When you think of ‘pro-black’ what thoughts comes to your mind? I’ve had plenty of discussions amongst friends and colleagues from diverse backgrounds to gain a practical understanding of what it means to be pro-black, and how it is perceived. Some tough and awkward questions were raised which were accompanied with very split opinions – ‘Does being pro-black make you a racist? Do you have to be black? Can you date outside your race?’ However, there was one recurring theme; the need to enhance/improve the condition of black women and men worldwide across all sectors’.

I spoke with Nana Boa Amponsem, founder of MaarifaCircle (pronounced maa-re-fah circle) which is an Afrocentric focused resource hub that aims to empower, educate and address the needs of Africans worldwide. Nana does this by providing knowledge of empowerment, self-love, and African history while also promoting personal development and community building by offering various resources to help develop your career (apprenticeships, courses, grants, etc.) and business via his website and social media channels.

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No stone is left unturned, and topics such as gang violence, health, politics and media diversity are discussed constructively and respectably which has made Maarifcircle gain over 30,000 followers. Nana took time out to enlighten me on his story and why he decided to embark on this challenging path:

Kofi: What was your upbringing like? 

Nana: I was born and raised in London but had an African upbringing, my father talked about Kwame Nkrumah a great deal. (IC-Fact – At the end of the Second World War, Kwame Nkrumah was an instrumental figure in the Pan-African Conference held in New York in 1944, which urged the United States to help ensure Africa became developed and free. Ghana went on to become the first African country to gain independence from British rule in 1957) I was aware of my culture and history, but I wasn’t one to embrace it in my early years. It wasn’t cool to be from any part of Africa; when someone called you an African, it was an insult.

I remember feeling ashamed of where I was from, my dark skin and my hair and I didn’t completely know why. I didn’t want my father to attend my school parent’s evening because I knew he would wear African clothing which would embarrass me. Until I found out music artists like Dizzee Rascal, Lethal B and Tinchy Stryder are Ghanaian; I was proud to say I am African. I can now look back at my father’s unapologetic and proud self – I wear African clothing any chance I can get now.

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K: What made you realise there are issues exclusive to race?

Nana: In my younger years my cousin frequently told me about social issues that affect black people, I felt like he was preaching to me. It didn’t affect me personally as I had a job and I wasn’t another negative statistic, but it wasn’t until I faced open racism. I looked at statistics – 50% of 16-18-year-olds within the UK prison population are black. Since 2010 there has been a 49% rise in unemployment of black people aged between 16-24 years. Black graduates are three times more likely to be jobless six months after graduation. Black people are three times more likely to be unemployed than white people in the UK. 51.4% of UK media coverage of young black men is crime related, and only 1.1% is positive – these stats cannot all be down to coincidence.
K: Why do you think black people are still affected by these issues?

Nana: Before I started MaarifaCircle I used to post a lot about black history and issues on my Facebook wall. I found that other black people will message me via inbox to express and commend me for my work, rather than publicly expressing it on my post; they didn’t feel safe expressing themselves publicly, and this reconfirmed that there is a collective issue. The problem is that we’re not selfish enough; we’re worried about what people think about us more than necessary. I think it’s time to be unapologetic in our thinking and application. The way information is being delivered is distorting social issues that affect us as all; are we going to debate about conspiracy theories and what sets of white men did/do all day long?
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K: Why is important to focus on community building as a collective?

Nana: I have friends in senior positions in various corporations who’ve realised even though they are financially comfortable they still have to navigate around their blackness. Being the only black person in the office and feeling like you’re the sole representative of the black race can be overwhelming. When another ‘black on black’ stabbing is highlighted on the news and your colleague says to you – “What’s happening with your community?” as if you’re the spokesperson of the black race. No matter where you’re placed in society’s hierarchy, you’re always judged against the whole black population and negative stereotypes.

This shows why it is important as a community to come together, and that’s why I believe it’s important that I set up all facets of MaarifaCircle. It is common knowledge that other communities work together, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, British and much more; this is not a new concept.

K: What does MaarifaCircle mean?

Nana: Maarifa means knowledge in Swahili, and ‘circle’ represents everyone sharing knowledge and information so we can reach our goals at the same time.  

_mg_6520K: What was the spark to start MaarifaCircle?

Nana: ‘Pie and Mash.’

Let me explain – A work colleague made a post on Facebook about ‘pie and mash’, and I replied in jest, “that’s the most interesting thing I’ve read all year” and then her husband replied to my comment “just as interesting as you speaking about slavery all year.” His response took me by surprise because I thought we were friends, he deleted the comment but he went on to say something along the lines ‘slavery just like the holocaust was a bad part of our history, we should forget about the past and move on.’

I didn’t respond to him from after that and never spoke to him again. I found that it was an issue in itself to speak about the history and issues that affect black people. I was set upon creating a space where we can interact and engage about social issues and find solutions via social media.

K: Have you received negative reception?

Nana: I used to get a lot of backlash at the start and used to fear it; I reacted emotionally and defensively. I used to say, ‘I have white friends so how can I be a racist?’ After time and analysis, I realised I have nothing to apologise for, I stopped reacting and completely disengaged from people who made negative comments.

There is always backlash speaking about black empowerment in public, and the majority of people who are in the limelight will stay away from this as it will affect their image and finances. However, once you study what racism is, you won’t be afraid. This journey can be lonely; I receive criticism from all races including black people; from reading my history, I knew this is something I would have to face. I have to be stubborn and resilient; instrumental figures have suffered worst and cemented an influential legacy.

My page focuses on positive contributions; my posts are positive, and solution focused – when someone leaves anything negative and unconstructive it will be deleted.

I think people should show a high-level of intelligence and look at things abstractly and learn the ability to distinguish between preaching violence/hate from empowerment and being solution-focused.

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K: What’s next for MaarifaCircle?

Nana: I’m currently in the process of getting funds together to build Afrocentric-focus institutions and businesses that help build the African community socially and economically in the UK. I want to create small and large businesses such as supermarkets, gyms, libraries, and schools where members of the community can invest and become stakeholders.

Right now people are only seeing a fraction of what I’m doing. I get inspirational comments from my followers which mean a lot to me, but I feel I could do more than posting information daily. I want to create something tangible so the next generation does not go through the struggles I did. We have the power to rectify what was unjustly done by utilising our skills.

The aim of Nana’s website and social media channels is to leave you feeling empowered, proud and enlightened. MaarifCircle is one of the major forerunners that shares information and knowledge to make sense of the current state of society from a group that share the same issues.

Visit www.maarifacircle.com for more information about black history; a safe place to discuss current issues and offer solutions within the black community, plus find businesses and institutions that are African focused. Click here if you would like to fund MaarifaCircle

You can also follow MaarifaCircle Instagram page, click here: @maarifacircle

Subject -Nana Boa Amponsem
Photographer & Writer – Kofi Dwaah
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