Thursday, July 8, 2021

'Going All-City': A Vocabulary Lesson (by Johnny Coleman II)

"Going all-city was the same as a business branding campaign."
---Johnny Coleman II

Portions of this article were originally published in an Anthro21 blog dated 2014.


Anthropology teaches that language is the seat of culture, it also teaches that language is how an ethnic community expresses itself and connects with and also to other communities in healthy and positive ways. Anthropologists understand ethnic people by learning their language or select words. And now you can understand early hip-hop culture with the words...going all-city.

The spray-painting graffiti culture of African descendants in New York City witnessed highly talented artists whose work is now sold and or auctioned in the millions of dollars. The culture soon included men and women of other nationalities all speaking one culture: hip-hop. What is of importance when understanding the culture and its origins are that it began with African descendant youth.

The culture's origins are African American and also others of African descent (meaning those of African descent not in the USA).

With its origins was more than the desire to party and have fun but also resistance to oppression and injustice. You should also know that the graffiti writers of old were part of the the larger hip-hop culture that included break dance, rap (originally called 'rhyming'), turn-table scratching or scratching and also distinct fashion. This culture also had its own code or language.

The story below is an example of how an ethnic culture, and language, expanded and transformed into a global popular culture.

In 2013, the painting shown above center called "Mecca" painted by Jean-Michel Basquiat (he is shown on left) was purchased by Jay-Z (shown on right).  [Photo Source: Unlisted]


During the 1970s graffiti began to consume New York City.  It was an expression of hip-hop culture and crossed ethnic boundaries as graffiti writers soon came from all walks of life, languages, incomes, ages and cultures.  In the graffiti community there were two types of people; the writer and the tagger.  

Writers saw themselves as true artists, passionate, committed to the culture, telling stories with their paint, and activists.  Taggers were ironically seen by most as vandals and having no respect for property.  They too had a message but they operated as disrupters, and were not the 'color in the lines' graffiti artists.  However, those spending a fortune repainting walls, buildings and subway cars completely disagreed with all of them.  


In time individual graffiti writers became known for their tag or brand name.  Some writers worked alone and others worked in groups.  Breaking the law, and entering the train yards, tags were put on New York City subway car trains using aerosol spray cans.  The goal being that as the train traveled throughout the city it would be seen by all, traveling from station to station, and from borough to borough.  New York City has five boroughs and when a writer or tagger wrote on trains that traveled through all five this became known as "going all-city."  Soon the art was seen by millions.  That is how the world came to know the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat.  Basquiat's work is now valued in the millions and is collected by leaders of business and culture.  Being seen all over New York City is STILL the desire of so many artists around the world.  


Going all-city was the same as a business branding campaign.  The techniques used by the graffiti writers were impressive to marketing experts and created for each individual artist a branding campaign that catapulted them to success.  Their bold and outlandish work included 'wrapping'  train cars to get attention.

A few words on branding...branding is when a company brands its service or product brand name into the minds of the public.  This is done in various ways.  The  motivation is vanity.  Yet the statement is that the brand is the best, the preferred, the one to be desired above all.  Branding campaigns also put into the minds of the public values, such as...saving you time...saving you you more.  These values make consumers return to that brand time and time again.  In the world of marketing when branding your company's products or services the first question you must ask is: who is my audience?  You must be specific!  Some suggestions are to start by defining their age, location, and income. 

Most important, you must know the culture of your audience...what they like, what they value, what they believe in.  When knowing these things your message will reach your audience immediately.  In a crowd of words, your message steps out and communicates.  Knowing the culture of your audience will also determine if you should advertise on radio, television, or through text messaging.  Knowing the culture of your audience gives you a personal connection, and very soon your brand goes all-city in the minds of the public.


Finally, very few graffiti writers can claim all-city fame on the caliber of Jean-Michel Basquiat.  His story is legendary.  Born in Brooklyn, New York Basquiat's art fame began first as a graffiti writer, writing with a group.  Over time his work went from the streets, to galleries and also museums worldwide.  Basquiat died in 1988 at the age of 27.  In 2013, fellow Brooklynite and music mogul Jay-Z purchased "Mecca" by Jean-Michel Basquiat for millions of dollars in a Sotheby's auction further adding value to Basquiat's legacy and paying homage to an early leader of hip-hop culture.

Monday, March 8, 2021

"The African Connection" by Johnny Coleman II

This blog post was originally written and published in March 2020 on LinkedIn. It is presented to you as an example of ethnic marketing for the good.   

"Our histories are connected!  We are acknowledging our African connection.” ---Marquett Milton

For several years now a wreath laying ceremony event [honoring, remembering, celebrating] has taken place at the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. to honor the Ethiopian victory in Adwa, Ethiopia on March 1, 1896.  This victory battle ended the First Italian-Ethiopian War, 1894 to 1896.  

For the record, this blog post is not intended to bash ethnic Italians or people of European descent, it is intended to counter the evil and demonic work of racists, fascists, colonizers and white supremacists.

Since 1896 Ethiopians celebrated the victory.  Then, in the 21st century the late Professor Hari Jones (seen in the photo below), the former curator and assistant director of the African American Civil War Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. introduced the Adwa Victory program to the memorial and we are forever grateful.

Hari Jones (1958-2018)

The Adwa wreath event is a partnership between the African American Civil War Memorial Museum and Little Ethiopia, which is the ethnic Ethiopian community that is one block east of the memorial on 9th Street, NW (NW stands for northwest).  It extends from north to south from U Street, NW to N Street, NW.  Little Ethiopia is not only Ethiopian, but also Eritrean, Nigerian, Ghanaian---a Pan African collage.  Over the years notable faces have attended the wreath laying event.  The wreath is decorated with the colors of the Ethiopian national flag. Even though the battle took place in Ethiopia it is honored by African Americans as part of their ancestral "African connection."

U.S. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863)

Shaw is the name of the community where this all takes place.  The memorial, museum and Little Ethiopia all sit in the shadow of Howard University---which is also in Shaw.  The Shaw community is named after the U.S. Civil War hero Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and was created by African Americans after the U.S. Civil War in 1865.  

Howard University's Founders' Library 
Photo Credit: Derek Morton

Mr. Marquett Milton
Photo Credit: Johnny Coleman II/Anthro21

An event organizer and familiar face is Mr. Marquett Milton.  A student of the late Hari Jones, Milton works as a living historian, working in uniform and representing the United States Colored Troops' legacy.  He portrays Mr. Andrew Green who was born enslaved and freed under the D.C. Emancipation Act, which came before the Emancipation Proclamation.  This action made it legal for Andrew Green to fight in military uniform to free himself and his family.

African American Civil War Memorial
Photo Credit: African American Civil War Memorial

African American Civil War Memorial
Photo Credit: Derek Coleman/DC Photo Guide

In the past what we call the U.S. Civil War was called the War of the Rebellion (1861-1865).  When men of African descent joined the war, it was 1863 and they helped to outnumber the Confederacy and turned the tide of that war.  In fact, men of African descent made up ten percent of the Northern Army, or what they called the Union Army.  

The memorial remembers the lives and legacy of the United States Colored Troops (USCT).  According to Thomas Morris Chester, the only African descent Civil War correspondent, the USCT were the the first of the U.S. government forces to enter and capture Richmond, Virginia in April 1865.  Their victory set the grounds for the end of the Civil War which ended months later.

During legal enslavement and since, African Americans held a deep affinity to Africa, its politics and people.  They even named their institutions Africa or African.  The African Lodge, the African Free School, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church are examples.  It is a myth created by slaveowners that enslaved Africans accepted or wanted to be enslaved.  However both enslaved and free Africans in the Americas resisted enslavement using violence, non-violence, diplomacy, pamphlets and so much more.  This was seen in the lives of Prince Hall, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Keckley, Prince Abdul Rahman Ibrahima, David Walker, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Phyllis Wheatley, Martin Delany and many more.  

This was also seen in the work of the Underground Railroad.  A network that included people of many nationalities who believed in freedom and liberty.  For many of that generation their work was to not simply to end slavery, but to become full American citizens in league with the United States Constitution. 

Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taytu
Photo Credit: Amhara Kings

When we think on Adwa, we must know that the First Italian-Ethiopian War was sparked by the words of a treaty between the two countries. Specifically, Ethiopia's version of the treaty read different from the one in Italian. The treaty positioned Ethiopia to be a protectorate of Ital and stated that they had to inform Italy of any contact they would have with another nation.   

After reading it Emperor Menelik II and his wife Empress Taytu Betul united Ethiopia for the fight.  Empress Taytu was famous for her taking the battlefield along with her husband, seen in the painting below.  Their unification of the ethnic groups surrounding their kingdom for the fight, and their victory resonated around the world---this is why the victory is called a Pan African victory.  The deciding battle in Adwa was fought for two days. 

Battle of Adwa, Ethiopia

Having organized this event with others since the passing of Professor Jones, Mr. Milton shared that "Our histories are connected!  We are acknowledging our African connection.”  

Mr. Marquett Milton

Thursday, March 4, 2021

"Babylon is Fallen!" by Johnny Coleman II

"If you do no understand white supremacy - what it is, and how it works, everything else that you understand will only confuse you."  

Mr. Neely Fuller, Jr. 

“...there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD!” 

I Samuel chapter 5, verse 1

 "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!" 

Revelations 18:2

Friday, August 14, 2020

"What is an International Day?" by Johnny Coleman II

Photo Credit: International Slavery Museum Liverpool

The photo above is of a poster from the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England.  August 23rd is an international day and it is observed as the: International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.


According to the United Nations (UN) an international day is defined: 

"...designates specific days, weeks, years and decades as occasions to mark particular events or topics in order to promote, through awareness and action, the objectives of the Organization. Usually, it is one or more Member States that propose these observances and the General Assembly establishes them with a resolution.

On occasion, these celebrations are declared by the specialized agencies of the United Nations, such as UNESCO, UNICEF, FAO, etc., when they concern issues that fall within the scope of their competencies. Some of them may be later adopted by the General Assembly."


"International days are occasions to educate the general public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool.

Each international day offers many actors the opportunity to organize activities related to the theme of the day. Organizations and offices of the United Nations system, and most importantly, governments, civil society, the public and private sectors, schools, universities and, more generally, citizens, make an international day a springboard for awareness-raising actions."

For a list of all UN International Days please look HERE.


The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which lasted 300 years created historic wealth for the European World with exports from Africa in both people and goods.  This trade also established the United States and the strength of this wealth is still  experienced today.  The discussion of slavery and segregation in the USA has become easier in 2020, however many people choose not to share this history with their children for fear it will ruin their minds.  I am obviously not one of those people.  It think it is important to share what has happened with the youth so it does not happen again.

In 2014, a United Nations resolution established the worldwide observation and this day was observed worldwide for the first time in 2016. Then in 2017 I organized a commemoration of August 23rd in Washington, DC at the African American Civil War Memorial.  The day pays tribute to the people who revolted against the system of slavery on August 23, 1791.  In 1791 the island was known as Santo Domingo until 1804, when it was renamed "Haiti" meaning mountains.  The Haitian Revolution was a dramatic symbol of liberty for African people in the Americas.  Now, when we teach abolition we are often taught dates and times when a government declared, or abolished, chattel slavery.  However, this international day is a date that commemorates self-emancipation (freeing the self) from bondage with dignity.  That is the major difference.  

I organized that event with the help of Mr. Marquett Milton of the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum in Washington, DC (seen in the photo below with the hat) and also Minister Chi Mauuso, also of Washington, DC (seen in seated in the photo below), she lead us in prayer and a moment of silence.  I am grateful to the Washington Informer newspaper for supporting the event; I am in the photo below on the right. 

The largest observance of this day is in Trafalgar Square in London, England.  In London they call this "Sankofa Day."  Sankofa (SAHN-koh-fah) translates to "Go back and get it" in the Twi language and is symbolized in the Adinkra as: 

(1) a stylized heart shape, or 

(2) by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth.  

These symbols capture the proverb that "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten."  In the two photos below you will see Shezal Laing, the Director and Founder of the organization Slavery Remembrance.  She is the organizer for the London gathering and her work has  educated the world on this chapter in history.

Photo Credit: AfrocCultureBlog

Photo Credit: The Voice-UK

Finally, when it comes to the commemoration of August 23rd there are annual activities in Liverpool, England starting at the International Slavery Museum (see photo below).  

Photo Credit: International Slavery Museum Liverpool

Liverpool is significant because in 1795 it controlled 80% of the British slave trade and another 40% of the entire European slave trade.

The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool opened in 2007 and is a leader in teaching the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its benefits to the European economy and also complex details such as the 'Triangle Trade,' and the 'Middle Passage' and has one of the best curriculum for teaching younger ages about the history of the Slave Trade their Understanding Slavery Initiative

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

World's Great Anthropologist: Jomo Kenyatta (by Johnny Coleman II)

"To Moigoi and Wamboi and all the dispossessed youth of Africa; for perpetuation of communion with ancestral spirits through the first for African Freedom, and in the firm faith that the dead, the living, and the unborn will unite to rebuild the destroyed shrines."
--Jomo Kenyatta
The Dedication to Facing Mt. Kenya 

Did you know that Jomo Kenyatta was one of the world's great anthropologists?  Anthropologists study people through archaeology, culture and also biology.  He is remembered as Kenya's first prime minister and first president after colonialism (1963-1978).  

Born Kamau son of Ngengi, in 1929 Jomo Kenyatta left Kenya for London.  His goal was to lobby for the human rights of the Kikuyu people.  To support himself he started work and classes at the University College London (UCL) and then the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and finally at the London School of Economics (LSE).  Facing Mt. Kenya was Kenyatta's master thesis.  The full title is Facing Mt. KenyaThe Tribal Life of the Gikuyu.  The Gikuyu are better known as the Kikuyu.  

His book gave a human image to African people by showing them to have their own established history, culture and traditions.  The book also dealt with sensitive topics such as female genital mutilation and applied anthropological functionalism', taught by his Dr. Bronislaw Malinowski.  Functionalism in anthropology is intended to describe the different institutions of an ethnic group.  Then to explain their social function and show their contribution to the overall society.

Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa. It is over 17 thousand feet tall.

Photo Credit: Mount Kenya (World Atlas)

"ANTHROPOLOGY begins at home"
--Bronislaw Malinowski
Introduction to Facing to Mt. Kenya

Photo Credit: Bronislaw Malinowski (LSE)

Malinowski made a career as a serious ethnographer and is called the 'Father of social anthropology.'  Cultural anthropology is called social anthropology in England.  An ethnographer is the old-school anthropologist living among traditional people and documenting their life.  

When he met Kenyatta they became friends and he welcomed him because he wanted to support the work of an indigenous student and is quoted to say: “one of the first really competent and instructive contributions to African ethnography by a scholar of pure African parentage.”  As an anthropologist who traveled and wrote about other people Malinowski was not part of the groups he wrote about like Kenyatta.  During that time Kenyatta's work was revolutionary.

Malinowski was a world famous anthropologist before World War II and was known to regard his students as part of a team to teach the world.  As a sensation and leader in the world of anthropology he taught leading thinkers in the field.   

Kenyatta's book challenged the Europeans, especially 'white' Kenyans who firmly believed that the indigenous Kenyans were "primitive savages" who needed whites in order to be civilized.  Once published, the book received positive reviewsWhen the book was sold the cover showed Kenyatta in his traditional clothing, a skin cloak, and carrying a spear.  This was also the first time he used the name Jomo Kenyatta.  Jomo means burning spear.  This was Kenyatta's way to show pride in his traditional culture, with no shame or need for explanation.  

Jomo Kenyatta is one of the world's great anthropologists!