Browse Tag: Spectra Speaks

My Interview about LGBT Africa and the Media: “Being Gay in Africa Is Neither Good Nor Bad”

Great news! I was recently interviewed by about my work as an LGBT activist. The piece highlighted my new media volunteer project, which has been training African women and LGBTI organizations to use new media to tell their own stories. #win

My favorite part of the interview has got to be the title, African Gay Rights Activist Rewrites the Story of a Struggle. 

Because I’ve chosen to lend my talents as a wordsmith to social justice and philanthropy, and am often very immersed in discussing (and being recognized for) the issues I’m writing about, even I sometimes forget what is that I’m actually doing i.e. writing to change the world, and encouraging others to do the same.

Above anything else, I’m a writer and a storyteller. So, even though the title of the interview felt a tad grandiose (and made me do a double take: “Whoa! Is that me??”), I really am honored that decided to recognize my efforts and profile me in such a generous way.

I must admit, however, that the opening line from the article gave me pause: “Believe it or not, it’s good to be gay in Africa.” 

I should probably point out that the aim of my work isn’t just to see more “positive” news about LGBTI African in mainstream media; I believe that “Being gay in Africa is bad” and “Being gay in Africa is good” are both overly simplistic, reductive narratives we should avoid in mass scale. Instead of “positive” stories, I want real stories, authentic, complex stories. Thus, even though it was refreshing to see a positive slant to LGBTI Africa coverage, I wouldn’t be enthused if LGBTI Africa was constantly depicted wearing a smiley face.

Now, with so much sensationalism and victimization of LGBTI African people in the media, it’s understandable that a fervent call to the media to share more stories of resistance and empowerment could be taken as saying “all is good.” But let’s be clear: all is not good. While the current narrative (i.e. “Being gay in Africa is bad”) reinforces stigma within communities and chips away at the already dwindling hope of young queer Africans living on the continent, the reverse could do just as much (if not more) harm.

For instance, the article highlighted a few of the organizations I’ve worked with who are leading change;, a media advocacy organization based in South Africa, and WHER, a community-building organization for queer Nigerian women, to name a few. Many of these organizations would not be able to operate in the absence of international support; LGBTI Africans are barely permitted to exist in certain countries, let alone organize.

What if funding for LGBTI organizations like SMUG of Uganda and TIER Nigeria were left at the mercy of their homophobic governments? How would activists such as Zanele Muholi, continue to receive support from individuals overseas for her work photographing south African black lesbians in the townships if the story of LGBTI Africa was presented as “all good”?

Last I checked, all is not good. But my point is that all is not bad, either; we need complexity, we need balance.

Check out an excerpt from the interview here: 

With the spread of technology and social media, today’s African LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) communities have greater access to resources and their greatest asset to speak of: each other.

However, given the mainstream news coverage of Africa’s many LGBTI communities that exploits the narrative of a sad, shameful Africa, it’s hard to imagine that anything other than repression and brutal violence is happening. Nigerian LGBTI activist Spectra says that although Africa has its issues, gay rights activists on the continent are seeing success in their movement for equality.

“We’re constantly hearing about people being murdered, constantly hearing about women being raped,” Spectra told “It’s the very, very reductive, very simplistic narrative, and what’s missing is everything else quite honestly.”

Final Thoughts: The more stories we have in the media, the more likelihood we’ll see the range of experiences needed to reflect what is wholly true about LGBTI Africans; that our experiences are neither good, nor bad, that we face challenges from our governments and from each other, that there is pain and suffering, healing and joy in being queer and African, in being human; no single “positive” or “negative” story is capable of conveying our humanity.

My story is one of many, just as the article is one of many that contributes to LGBTI Africa’s depiction in the big picture. There’s still more work to be done. Let’s get “write” to it. ;)

Relevant Links on My Blog:

Making It In Media, Accidentally: One Queer African Writer’s Journey to Paradise

I recently spent some time reflecting on my work as a media activist and advocate.

This reflection came partly in preparation for my feature at New York University’s “Making it in Media” panel, a lunchtime panel series that provides an opportunity for students interested in careers in media to connect with media professionals of diverse backgrounds.

I had been looking forward to sharing my experience as a media activist with students, and hopefully, making a case for the importance of alternative media as a tool for advocacy as well as a worthwhile career path. But as the event approached, and I tried to think about what I’d say to students who were just starting out, I realized I wasn’t quite clear on what I would say exactly.

My career path in media hasn’t been linear or conventional by any means.

I went to MIT to study Mathematics, which I thoroughly enjoyed before realizing that I really enjoyed writing and had to “come out” to my parents as an artist hoping to end up with a liberal arts degree from a science school. (It went well, considering…)

In an effort to earn my stripes as a certified nerd (and rid myself of immigrant parent guilt — “you mean we sacrificed so much for you to attend the best science school just for you to be a “writer”?), I worked in the software industry for about five years. I hated it. Yes, hated it. So I channeled all the frustration that came with working 60-70 hr work weeks into my passion for new media and social justice, which culminated in my founding and growing a social networking organization for Queer Women of Color in Boston, then later on, QWOC Media Wire, a media hub for LBTQ women of color and the Diaspora.

When the recession hit and I lost my job, I realized I still had a reason to get up every day and ‘go to work.’ My organization had grown, and was receiving national exposure due to our social media campaigning efforts. So, even though I wasn’t getting paid for my work (whether as a writer or activist) the show had to go on.

With new media as my focus, I continued down the path of social justice, and very quickly, the successes in my community work earned me a reputation for “applying” what I knew about media and diversity. People started inviting me to come speak, train, coach on how to use social media for thought leadership, community outreach,  and online fundraising. I couldn’t work with everyone that asked, so I relaunched this blog, and began writing about the issues I was working on, sharing my ideas.

What Does Success in Alternative Media Look Like?

Flash forward a few years, and here I am with an international blog readership, a few more accolades, and the privilege of making a decent living through various writing, consulting, and media projects for good.

I raised over $15,000 in less than 30 days for my Africans for Africa project this year; I was just offered a contract position to advise a prominent foundation on how to re-write their site’s content to make it snappier, more engaging, and reflective of their brand; and I’m constantly invited to sit on panels that indicate people think I know a thing or two about “How to Make It In Media.”

I know my parents are proud of me, but I’m also pretty sure that this isn’t quite what they had in mind when they dropped me off at college. They hadn’t banked on my tendency to strive to be the best at nearly everything I did to manifest as my becoming the “gayest Nigerian ever” (seriously, my site stats report that this is what someone searched for one day and found my blog). And, to be honest, this isn’t what I’d imagined my life would be like either. Thus, when people ask me, “How does one make it in media, exactly?” I’m not quite sure how to answer.

I get emails all the time from younger people who want to know how it is that I get to do what I do. What did I study? What courses would I recommend? How do they get started in their own media careers?

What to tell them when my own “career path” (it feels so weird to even think of it that way!) hasn’t been straight-forward? I don’t have the answers. I’m not even sure I can say that I’ve actually “made it”. I posed the question of #howtomakeitinmedia on Twitter followers and got a few great responses. I’ll share my favorite one from Soli Philander:

“I think what’s most important is to define what “Making It In Media” means for you.”

Because I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life, “Making It In Media”, for me, has meant using media to connect with “my people”, whether African women, Nigerian feminists, LGBTI Diaspora, queer bois, and more, for the purpose of affirming each other’s experiences, growing and healing together.

“Making It In Media” has meant being able to build for myself and others, a support network, so we all can feel less alone, using my voice to advocate for people who don’t have as much access to resources as I do, filling the spaces between the black and white of political agendas with the personal stories that are often missing from policy implementation, a result which when botched, impacts marginalized communities the most.

“Making It In Media” for me means nurturing a younger generation of women (and other marginalized people) to claim their right to their own histories, by writing it; equipping them with one of the most powerful ideas I’ve ever received — that we do not need to sit around waiting to be written about; we can write our own histories, influence policy, and change the world from where we are.

And yes, “Making It In Media” means, also, one day, being interviewed by Ellen. Maybe for winning a Pulitzer.  That’s obviously nowhere near happening yet, but I’m working on it. ;)

So You Want to Make It In Media: Now What?

I don’t know what “Making It In Media” means to you — you who are still reading this, and I might guess, are interested in doing the same. I don’t know where you should begin or where you are. But, I do know this: regardless of who you are, or what your parents wanted you to be, irrespective of what you studied or didn’t study in college, whether or not you event went to college, if you can’t find your ideal job description at your school’s career fair or on Craigslist, you absolutely possess the power, more now than ever, to transform what you love into what you do for a living.

I’m more fulfilled in my work as a writer and media activist than I ever would have been as just another ivy league consultant on wall street. I’ve met smart, passionate, inspiring people from all walks of life who have taught and given me so much. The passion and drive I have for helping others has been so rewarding, and I know it will continue to be as long as I remain true to myself, and lead from within. Maya Angelou puts it best: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

So I offer this to you: Don’t drive your career with someone else’s rear view mirror. Don’t tailgate an externally constructed ambition or let someone else’s version of success distract you from the most important driver on the road… you. 

This is especially true for people you look up to. It’s easy to compare yourself–especially in media–to others who may seem more visible (more press mentions), more influential (more followers), more “successful” than you. Resist the urge to veer off your path chasing someone else, whose destination you do not know.

Be the center that guides your trajectory. Shine brightly enough from within and your path will become clearly illuminated ahead of you. And when that happens, follow it.

Follow it even though it feels endless and like you’re headed nowhere. Follow it when you’re the only one on that road and you see no other cars next to you. Follow it when the voices in your head tell you that it’s time to give up, admit that you’re wrong and turn around. Don’t turn around. Follow it, and one day you will arrive at your very own version of paradise.

I have spent years navigating awkward relationships with my parents, who couldn’t understand why I would invest so much time and energy into something that wasn’t helping me pay my bills. There were times when I went weeks with just eating ramen noodles because I couldn’t afford to go grocery shopping. I worked jobs I hated, took gigs that paid me a fraction of what I was worth. I doubted myself whenever a classmate, or a close friend got a promotion, bought a new car, or took an expensive vacation; whenever my straight friends would ask me why I write so much about LGBT issues all the time, “Isn’t it pigeon-holing you?”

I would ask myself over and over again each morning, “What are you doing?” But what’s most important is that I could always answer, “I’m doing what I love. And I’m doing it as me.” When you are down in the trenches of your own epic movie, and there’s no one to look to for inspiration (for fear of jealousy, envy, or that they’ll see that you’re not quite so sure of yourself), all you have is your own voice. Make sure it’s always honest. Make sure it’s always true to you. Listen to it. Lead with it. And you’ll make it, not the right way, but your way, and find all the love, fulfillment, and pride you were denied in your journey, waiting for you at your destination.

I haven’t “made it”. But I’m proud to say that the gains I have made came with authenticity and integrity; all of me. I’m relieved to know that I will never have to fragment myself to fit into anyone else’s narrow lane, because from the very beginning, I promised to find my own way. I wish for so many of you, the same exact thrill.

Safe journey.

Now, because I do feel strongly about giving out practical advice, I’d also like to share some grounding principles I’ve acquired and tweaked during my “career” that have helped me gain the visibility and influence I do have in my own lane. Check them out via the post “Social Media for Social Change: 10 Tips from a Queer African Media Activist“. I hope you find them useful.

But hey, before you go, leave a comment so I know you’re listening, or relate. It’s always good to know that I’m not the only crazy driver trying to find my way off the main road. :) 

Africans for Africa: Press Coverage of GlobalGiving Social Media and Online Fundraising Workshop in Johannesburg

I just received a scanned image of an article that was printed in a local Johannesburg paper about my Social Media and Online Fundraising training for African NGOs!

In case you didn’t know, GlobalGiving is an online fundraising platform that brings donors and non-profits together in an online marketplace i.e. they connect the people who are leading innovative social impact projects to the people who would like to donate money to support them.

They have partner non-profits all over the world, including about over a hundred in Southern Africa, who have been helping me reach out to other NGOs who were interested in learning more about social media and online fundraising. It’s been a great opportunity to volunteer for an amazing foundation in an area I’m so passionate about (new media for social impact) — and get encouraging feedback in return.

Since I myself raised over $15,000 in 30 days to fund this project, I’ve been able to use myself as a case study, which I feel has really resonated (and been helpful) for my participants; I have a whole bag of personal anecdotes, lessons, tips, tricks, and strategies inspired by a real life successful case study to pull from. Thank you all so much for that — your support of my campaign has really contributed to my success here.

Here’s what some attendees had to say about the Johannesburg Social Media & Online Fundraising workshop:

“The workshop was wonderfully presented, fresh, exciting and to the point! Well rounded presentation to give a kick-start to online funding and using social media.” — Keep the Dream

“I found the group discussions and advice from Spectra resulting from the discussion feedback most useful.” — Cresset House

“The workshop gave insight and opened our minds to the endless possibilities of on-line fundraising! I left excited and somewhat anxious to get moving on the Social networks!” — Joburg Child Welfare

The feedback I’ve received from workshop participants in three cities — Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, has been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn’t have imagined being any more satisfied with the way things went in South Africa. This press coverage from a local community paper is more icing on the cake!

Here’s the full article, transcribed below:

Various charities in and around Johannesburg will add impetus to their fundraising drive if Spectra has anything to do with it. Representatives of different charities gathered at Craighall Park’s Reea Foundation for Global Giving’s online fundraising and social media workshop led by Asala.

“The most important hing to teach NGO’s about social media is that online work is not that different ofoffline relationship-building,” Asala told representatives from various organizations. These included Horses Helping People, Khulumani support Group, Cotlands, Keep the Dream, Leseding Community Development Projects, Youthworx Development Association, Cresset House, Cabsa, Dona’s Mates, and the Papillon Foundation.

“I point out tools available to the organizations, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and e explore different steps they can take to raise awareness, engage with people online, and solicit donations.”

According to Asala, charitable donations received through social media increased by 29% last year; an impressive figure considering the funding crisis currently experienced by charities around the world.

“While online giving is growing, it does not replace offline fundraising. It’s an alternative source of funding, and relationships must be established and maintained. It might be digital technology you’re working with, but your’e still speaking to people,” said Asala.

According to the media-savvy Asala, the foundatino of the workshops is getting people to understand the value of social media as a business tool.

“I find people often don’t realize how much they actually know about social media or just how easy it is to use. Workshops like this often make people say, “I can do this,” she said.

Dtetails: or

I’m so grateful to the REEA Foundation for hosting the Johannesburg workshop (even supplying cake for the attendees!) and being all-round accommodating of this crazy activist’s on-the-fly / last minute arrangements due to a constantly changing itinerary. It was a really fun day, a wonderful trip, and an encouraging kick-off to my trip.

Next up: Namibia and Bostwana!

Zoe Saldana to Star in Nina Simone Biopic: How the Dark vs. Light Skin Debate Misses the Point about Black Women and the Media

In case you missed it, Hollywood is gearing up to release a biopic of Nina Simone, an African-American singer, pianist, and civil rights activists whose music was highly influential in the fight for equal rights for blacks in the US.

I myself was only introduced to Nina Simone via a remake of her song, “Feeling Good.” I remember jamming to it in my dorm room when a friend of mine remarked that it was no where near being as good as the original. I promptly searched for the original on YouTube and was blown away by the command of her voice.

Further searches led me to “Strange Fruit“, a song (based on a famous poem written by Abel Meeropol) she performed about lynchings in the south, along with a slew of other noteworthy appearances that punctuated her career path as a Black woman singer-turned-political figure.

A biopic about Nina Simone will undoubtedly strike a chord with the African-American community. But given the recent controversy surrounding the project’s casting choices (i.e. Zoe Saldana, a Dominican actress as the lead), it’s not likely to be perceived as the “right” chord.

But when is it ever?

In a recent update on Facebook, Nina Simone’s daughter, Simone, shared her thoughts about the new film project. Here are, for me, the most important aspects of her comment:

Please note, this project is unauthorized. The Nina Simone Estate was never asked permission nor invited to participate.

If written, funded and CAST PROPERLY a movie about my mother will make an lasting imprint.

From Tragedy to Transcendence – MY VISION. The whole arc of her life which is inspirational, educational, entertaining and downright shocking at times is what needs to be told THE RIGHT WAY.

For all she endured while here and all of the lives she has touched, she DESERVES to be remembered for who she truly was; not some made up love story from a former nurse/manager (now deceased) who sold his life rights because of his relationship to Nina Simone.

You can read the rest of her comments here. In a nutshell, here are my two cents…. 

I’m not surprised that a movie is being made about Nina Simone without consulting her family or estate. Not one bit. We know this story all too well: The Help and Untitled Nelson and Winnie Mandela Biopic also moved ahead without consent from the source.

I’m also not surprised that the screenplay for the Nina Simone biopic wasn’t written by a black woman, and thus, per her daughter’s concerns, will use that as license to perpetuate inaccuracies.

And finally, though sadly, I’m not surprised that black women have busied themselves with the question of who will “play” the role of Nina Simone (Zoe Saldana vs. dark-skinned black actresses) rather than focus on the root cause of mis-representation in Hollywood: the absence of a strong network of black writers, producers, and studios.

This is the only comment I will be making on this issue because it’s always the same story, but even more frustrating, always the same rhetoric about how white people are appropriating our stories. As a community, we’re not doing nearly enough writing to make white people’s overly-simplistic, inaccurate, saviorist depictions of our lives irrelevant.

The hard truth is this: if we spent more time creating media instead of criticizing it, there’d be way more diversity in representation, and way more stories and perspectives to which white people can be more frequently held accountable. 

Pushing for ownership of both the infrastructure and content that portrays our lived experiences — that is the crux of the issue; not just the politics of light vs. dark-skinned actresses. So, whereas I am completely on board with calling out the colorism behind the biopic’s casting choices (and the harmful message that’s being sent to young, dark-skinned black girls everywhere by having a light-skinned woman play Nina Simone) there aren’t enough strong lead roles written for women of color in Hollywood for me to fairly tell Zoe Saldana, a hard-working, talented brown woman to “sit this one out.”

When will black women, LGBTI, Africans, everyone-that-has-been-screwed-over-by-hollywood finally get it that we need more autonomy over our media? When will we begin militantly fighting for mainstream media’s accountability to not just the story but the storyteller?

Whenever I pose this question, the conversation is almost always derailed by arguments that advocate about “allies” i.e. whether or not they have the right to be the owners and producers of our stories based on the fact that they have “skill”. Take for instance arguments that suggest the writer-director of the project, Cynthia Mort, doesn’t necessarily deserve the right to lead such a critical project with just chops from writing for shows such as Roseanne and Will and Grace. Or that Zoe Saldana is a brilliant actress regardless of her skin tone, and so will undoubtedly do a great job in her lead role as Nina Simone (and that therefore, black women shouldn’t be angry?).

But when we frequently prioritize debates about “industry expertise” vs. “authenticity/stakeholdership of the storyteller” we completely miss the point: our focus shouldn’t be just on the depiction of one character, or even the accuracy of one story, but about the (dis)empowerment of the storyteller i.e. who writes and owns the f**king book.

Afrolicious, one of my favorite black woman media advocates says in her most recent blog post:

… we have so much work to do to get our stories spread. We need to build a media infrastructure as formidable as Hollywood’s that can distribute these stories and support those at the margins who are telling and creating them. We need to create platforms that we own, community-owned media centers that are not at the mercy of funding cycles or internet service providers. But most of all we need to keep telling our stories.

I couldn’t have said it better. Now, back to writing and documenting my work training and coaching African women and LGBTI groups in Southern Africa to tell their own stories, so that they can become thought leaders, and change the world.

NOTE 1: Correction added. Strange Fruit was based on a poem written originally by Abel Meeropol, and performed by a number of singers, including Billie Holiday. Thanks, Sarah J. Jackson for the tip!

NOTE 2: Updated to include black-owned studios as additional point at which we can subvert white-dominated film industry i.e. ignore them and create our own.

[VIDEO] Teaser Trailer for “Confessions of a Queer African Boi” Poetry and Erotica Chapbook

I’ve been working on a collection of erotica, poetry, and other free-form expressions for a year now and recently printed them into booklet form for editing.

Flipping through the pages for the first time felt like the cold sensation of fingers slowly running down a soft layer of brown skin. These were words I hadn’t yet shared with fans of my writing; they held within them a different side of me many have not been privy to see. And so, with this new chapbook (hopefully being released by December or January of next year), I’ll be taking a very big leap…

I’m known publicly for my personal essays that offer a unique political perspective — one heavily inspired by my mantra, “Love is My Revolution”. But I have actually always been a fiction writer.

My parents will tell you that I’ve been writing and directing plays since I was 7 years old, using my disgruntled younger siblings as props, my mother’s plush pillows as elaborate sets, and my father’s Miles Davis tapes as background music. I wrote my first poem, “Ruler of the Sea”, after watching Steven Spielberg’s jaws. I wrote my first novel when I was thirteen, based on the “Mean Girls” of my secondary school (and the boys they constantly fought over).

At MIT, I added writing as a major in my junior year — studied under Pulitzer Prize winner, Junot Diaz for two semesters — and wrote over a dozen short stories about love, relationships, women, and self-image. I even went on to win two awards; one, for a story I wrote about my struggle with eating disorders, and another that used magic surrealism to explore the spiritual connection between the mothers and daughters in my family.

When I first began dating women, I stopped writing, perhaps because my words have always been my anchor to the world, and I wasn’t yet ready to validate my sexuality (and some traumatic experiences), as part of my reality. When I was finally able to write creatively, I remembered that my words haven’t always just been grounding, but healing, and so I’m excited to share this part of my “recovery” with all of you.

Incidentally, the other night, as I was editing my chapbook, I decided to take a self-care break and do something fun for encouragement: make a video teaser trailer for my chapbook. So here is the result of my late night photo shoot with queer African boi erotica and poetry. I hope you enjoy.

Well, what do you think? Would you read it? Buy it? Please leave your comments/feedback below. But remember, be gentle. To borrow from Erykah Badu, “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my sh*t.”

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