10 Things to change Institutional Racism in White Organizations and Corporations by Atim Annnette Oton

Yesterday, I talked with a former student about what her company was doing about Black Lives Matter. She said they kept asking what they could do, and like most Black employees, she was remaining quiet, so, I gave her talking points she and her coworkers should ask for. Then, I wrote it out loud and shared this list on social media.

Ten (10) asks and things black employees need to discuss with their white corporations and organizations about institutional racism that exists so they can stop sending out Black Lives Matter empty statements. It’s vital to seize the moment to get to the CEO who keeps asking how can we support you…

1. Ask them to share salary information of white and black employees and if there are disparities, ask the CEO to make the changes for pay equity asap. You deserve that raise.

2. Take a look at your promotions and see who gets promoted and how much disparities are in the salaries or raises given between white and black employees. Ask the CEO to do this study of the organization

3. Take a picture of your board and if there is no black board members or just one, it’s time to ask them to add 2 or more black board members

4. Why is your diversity and inclusion not a person of color and why does that person have no power to implement any substantial changes? Is there really a diversity and inclusion plan that has worked?

5. Has your company created safe spaces for black employees to strive, grow and supported them in every way from professional development to self care workshops?

6. Take a look at the work load of black employees, work types or non-innovative work given to black employees that limits challenges thus giving no opportunity for progress. See who is doing the work that makes them promoted easily.

7. Ask your CEO to stop creating yet another committee to discuss the problem of racism and discrimination. Instead, ask the CEO to solve the problem immediately.

8. Ask the company CEO to change its hiring practice from how they get white interns who can work for free while black interns cannot (you might pay them). Ask them to go outside the norm to hire, imagine hiring a black headhunter to find black candidates or make the ask. And go beyond quotas, dare to be bold. Stop the token hiring of “one” smart black person

9. If you work in the banking industry, ask the CEO to stop its perpetuated policies that have made it harder for Black Americans to get lower interest rates, qualify for mortgages or access capital.

10. Ask your CEO to commit to anti-racism personnel policies and racial-equity training. Adopt a no-tolerance-for-racism policy

Morning Sermon: Black Women Centering

Early morning rise. My body’s time clock has changed. And my morning sermon of observations.

I woke up with a series of thoughts that revolve around 3 black women I know and respect. Each has a certain focus: art, health and publishing, and for the last few months to a year, because of their extensive creative energies, talents and ability to do a lot; they are at a place of abundance and trajectory to expand or in layman’s terms, “blow up”.

Ironically, others are watching and have zeroed in on the opportunity to have them work on their own projects and not the women’s core interest projects, taking them away from their focuses.

It’s an interesting thing to watch so often in our community when talented black folks are working on fabulous ideas and projects, others see these talents, rather than come to support it, usurp it for their purpose and the women get distracted by these people’s projects and ironically, stop working or concentrating on their projects and end up not building them.

It pains me to watch this happen so many times and to observe the lack of awareness of what maybe happening to them, because I think, they, in some ways, have huge giving hearts and maybe flattered by all the additional attention. But, it’s vital to call it out.

Like an elder told me and gave me sage advice years ago, first, be selfish to yourself, grow and strengthen your ideas, talents and projects before you attempt to do other people’s and assist but assist a bit with theirs but don’t taken on too much or abandon yours until you have things in order. I have spoken to one and this week will speak to the other two.

We live in a time when talented black women should be supported to blossom their talents, projects and ideas and not utilized, burdened or distracted by projects of others. It is the reason why in the black community, some of the talented are “burdened”, they are doing or carrying too many projects for the entire community and become the go-to person.

It is vital we give space so some of these talented women actually grow and build their projects and that way the overall community can benefit. If not, we all lose and have unfinished and shallow projects.

Senegalese Baskets Anyone?

Senegalese Baskets now available by shipping only.


Dear all, 

It’s now week 8 for us in New York and there are hints of a possible reopening plan by Governor Cuomo. As a business with 2 arms: Gallery and Shop, we have decided that we will do a wait and see…translation, we will wait a month after. We are more cautious about our staff, customers and our lives.

In that vain, we decided to open up our Dropshipping arm by having one of our vendors do the shipping directly to you from our website, Calabar Imports.

This week, we have added just six basket hampers only, we plan to add more items each week and are limiting the quantities because we are aware that shipping is still not back at its regular scheduled speed.

SHOP HERE: https://www.calabar-imports.com/collections/home-decor

Ghanaian Masks

Our Covid-19 Response means Local Community Farm Shares


Dear all, 

It’s been a hectic 6 weeks and we decided to stay quiet, listen and pay attention to the experts and to absorb the significant impact of Covid-19 and quarantine in New York and globally. The numbers of those lost is staggering, the numbers infected enormous and the lockdown is global. 

As a small local black woman owned business in Harlem, Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant, all our locations have been closed since March 12. We took the approach that LIFE was and still is more important than business. We believe that our customers, staff, artists, suppliers, and even more, our community is more important and valuable, so, safety first.

Our locations will remain close for all typical business until the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo and the mayor declare it is safe to return fully. In the meantime, we made 2 strategic decisions:

To continue to do the community activism work on our Facebook group Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn as an information hub for the neighborhood, please join us there.

To further provide assistance by coming up a remedy for fresh food access in the community of Bed Stuy and Harlem. 

After several discussions with Corbinhill Food Project about their ability to deliver food into Bed Stuy, they have agreed to explore other locations in Bed Stuy and we are looking to develop a location at Calabar Imports on Tompkins Avenue and will need 20 people interested in farm shares to participate.

If you will like to be included in the farm share, please email ohveganlife@gmail.com

We plan to look at possibility of a Harlem location as soon as Bed Stuy is up and running. As time is of the essence, we would like to hear from you by Friday.



On Monday, the following press release will go out across the world.

Contact: Artur Jezak, Marketing Manager

Phone: +44 2074 956 453 M: +48 668 480 400

Email: artur@makgallery.com


On view: August 24 – September 10, 2019

Saturday August 24, 2pm to 4pm

Press/VIP: Monday, August 26, 2pm to 4pm

Opening Talk by Artist August 26, 4pm to 7pm

VENICE, ITALY – Mak Gallery, located at Calle Regina, announces the upcoming solo exhibition by award-winning New York based American documentary and portrait photographer, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn’s entitled JAMM REK: QUOTIDIEN SENEGAL curated by Atim Annette Oton. It will open just prior to the Biennale Cinema in Venice from August 24 through September 10, 2019 with a Soft launch opening to be held on Saturday August 24, 2:00pm to 4:00pm, a Press/VIP Opening on Monday 26, 2019, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm and an Artist Talk from 4:00pm to 7:00pm.

“Jamm Rek is a response commonly used in Senegal when a person is greeted. It loosely means, ‘peace only’ in Wolof, an indigenous language of Senegal.” It is a fitting title for Laylah Amatullah Barrayn’s solo exhibition which is a visual register of her travels to various cities in the West African nation for the last 20 years. Barrayn often heard the phrase invoked to describe an array of circumstances, good, bad or complicated, which spoke to the sense of gratitude and spiritual connectedness of the Senegalese people she met. “I sought to capture an intense sense of tranquility capturing the physical space I inhabited at the the very moment.”

New York based Nigerian American Curator Atim Annette Oton who has known Laylah Amatullah Barrayn for over 12 years selected her as the first artist to present for her collaboration with Mak Gallery because her photography is unique, poetic and dynamic storytelling of Senegal, its people and cities through the eyes of an American muslim woman who grew up in Harlem. “Her work moves you, it is what a good photojournalist does well and so much what artist captures”, says Oton.

This exhibition examines how Senegal inspired Barrayn to document its vibrant indoor scenes, outdoor vistas, its people from children playing to prayer in mosques, from intimate moments to public spectacles, from personal and private spaces capturing vibrant colors, textures, styles and fashion. The works spotlighted in the show speak to the diversity of Senegalese people, the city’s rhythm, and collective experiences of the city and the landscapes. Jamm Rek features large potraits, intimate compositions of Senegalese men, women and children at work, at play and in relaxation.

The exhibtion will head to Mak Gallery in London at the end of September just in time for 1:54 African Art Fair. More details about the exhibition can be found at www.makgallery.com. Some Images of the exhibition are attached and can be requested.

About Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

Laylah Amatullah Barrayn is an award-winning documentary and portrait photographer working in the medium for 20 years. Through photography, Barrayn engages communities of the global Black diaspora on how identity is expressed collectively and as individuals. She is the co-author of MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora. It is the first anthology in nearly 30 years that highlights photography produced by women of African descent. She is also a candidate for a Masters of Art at New York University.

Ms. Barrayn is a frequent contributor to The New York Times. Her work has been supported with grants and fellowships from Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African American Studies, the Research Foundation of the City University of New York, En Foco and The Brooklyn Arts Council. She has exhibited at Galarie Ethiopiques (Senegal), Brighton Photo Biennial (UK), MANIFESTA European Biennial of Contemporary Art (Italy), Open Ateliers Zuidoost Gallery (Holland), Rencontres d’Arles (France) and The Museum of Contemporary Photography (USA) among other institutions.

Barrayn has given talks about her work at the Tate Modern, Harvard University, The Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture and World Press Photo. She was included as one of the Royal Photographic Society’s (UK) Hundred Heroines. She is a 2017 African Great Lakes Reporting Fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation. Barrayn was a 2018 finalist for the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize at the Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University and nominated for the International Center of Photography, Infinity Award for Artist’s Book. She has sat on juries for contests from Getty Images, FotoEvidence, The Fence and Three Rivers Arts Festival.

About Atim Annette Oton

Atim Annette Oton is the curator for the Jamm Rek exhibition in Venice and in London. Based in New York City area, she is a Nigerian-born, American and British educated designer turned art curator who grew up in Nigeria with her mother collecting and buying contemporary. She is the African Art Curator for Amref Health Africa ArtBall for the past 4 years which honored Wangechi Mutu, El Anatsui, Toyin Ojih Odutola and Zanele Muholi. She is the Curator and founder of Harlem based Calabar Gallery and was the Curator for Community Engagement for the Bronx:Africa exhibition at Longwood Gallery. In 2016, she launched The Gallery at Calabar in Harlem focused on contemporary African Artists and African Diaspora artists globally whose work is inspired and influenced by black and global African culture globally investigating dynamic ideas about art, culture and society.

About Mak Gallery

MAK GALLERY is a creative initiative with global reach, has an ambitious goal: to provide an alternative platform for the presentation of socially-engaging art. We seek to unearth and highlight identity politics within contemporary art, introducing the potential of emerging and evolving art scenes. We aim to foster a close collaboration between artists, curators, and cultural institutions in the UK and abroad. In Venice, the Gallery uses space at Calle Regina, 2261, 30135 Venezia VE, Italy. This is the 12th year in business. Visit the gallery at www.makgallery.com


RSVP: info@calabargallery.com

by Atim Annette Oton, curator, Calabar Gallery

OPENS June 22 to July 15, 2018
281 N. 7th Street,
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Ground Game is a group exhibition of emerging and established artists from the African Diaspora creating and capturing ordinary, poetic and significant athletic moments in sports through the mediums of photography, mixed media, painting and sculpture.

From soccer to basketball, this exhibition reveals complexities of art, sports, fun, community and society. It delves into the imagination and innovation of artists like Anthony “Bunmi” Akinbola unconventional use of garri (yellow fermented cassava grain) to cover a pair of sneakers and a basketball; covers the storytelling of photographers Hakeem Adam and Laylah Amatullah Barrayn’s striking shots of children playing soccer in Accra, Saint Denis and Dakar with the imaginative mind of Paul Deo’s psychedelic collages and mix media pieces.

Artists: Paul Deo (@pauldeo), Laylah Amatullah Barrayn (@laylahb), Anthony “Bunmi” Akinbola (@heyitsbunmi) and Hakeem Adam

Work by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

#okayspacegallery #groundgame #ghanaartist #africanamericanartists #africanart #africanamericanart #artexhibition #sportsart #soccerart #basketballart #artgallery #okayafrica #pauldeo #atimannetteoton #laylahamattulahbarrayn #okayafrica #anthonybunmiakinbola #hakeemadam #worldcupexhibition #worldcupart #atimannetteoton

African Art, Curation, Exhibitions, Art Fairs, the evolving Gallery, Bitcoins, and what’s next the Market?

The last several years has changed the art world in ways that are necessary, ways that make it apparent that there is a paradigm shift taking hold and in ways that heighten the need for a more sustainable change.

Art is and has been a commodity. For African art, it has shifted in the last 20 years from sculpture, masks and objects to contemporary art as collectibles. The shift from the west to Africa as the place to buy art is reminiscent of that shift to China or Korea. Nothing new here but it is imperative for that the continent make more of what is happening so when the interest leaves its artists to the next frontier that there are some foundations established and built: infrastructure, policies, strategies and most important, a competent and competitive sustainable art market.

In some ways, African governments and the private sector need to come to an understanding and proactive collaboration to create a model for measured and scalable growth, equity sharing and a future sustainable market. Yes, African governments can be problematic but the future can not be imagined or created without them and if we keep seeing failed governments as the only way Africa functions, then the governments of Rwanda or Tanzania are not possible.

Artists need to come up with standards and modes of operation beyond that of the poverty model of starvation or the “big man” richy rich models or the “IT” artist of the moment annoited by some local or foreign curator, gallery or collector. These models are stale, extreme and create an unrealistic perspective of the art world.

The curation and exhibition of African artwork seems to be at a peak level but this curatorial process seems to only apply to a select group of chosen curators and a select group of African Artists and countries. With a continent of almost a billion people with such diversity, it is often pegged through the artwork choices af nd selections as the “South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana” African art shows with complete exclusion of the rest of Africa. Or the other narrative is franco-phone and/or anglophone artists. Where is Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Mali or Rwanda or even Liberia?

At the Art Fairs,a similar level of exclusiveness prevails, African artists are moving into “mainstream” shows where underrepresented small and “unnamed” galleries who nurtured and grew some of these artists prior to their “discovery” are not exhibiting because the extreme fees, costs and selection processes that eliminate the galleries. The creation of African Art Fairs on the continent has also grown yet the model is still the same. One questions why the continent has not redefined or re-adapted, or quite frankly, created its own model, a new voice of dynamism rather than follow the western model. Just imagine what that would be!

Today’s art market has brought more observers than real buyers. Artists and galleries are trying to find their way as the art fairs, pop-up shows and social media have transformed the market giving buyers direct access but one thing has not changed, buyers now are only looking for “cache” artists, like brand name products. There still is a lack of imagination, daring and risk taking to carve out new ways of collecting or new ways of exploring outside the “follow” mode defined by a select group.

The search for more art buyers and collectors is moving towards Bitcoins. Like the internet when it began, this untapped space will be both risky and rewarding to the pioneers who get there, but it is imperative that it has structure so that it does not repeat some of the same art market issues.

What’s next? A daring focus on building collections of newcomers and unseen work. This is a huge challenge, if taken on, it would bring a new dynamism to the art market.

Cooperative Economics makes sense and your business will grow

This year, much more, I noticed that there are many women are talking to me about their plans, goals and dreams that they have put on hold, gotten stuck or have no money to continue and it is primarily sole proprietors who are woman of color. When I ask really personal questions about the pause, the overall response has been clear, not having the finances and being unable make money.

One thing I have learned as someone who started a business with a partner, it really takes 2-3 people to effectively run a sustainable business. The sole proprietor role is over rated because it is usually one person doing everything. And for a business, doing the lone soldier path exhausts a person in about three years time.

Finances go even further with two people investing both in time and money than one person. I have lasted more than12 years that way so when I have had to redefine or change some things in the business like recoving from a fire, adding more merchandise and adding more locations, it has taken two of us to do it. 

Today, I begin yet again to nlog about a plan for Cooperative Economics as a goal for some of these sole entrepreneurs and I am advocating that some of the women who keep talking to me explore creating informal partnerships that may help shift things in their processes and businesses. 


Sjaring Economies ate vital in the making sector. For instance, 3 knitters who are sole proprietors band together to share space, buy merchandise and do events together can get further with their businesses. I remember saying this years ago as it will save costs. Today, it is even more an imperative in order to prosper in business.

How will work? First, explore a space or studio to work and rent it as a shared space, thus each person pays just 1/3 the costs. Even bolder, if one person has an extra room, convert it to a workspace for all three people use and create a share cost price based on the one room not the whole apartment – percentage cost of the apartment, thus money is recycled in the share not outside. This concept is harder to achieve but it is the one that will save the trio the most cost.


After you have set up your business, the one rule that most people I have noticed do not understand is simple: you are in business to make money. It’s like this concept is a crime to most women. It astonishes me because I was taught that business is about money making, not just about passion, talent and ownership. 

The next concept that keeps escaping most people is that you should spend money after you have made it from the business and not spend if the business is not making money. For example, a jewelry maker who has bought all her tools and equipment for at least 100 pieces costing $500, so a profit of about $4500 minus time to produce each piece.

The first part of the batch goes ahead to make jewelry of 30 necklace sets for sale at $50; then, thevmaker pays $200 as a vendor for a market and sells 10 sets – $500 worth, an assumed profit of $300.

What I see usually is this maker goes ahead and uses the $300 to buy more jewelry parts. Why? The maker still has parts left to make more pieces.

This maker should bank the funds for use for another market and save a portion instead of buying more jewelry parts after all she still has 20 unsold sets left and another 70 to assemble. 


So often, I see people begin and only market either online or offline. Marketing is about both. I often give out flyers and postcards at markets that I am not doing or in laundry mats and places where people gather or sit to wait. I am on the daily social media grind plus I do conservatively do ads when certain events happen.

Each place I target to market is part of a holistic strategy to gaining more customers, introducing my company to new people, thus awareness, and expanding my reach. I work with what produces results for a return on value. I generally do no follow the herd and actually buck the trend to explore new ways and things happening. 

And finally, doing marketing alone is essentially working harder. Collaboration in marketing would make the costs less. Why do you try it this fall?

Stuck in a Business Rut? It’s Time to Act: Change it.

So often this summer, I have run into working through this same entrepreneurs needing to talk about what makes me keep at it and ask if I ever get stuck. Like almost every business person, I have and do get stuck but I over time and over life learnt how get unstuck from this unspoken business phenomenon. I do so by take a step back to ask myself these 5 key questions:

Does my business have a compelling enough vision?

A compelling vision will make you get out of bed and be excited about what you are doing. My vision has evolved over time like my goals and objectives in over 12 years but at core it still revolves doing what I do best and in an interesting way. 

My compelling vision is to provide unique products for my customers at moderate prices. If I get stuck doing this, I sit back, look at why I can’t do it  and explore all avenues of how I can achieve it. It may force me to change how I get products, where I can find products and more importantly, take the necessary steps to change what I am doing.

Do your our habits help or hinder you?

My business habits determine my outcomes: positive or negative. So, in order to create change, I focus on replacing some of my habits with ones that help me to achieve my vision.

One big change I made this year was to say no to doing any festivals. I stopped doing them to make the time to build my business for sustainability and to be ready and focused for the turbulent business periods ahead. In understanding that the next couple of years would see more changes in retail, I have taken necessary steps to develop strategies to weather the coming storms.

Breaking a habit that isn’t serving your vision and replacing with one that will move your forward enables you work more effectively. It allows you to transform your life.

Are you focused on value in your business?

The real secret to my business is giving my customers value, thus they become repeat  customers and that is a retailer’s bliss. I spent time tweaking and developing strategies through my product selection and creating greater opportunities for my customers to get what they want so I can be a value. One way was to add an additional day in my Harlem location for my customers to shop. 

Do you focus on your weaknesses or strengths?

I know my strenghs and weakness well. I work on both but really do focus mostly on my strengths and even more so, the strengths of my business.  

About two years ago, I sat back and assess what I was most successful doing and almost six years ago after a fire in my business, I really outlined what the business was successful at doing. One thing was clear, as a business, we made people feel special about the things they bought from us. Each of our customers spoke to us about what they loved or bought from us. So, in reopening the business, this was a key goal to achieve and it was imperative to bring this value to the store. 

The mission is simple: master the things you do really well, the things that bring you joy, the things that create value for you and for others and growth will flourish.

 Do you fill up your business time?

Some days, I do nothing but just think, sketch or stare outside or go for short walks at work. I have learned to do this as a business person to be more effective. These “therapy” breaks are about replenishment for my mind, body and soul.

The last two years, I made it a priority to plan my weekly time off first. I make sure I have time to work on my vision and time to recharge my energy. I take Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. These are my days of renewal. I do it because I deserve it.

Each of these five questions have enabled me get out of my rut and when I feel another unstuck period coming up, I actively practice these strategies to regroup and reground me. Business and life is demanding but it is essential that both do not bury you. 

Some Business Lessons as Reminders as Summer Ends Again 

I have been off this blogging space, mostly working and living but like a singer, I miss the rhythm and rhyme of creating so I am back blogging again to start the fall. As summer ends again, I begin reflecting on the changes and some lessons of business and life. Five things come to mind as I have talked with budding entrepreneurs this summer.

Gut Instinct

One of the best lessons I have learned in my almost 13 years of doing business in retail is so basic: listen to myself. Right? I listen without question to my gut instincts all the time. And the best tine to do this is when things are slow. I usually take time off to listen to my gut. Your instinct can tell you more about a business idea, plan or direction most times. Take advantage of it.

Revamping is not Optional

This year, yet again, I have been doing what good business folks do, revamping my business to respond to changing times. This revamping is critical to the stability, growth and expansion of my business for the future. Some of it has been to step back and redefine what we as a business does and to allow what works well to flourish while removing things that hinder the business. It’s not easy to do so as we typically hold on to things we create too long.

Revamping has made me more clear about what I value and what I don’t and with an eye to the success of the business, it lets me clean house. The fall looks even more promising and it will blossom more with a few more risks. Have you done your revamping yet?

Some People have the Business Instinct and some people don’t 

This summer, I spent time working with a variety of entrepreneurs and discovered even more that business instinct comes in handy but it really does show up in about 2 out of 10 people. Simply, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, start or run a business. Truly, some many people should just work for others. 

It is often very interesting to meet the 2 entrepreneurs who have business instincts because you will have a kinship with them. It is humbling and bothersome to meet the other 8 because you remember that it takes all kinds to make a business work and sometimes there are just the followers or hands needed for a business. Which one are you? It’s time to pick a side and be who you really are.

Competition breeds Growth

Over the summer, several folks have reminded me that they are attempting to compete with me by their unusual abd adverse behaviors. And I hardly noticed it until a friend mentioned it. The irony is that I basically compete against myself, and not anyone; it was something I was taught very early as a child. Simply, I was taught to improve my skills by beating myself on the work I had done previously.

My staff reacts to competition from others and I have had to refocus them to center themselves and reorient them to understand that outside forces can be distracting as it pulls them from core and focus of what we do. I simply say what we do cannot be taken, borrowed or destroyed by anyone but ourselves. 

That’s a hard lesson to pass on but I have never been paranoid or competed against anyone but myself. Simply, I am my best or worst person to myself so coming up against me does not really do much for others because my focus is on target with my goals. Staying focus keeps my energy in check.

Be Open and Share

The last lesson of the summer has been the hardest for most people to grasp. Some of us are closed, guarded and fearful. I believe whatever will happen will be but more will happen if you are open and share what you have and do. 

Life is a gift and you have limited time here so it’s best to give and share to folks who are seeking information or knowledge. It’s up to them to act on the information and quite frankly, information is free and easily accessible, so why hoard it?

Summer ends with a bang and I am looking foward to fall with the same energy. Next time, I will share some more lessons on business decision making.  

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