AFROPOLiTAiN: Bridging Cultures and Celebrating African Identity – Keziah Makoundou

Hi there, please tell us a bit about you?

My name is Keziah, I work in the publishing industry and run my own publication – AFROPOLiTAiN magazine. I’m a designer by professional and have worked with other publications before, and then from there built my own media platform. I got a masters in design, then found my first job in New York, and have stayed here since. My dad is from Congo-Brazzaville and my mum is from Ivory Coast, and I was born and raised in France.

How and why did AFROPOLiTAiN start? How did you come up with the name?

I’m a magazine lover in general – of all kinds of magazines, everything from travel to fashion and tech. I love the content, the style, the beauty of design. I was working in the magazine industry in New York and I realised I was not always seeing things I could connect with at work. I wanted to use my talent to put my culture on the frontline; I had something like AFROPOLiTAiN in mind since 2009, and it finally came to life three years ago.

I wanted to use my talent to put my culture on the frontline

AFROPOLiTAiN is an African lifestyle magazine that everyone can read, connect with, and learn from – it’s something done by Africans. For me, that was missing. If you go to France, you’ll see that ‘black publications’ aren’t necessarily black-owned. I quit my job and then focused on getting the AFROPOLiTAiN magazine up and running. We’re now working on issue 6! It’s a 360 degree look at African culture: everything from business to art, books, music, relationships, sex, parents, travel and food.

My friend suggested the name AFROPOLiTAiN while we were brainstorming on cool names for the magazine. Ever since, it’s been a journey of discovering who we are. For the African community and the diaspora to come back to their roots, learning more about who we are. We tell the stories, including from history, that deserve to be known. The African continent has a great history. We need to know who we are build and built on that greatness. Black people are great, at the top in every possible industry. It’s about saying it more!

What has been the great challenges you’ve faced on your journey with AFROPOLiTAiN? How did you overcome this challenge?

There’s no way I could do this on my own. I have to give a shout out to my team – everyone from the editor-in-chief to the art director and to my recent business partner. AFROPOLiTAiN is really a team effort. All the writers, the photographers, and the freelancers that help in putting each issue together. You have to find people you can rely on, be open with, and who can take criticism in the right way. The key thing is to learn from your mistakes. I cannot say I’m good at everything: I needed to make mistakes to improve and learn, to provide the best content we can offer our readers.

You have to find people you can rely on, be open with, and who can take criticism in the right way.

When did you move to the US? How has the move been and what’s it like living there? What do you offer the US, and what does the US offer you?

I moved to New York in 2009. My big brother and little sister and I used to come on vacation to New York; I’ve always loved the city, loved the energy and I always had a good time here. I did an internship in New York during the last year of my masters degree: it was a great experience, I found my first job here, and from there I just kept going!

New York is a tough city – you’ve got to be able to work hard and be consistent. However, it’s also a place where people are very open to exchange, to share information and their contacts. When I started the AFROPOLiTAiN project, people were reaching out all the time to make connections to photographers, writers, and people that could help. That’s a difference between the US and Europe: people are more willing to support each other, there’s a different dynamic. That’s one of the reasons I stayed here to start AFROPOLiTAiN, because I felt I’d get the help I needed to accomplish my goals and people could help push me in the right direction.

As an immigrant, you have to fit into other people’s culture – but it’s an exchange.

What are the positive benefits of immigration that you wish more people could see?

As an immigrant, you have to fit into other people’s culture – but it’s an exchange. You come here, you have your culture and the people have theirs. You have to live within theirs, but keep yours and show it. We have to not be afraid to learn about other people’s cultures.

One of the major benefits is cultural diversity. In a city like New York, you meet people from every culture on the planet. I come from Paris, which is also a pretty diverse city. The difference is that people have less fear of ‘the other’ in New York. There’s long been an active public debate in France about hearing the hijab, and things like that. Here, if you want to you can wear it and just do your thing. It’s not going to be a daily debate here; there’s more tolerance.

What’s it like to be an African-American-European? How has your background influenced your professional life, passion, and personal development?

I was born in Paris but my roots are in Africa. My parents, grandparents, great grandparents and beyond were all born in Africa. I was brought up by Africans, surrounded by African music and African food. It was always a part of our life; we’d go to Africa on vacation.

Living in France, I was able to connect with all types of cultures. But I always put myself as African first. Everything you do is determined by that background. It’s very strong; our parents taught us to love Africa. It’s normal to be African and proud, and not be afraid to show that’s.

In France, they’re always going to make you feel like you’re different. If you’re not white, they’ll want to ask you about your background. Even for French Africans who’ve never stepped foot in Africa! I say OK, if you don’t consider me a “true” French citizen, I don’t have any problem with that – we have to embrace who we are without being shy or afraid. I have no desire to go back and live in France. I’d love to be between the US and the African continent.

Go to Africa and learn. Go and connect with the Continent.

If you could give one piece of advice to young people like you – in the US, Europe, or even the Continent – what would it be?

Go to Africa and learn. Go and connect with the Continent. I tell every African American I know that they’d do themselves a huge favour by travelling to Africa; experiencing a place where everybody looks like you and welcomes you. We come from the richest continent on the planet, in terms of resources. We are creative, we’ve influenced everything from fashion to music. We should be proud of being African, and of being black. I asked a guy just walking in the street if he was from Senegal; he said he was from Brooklyn. I said no, you hail from Senegal for sure! It’s about learning and connecting with each other. People like to say Africa doesn’t have history, but trust me we have history and it started a long time ago.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say:

Diaspora: Evolving.
Heritage: Roots, connection, pride.
Leadership: Being on the front line, changing the game, doing things.
Representation: Making sure we’re seen, and the people who look like us see.
Remittances: The need to bring diaspora funds make to the Continent, so the Continent can evolve and develop.
One of the best lessons I’ve learned is: Believing in yourself.
I’m most proud of: AFROPOLiTAiN being in print, at issue #6.
I would tell me 16-year-old self: You should have started earlier!
The most important conversation women of African heritage should have is: We have to look at our cultural heritage and traditions, and decide what things we want to keep and protect and what things we want to change or stop doing. This can include the relationship in a family between the mum and the dad in decision-making, for example.
Your life motto: Speak your mind, be a little crazy, be yourself. It’s OK if people don’t like you. Be natural, do what you love, and be around the people you want to be around.

Be natural, do what you love, and be around the people you want to be around.

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