Sunday, February 28, 2021

Celebrating the Culture Carriers

There are many ways to share Black history: through books and film, fine and performing arts, for-profit and non-profit work, at home, at school, by teaching, researching, mentoring, storytelling and much more. At Just Us Books our work is centered on sharing our history and stories. This Black History Month we wanted to do a little more. 

Every weekday in February, we spotlighted a Black-owned business, Black-led and centered organization, or Black creator. This was (and still is) a celebration of the people and institutions that dig deep to research and share the many contributions Black people have made to our world. A celebration of those who provide programs that enrich our minds and our communities. A celebration of those who create art that helps us learn more about ourselves, and those who create opportunities for artists to share their work with the world.

These are our culture carriers. Please join us in saluting them.

Ethnicitees LLC Cultural Marketplace

Sean Romon Montague founded Ethnicitees in 1994 with the mission of “raising educational awareness of the historical, global accomplishments of African American/ Black people.” While working as an Art Instructor for Baltimore City Public Schools, he saw a need for an educational product that would teach Black history in a unique way. So he introduced the concept of “Cultural Wearables” – apparel with portraits of Black historical figures. He started with four designs featuring Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, and Frederick Douglass, and quickly expanded to include many others – carving their images out of relief print linoleum blocks then screen printing them on shirts. Ethnicitees recently expanded further, opening a retail store at The Bowie Town Center in Bowie, Maryland.

Learn more, support and spread the word:

Serendipity Literary Agency

If you’ve read the books Crown: Ode to a Fresh Cut; A Wreath for Emmett Till; Defining Moments in Black History and Who’s Gonna Take the Weight, then you know the names Derrick Barnes, Gordon James, Marilyn Nelson, Dick Gregory and Kevin Powell. And that means you also know the great work of Serendipity Literacy Agency and its founder Regina Brooks. Founded in 2000, Serendipity is the largest African-American owned agency in the country. The company represents a diverse base of clients in adult and young adult fiction, non-fiction, and children’s literature – managing business representation, supporting editorial development, and even marketing. And their success shows. Serendipity’s clients have won some of the industry’s top honors including The Coretta Scott King Award, Newbery Honor, Ezra Jack Keats Award, and Glaad Media Award; and have appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, Washington Post, Oprah, BET, TV One and more.

Learn more, support and spread the word:


BCP Digital Printing

BCP Digital Printing is a short run digital print and document processing company based in Baltimore, Maryland. The family-run company was founded in 1995 as a complimentary business to Black Classic Press, Inc., a publishing company also founded by W. Paul Coates. BCP Digital’s products range from annual reports and magazines to banners and calendars, and its services include binding, digital imaging, shrink wrapping, and lamination. This full suite means not only can BCP Digital print your book, it can produce the marketing material to help you promote your book too.

Learn more, support and spread the word:

The African American Children’s Book Project

Every year, on the first Saturday in February, thousands of children, parents, teachers, librarians and book lovers of all kinds brave the cold in the name of good books. To be more specific: good children’s books by and about African Americans. The event is the African American Children’s Bookfair and it’s the marquee initiative of The African American Children’s Book Project, a non-profit created to promote and preserve children’s literature written by or about African Americans.

Under the leadership of its founder, Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, AACBP collaborates with authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, educators, consumers, libraries, non-profits and corporations to promote literacy programs across the country. The bookfair is now in its 29th year, and going virtual for the first time. So there’s no cold and no line but still lots of books!

The African American Children’s Book Fair, held February 6, 2021, drew nearly 3,000 attendees.

Learn more, support and spread the word:

Kweli TV

The inspiration for kweliTV came when DeShuna Spencer, Founder & CEO, was while flipping through cable channels. She was frustrated with the stereotypes, lack of diversity, and limited content options. She wanted documentaries, global Black history, indie films - and she couldn’t find enough of that content on cable or streaming services. So she started her own.

KweliTV’s mission is to curate and create content that is a true reflection of the global Black experience. It focuses on high-quality content — film, news, web shows, kids programming, documentaries and more — produced by independent, globally diverse and unique filmmakers and journalists. 98 percent of kweliTV’s films have been official selections at film festivals and 60% of its revenue goes to content creators. That means a large portion of subscription fees support the filmmakers who create the content you watch.

Learn more, support and spread the word:

Black History Mini Docs

Inspiring and entertaining stories of Black trailblazers in under 90 seconds? Soon there will be an app for that. Until then, you can find Black History Mini Docs on social media and The initiative was created by Producer-Director Neema Barnette, whose work includes Women thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day and Queen Sugar. She works with her husband Reed R. McCants, also an award-winning filmmaker, to chronicle the contributions and achievements of well-known people such as Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin and Angela Davis as well as un-sung heroes in the Black community. In addition to Mini Docs, they posts daily tributes as an extension of their work to educate people about the contributions Black people have made to US history.

 Learn more, support and spread the word:

The Brown Bookshelf

Children’s books by award-winning and veteran Black creators are more visible and accessible these days, but how can you find new Black authors and illustrators or great books that have flown under the radar? Enter The Brown Bookshelf. Formed by Paula Chase and Varian Johnson in a collaboration with author Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrator Don Tate, BBS promotes awareness of the many diverse Black people creating books for young readers. Its flagship initiative is 28 Days Later, a month-long showcase of the best in children’s and young adult books written and illustrated by Black creators. In short, it centers Black authors and illustrators whose work should be shared year-round.

Learn more, support and spread the word

The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects

The web domain is and simply reading the names of their projects is enough to inspire. The Chisholm Project educates Black girls and the community through policy analysis and by developing policy. The Colvin Project provides a summer institute where girls who have made difficult choices meet, fellowship and learn skills that aid them in overcoming personal challenges while supporting their sense of self. The Hamer Project focuses on our communities’ holistic well-being through human rights education, including legal clinics.

These are just a few initiatives of The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects. The Jackson, Mississippi based organization offers leadership development for Black girls and women, addressing the whole person: physical, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing. Founder and president Natalie Collier created the Lighthouse from her dream to see Black girls recognized. Her organization’s work ensures that Black “girls and young women are supported and uplifted so they, too, can dream their own dreams and realize them on their terms.”

Learn more, support and spread the word:

Say It Loud Readers and Writers

Say It Loud! Readers and Writers brings communities together through literature. Educational consultant and literacy advocate Patrick Oliver founded Say It Loud to support educational and community organizations in implementing innovative literary arts projects and programs. Since 1997, the organization has worked with educators and administrators across the country to decrease the literacy achievement gap and empower students. Poetry, narrative, prose, rap, vision boards are all tools Patrick and his team use to teach young people the power of visualizing dreams and planning their goals early and often. Say It Loud also features a speakers bureau that connects young Black students with authors and illustrators who look like them. How impactful is that representation? This testimonial from a Little Rock organization says it all: “This was one of the most phenomenal experiences we’ve been able to bring to our students. When the students heard the author shout out to them they screamed to the top of their lungs with excitement and pride. The students ask everyday “what book are we reading next and who is the author?” As Patrick often says, who got next?

Learn more, support and spread the word:


Because of Them We Can

It began in February 2013 as a photo campaign where children appeared as iconic Black history figures. Eunique Jones Gibson was inspired by her sons to teach Black history while connecting the dots between the past, present and future. Today, Because of Them We Can® is a full movement powered by an online platform that reaches millions every month. Perhaps the best known project of the movement is the Because of Them We Can (BOTWC) Box. The first Black history subscription box for kids, it’s a curated learning experience that uses branded apparel, educational activities, and other products to help children learn about Black history makers, organizations and movements.

Learn more, support and spread the word

The HistoryMakers

 Before 2000, there was only one large-scale project during the 20th century project that chronicled African-American history from a first-person perspective: the WPA Slave Narratives. The HistoryMakers changed that. Founded to address the lack of documentation and preservation of the African American historical record, The HistoryMakers shares a century of African-American history one interview at a time. To date, the non-profit has conducted more than 3,000 interviews, sharing many previously unrecorded stories that educate the world about African American life, history, and culture. The interviews are housed permanently at the Library of Congress and are available in the organization’s digital archive.

Learn more and spread the word:

Vanguard Theater Company

Its productions focus on racial literacy, social justice, and color-conscious casting. The latest, premiering this Thursday, Feb. 18, is “How Black Performers Peeled the Tar off Blackface: Setting the Stage for American Musical Theater,” which explores the history of minstrelsy and how Black producers, playwrights, and composers used this form of entertainment as a catalyst to change the narrative and begin telling their own stories.

The organization presenting this critical work is Vanguard Theater Company, whose mission is to change the narrative through theater dedicated to DREAM: Diversity, Reciprocity, Education, Activism & Mentorship. The Company’s presented its latest work on February 18 during a video presentation and conversation featuring Vanguard's Founding Artistic Director, Janeece Freeman Clark; singer-filmmaker and founder of the Living Heritage Foundation, Susheel Bibbs; and Professor of English and Director of the African American Studies program for Boston University, Louis Chude-Sokei. Preview the production here:


Their mission is to be a resource to parents, teachers and schools who need children’s books that promote a positive reflection of African-American culture and history. And Pamela and Jeffrey Blair achieve that mission through their bookstore: EyeSeeMe.

EyeSeeMe is the only children’s bookstore devoted exclusively to African American centered books. Based in University City, MO, the family owned and operated business is a full service bookstore with both a retail location and online store. Their selection is diverse; they have classroom sets and book bundles, a subscription service, and audio books. They also go beyond traditional book sales, offering community bookfairs, a reading mentorship program, and cultural presentations. If you follow them on Facebook, you’ll can catch live storytime featuring Ms. Tracey reading one of thousands of books in EyeSeeMe’s collection.

Learn more, support and spread the word:


GirlTrek is walking inspiration. The nation’s largest public health nonprofit for African-American women and girls it was founded by best friends, Vanessa Garrison and Morgan Dixon, and encourages women to use walking as a practical first step toward healthy living, families, and communities. Their vision is a health movement “grounded in civil rights history and principles through walking campaigns, community leadership, and health advocacy." They make that grounding easy and accessible through projects like the Black History Bootcamp. The series challenges participants to walk for 30 mins a day for 21 days while listening to podcast episodes dedicated to a Black person or moment in history. They produced three podcast seasons in 2020 — each focused on a different theme but all leaving listeners with new insight and inspiration.

Learn more, support and spread the word:


Dare to Be King

Author David Miller founded the Dare to Be King Project to inspire Black boys and men by supporting the organizations that serve them. David recognized that some organizations had the passion to do good work, but did not have the programmatic expertise to realize their vision. So he structured Dare to Be King to focus on strong partnerships, strategies, and solutions-oriented approaches that would help organizations create effective, high-impact programming. The organization has four focus areas: academic success/growth, emotional development, healthy notions of manhood/masculinity and familial reconciliation. Services include after school program design, mentorship transformation, curriculum design, and administrative consultation; support materials range from books to curricula to workshops. Community partners have called the organization’s work essential and a game changer: “From positive identity to decision making and problem solving, [Dare to Be King] helps African American boys successfully navigate their way into adulthood.”

Learn more, support and spread the word:

“I don’t sell books just sell books and make money. It’s because what I want to is share our story, make sure our story gets out and doesn’t get distorted.” Troy Johnson, founder & webmaster, AALBC

 AALBC is the oldest, largest, and most popular online bookstore dedicated to African-American and Black literature from around the world. Founded in 1997 by Troy Johnson, AALBC maintains a curated and growing collection of more than 14,000 books covering a century of Black literature. It also provides a variety of resources and services to authors and publishers to help them understand and reach the marketplace. Looking for reviews, bestsellers, awards lists, author information, discussion forums? You’ll also find it all on AALBC.

Learn more, support and spread the word:

Sesi Magazine

 “Sesi” means “sister” in Sotho, a Bantu language spoken mainly in Southern Africa. It’s also the name of the only teen magazine for Black girls published today. Editor-in-Chief/Publisher AndrĂ©a Butler founded Sesi with her friend Shannon to fill a void. “As a teen, I had what my mom called, “an intense obsession” with magazines. But I got sick of reading mags I couldn’t relate to.” One day she thought “If there’s still not a teen magazine that speaks to Black girls by the time I’m done with school, I’ll start one myself.” And she did. Sesi’s first issue was published in 2012. It now has more than 20,000 readers and cover stars who have included Chloe x Halle, Assante Black and Marsai Martin. Subscriptions for the quarterly print magazine are $15 a year. 

Learn more, support, and spread the word:

Bisa Butler

Her subjects are African Americans from ordinary walks of life. Their photographs may have been captured during a family portrait or taken by a passing photographer. Either way, their often untold stories inspire artist Bisa Butler and she takes that inspiration to her fabric to create art quilts.

 Bisa graduated from Howard University, where she says professors taught students to be proud of their African heritage and that they had a responsibility to document and correct the misinformation that had been told about their people. That’s precisely what Bisa does using fabrics from Ghana (where her father is from), batiks from Nigeria, and prints from South Africa. All of her pieces are done in life scale, which she says invites the viewer to engage in a dialogue. “I am inviting a reimagining and a contemporary dialogue about age old issues, still problematic in our culture, through the comforting, embracing medium of the quilt.”

In 2020, her portrait of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai was featured as a cover for Time Magazine’s special issue honoring the 100 Women of the Year. “Bisa Butler: Portraits” is currently on exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. Learn more about Bisa and her work at:

Third World Press Foundation

The year was 1967. Haki R. Madhubuti, then known as Don L. Lee, took a $400 honorarium he received from a poetry reading and a used mimeograph machine, to found what would become one of the most influential Black institutions in the nation: Third World Press. One of his goals was to cultivate a broader readership of individuals who wanted to gain greater insight into African American cultural traditions. He had the support of luminaries like Margaret Burroughs, Dudley Randall, Gwendolyn Brooks and others who were committed to Black Arts and empowerment movements. For more than 50 years, the Press has been dedicated to publishing a rich tradition of African American writing, with a list that includes work by Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Mari Evans, Margaret Walker, Sterling Plumpp, John Henrik Clarke, Useni Eugene Perkins, Pearl Cleage, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Marc Lamont Hill, Tony Medina, Wade Hudson, and of course its founder Haki Madhubuti. Today, Third World Press Foundation is the oldest independent publisher of Black thought and literature in the U.S.

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Pan-African Connection

The “shortest trip to Africa without getting on a plane" - Pan-African Connection is a bookstore, art gallery and resource center that specializes in the history, health and forward movement of African people. Founded in 1989 by Bandele Tyehimba, the Dallas-based store has one of the largest online retail African art galleries in the world. When Bandele died in 2012, his wife Akwete stepped up to keep the business running and daughter Adjwoa Tyehimba later came on board serving as the CFO. In addition to books and art, the Center also sells clothes, learning materials, jewelry and natural hair care products all in support of its vision: Connecting African people scattered globally with our great history, culture and collective strength, uniting Africa and African Peoples, and the upliftment of humanity worldwide.

Learn more, support and spread the word: