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