ways led to the Mexican Revolution. Posada was mocking Mexicans who like Díaz shunned their own Indianness for the Victorian styles of the day.

Eventually, Díaz was exiled to France and the demands of Zapata and Villa were incorporated into the Mexican Constitution.

• Correct DDLM Terminology

Día de los Muertos, Día de Muertos, Fiesta de Muertos, or simply Muertos, are all correct terms.

NOTE: The Day of the Dead is celebrated in Peru, Chile, Haiti and a few other countries. It’s definitely not “just a Mexican” thing. “Coco” is a great family film to check out. 

Hurricane Preparation

Fam, it’s hurricane season in this part of the world. Things have gone well so far. No worries here since it’s home.  It’s just a matter of being prepared. Dat it! Here’s my prep. list. Feel free to use it if you ever need to.

– Do laundry.

– Wash dirty dishes.

– Have on hand: Candles, matches/lighters, batteries, old towels for flooding, at least one battery-operated radio, books, puzzles, games, cards, letter writing paraphernalia, small burners/sternos (for cooking), flashlights.

– Identify hurricane emergency radio station. Tune in on occasion for weather updates.

– Secure all windows & doors. Exposed windows/glass doors should be duct taped for extra protection.

– Fill pots, new trash bins, buckets, bath tubs, bottles (filtered water for drinking) with tap water. Ensure that you have enough for bathing, cooking, drinking, flushing toilets.

– Have enough food on hand. Prepare some in advance. Freeze/refrigerate.  ie. fresh fruit, cereal, soup, lasagna, chili, pasta/tomato sauce, stew, salad stuff, popcorn, chips/salsa, crackers, banana/gingerbread, cookies, bread, fruit bars, dried fruit. For non-perishables stick to boxed and bagged items as much as possible.

– Clear your yard & porch. Bring all potted plants, toys, pets, chairs inside.

– Carry out  protection rituals before and during the storm. For more info.  ask a traditional African Priest/Priestess.

Spirituality: Maintaining a sense of community

Some of you may be interested in the Temple of Nyame. They are definitely filling a gap for those who practice traditional African spirituality. If you’re in the D.C. area and you long to commune with folks of like mind you may enjoy the Temple. Feel free to tell others who are genuinely interested. Mind you think long and hard before you pass on the word about this one. This organization is doing some much needed work. They have regular Sunday meetings which fill the void some of us still have from attending church. It’s brilliant and it WORKS.  They are truly meeting our people where they are. No lip service here.

P.S.- You may like to join their Facebook pages too.
An organization in California is doing similar work. Krst Unity Center of Afrakan Spiritual Science . Not in Cali? Every Sunday you can tune into their “services” online via