CELEBRATING AFRICA: NZINGA BLAKE LAUNCHES HER MAMA AFRICA JEWELRY COLLECTION TO TELL STORIES OF FAMILIES
It all started with a jewelry collection that Nzinga Blake’s mother was going through, an heirloom from her grandmother, with beautiful necklaces and earrings in the shape of the famed continent, the birthplace of humanity.
Blake knew in that second that she wanted to redesign the collection and turn it into something that she wanted to share with the rest of the world, to give them something to pass down within their families and also connect them to a continent that so many have been stolen from.
And so, Fashion Ambassador’s Mama Africa Jewelry Collection was born, a “celebration of heritage and home. Of life and loss. Of loving and learning,” as the website notes.
The collection is also personal to Blake, who has Yoruba roots, as it is a way to also honor her family and just continually tell a story.
“With each piece, because every line has a story, I wanted to use this line to tell kind of a little bit of a history of my family. Every piece has a name that is associated to my family,” she explained.
But even as they are named after her family, it has a connection to those who are just searching for that home space, that feeling of belonging.
For example, there is the Emmekunle Pendant. “Kunle,” the website explains, means “home is full of honor” and can be used to symbolize honoring the birthplace of humanity. There are the Iyamide earrings, derived from Iyamideur, which means “our mother has returned.”
“I was looking for names that kind of related to the story and related to motherhood,” Blake said. “I think it’s just a wonderful and symbolic gift to serve as a reminder of who you are and who your family is, and just use it to start telling the stories of where you came from and where you’re going.”
That was purposeful. There was a time that Blake – and probably many people of African descent or who are first or second generation African – can recall where being African was something that was ridiculed at worst, brushed off at best. Emerging cultural awakening, popularized by films like Black Panther, changed that.
“You got to see, you know, this global unification of people of African descent. And people were celebrating it,” Blake said. “I thought about all of those things, of how we can connect the diaspora, people of African descent from all around the world, through these pieces. And how you can also take these pieces to share your story.”
“With [these] pieces, you can use them as a reminder to continue to tell your story and pass them down for generations to come to remind people that our story did not start at slavery. It started from this continent. Yes, you might be of other descendants like Native American and even Caucasian American or European, but if…you believe that, you’re an African, take pride in it. Take pride in the lands where you come from.” The jewelry collection however is not just there to look pretty, or just to tell the story of the African diaspora. It also serves another purpose. Fashion Ambassadors intends to support MedShare, a humanitarian aid organization, dedicated to improving the quality of life for all people on the planet by collecting surplus medical supplies and equipment and then distributing them to impoverished communities across the world.
More specifically, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the Mama Africa collection will help mothers. Fashion Ambassadors will donate a clean birthing kit to MedShare, which then provides those kits to pregnant women in need in impoverished countries, with the continent of Africa being a main focus.
Those kits contain several items all geared to saving an infant and its mother. There is something to cover the ground with, because many women don’t have access to proper healthcare. There is soap, hand sanitizer, a pair of gloves, a clean blade with which to get the umbilical cord, even a diaper and a blanket and other necessities.
“I ran across some research where I saw that upwards of about two million women and children would die giving birth outside of traditional medical settings. The deaths were primarily associated with infections where they were having their babies in poorly sanitized areas, or they were using unsanitized items,” Charles Redding, the CEO and President of MedShare explained to ESSENCE about the birthing kits. “And typically these deaths were occurring, unfortunately, to very preventable causes. It was either they did not have the proper diagnostic equipment, they didn’t have proper supplies, or like I mentioned in terms of the clean birthday kits, they were having babies outside of a traditional medical setting.”
Redding challenged the organization to provide 100,000 clean birthing kits over the next five years.
“We just want to help people wherever the need is. Unfortunately, most of the need, if you looked at it on a global basis, sub-Saharan Africa tends to be disproportionately impacted by these issues. And so, a lot of our work takes us there,” Redding explained.
This issue was important to Blake, she explained, because of a tragedy within her own family. When Blake’s mother was 11, her sister, Hannen passed away at the age of 26 while giving birth.
“That was like over 50 years ago, and sadly, we’re still seeing that happening today. Around the world, you have women still dying at childbirth in developing countries, and also here in the United States, where you have just an unfortunate amount of black women dying giving birth. And that’s scary,” Blake explained. “That is when I identified MedShare, because one of my friends became a director over there. And he was telling me about the work that they do for maternal and child mortality, their initiatives to help decrease the amount of maternal and child deaths during birth.”
This sense of purpose is something that Blake wants to continue throughout the entire Fashion Ambassador’s brand and with her brand in general, as she wears many hats as a storyteller and as a filmmaker.
“I’m all about social conscious entertainment. Everything that I do, I want it to address social issues, and I also want to see if there’s a way that we can create a long-lasting impact. And the same goes for Fashion Ambassadors,” she said.
The Mama Africa collection is only the beginning. Blake has a vision of helping other artists and artisans launch and market their own goods from the clothing that she loves to wear, to just about anything else.
“Everything I do, I want to make sure that there’s some kind of social impact associated with it. And so, hopefully, with this line, I can be able to, you know, of course, sell the jewelry, capture people’s attention, be able to invest in other artists, because there are some awesome artists out there around the world that just don’t have that platform, or they don’t have the resources to advertise their clothing,” she explained. Because it’s all about marketing. So why not help them, why not be that ambassador or that resource for them? And that’s what I hope to achieve through Fashion Ambassadors.”
“I dreamt of creating a global platform that elevates makers to create lasting social impact. And while I say lasting social impact, I mean where they can showcase their talent,” she added. “We can sell it, but at the same time, what we’re doing is, part of the proceeds would either go back towards an initiative in that community or another global initiative. Because I’m all about impacting different communities or social issues that need more help or more funding.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Essence