“We don’t make culture, we are culture”: In downtown São Paulo, Afropolitan Station is the network turning black culture into money for black people 

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From left to right: Yan Ragede, Hasani Damazio, Bruno Brigida and Valmir Nascimento

Note from BW of Brazil: The ideology that is known as Pan-Africanism is slowly attracting followers in Brazil. It is but one of several significant changes of thought happening among a parcel of the black population that is awakening from years of a slow genocide that disguises itself behind integrationist/pro-miscegenation ideals. A few of the ideas that are gaining popularity among a percentage of those black Brazilians that consider themselves to be ‘conscious’ are ‘black money‘, ‘black love‘ and a connection with other descendants of enslaved Africans in the Diaspora. 

Of course, as I have previously stated, without the basic consciousness of the masses, these ideas can never truly go anywhere, but on the other hand, the journey of 1,000 miles must begin with the first step. And nowadays, with the advent of the internet, it’s much easier to spread ideas and expand the process of re-education. Just the fact that names such as Mansa Musa and Marcus Garvey are inspiring a people to understand the possibilities are worth a few steps in themselves.

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Marcus Garvey event, left, with video of Garvery speech subtitled in Portuguese on YouTube

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Garvey’s name and ideas are being more frequently discussed within Afro-Brazilian circles, with his books and speeches being translated into Portuguese. Just two days ago, August 16th, was the 132nd anniversary of Garvey’s birth in Saint Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. Although his physical presence ended nearly nearly 80 years, the ideas of the black nationalist and Pan-Africanist live on the spirit of those who continue to turn to his ideas after perhaps seeing the shortcomings of integrationalist strategies. And why not? Even the most iconic symbol of integration, Martin Luther King, Jr. himself, questioned if the integrationist route that he believed in was perhaps a mistake. 

But that was over 50 years ago. 2019 is a new day and with the ideas and creativity of four black men active in the city of São Paulo, we may just be experiencing a turning point in Brazil where black culture and black money may lead to new calls for a true black power. 

Afropolitan Station
Afropolitan Station in downtown São Paulo

The startup network that wants to turn black culture into money for black people 

Mansa Musa became known worldwide as the “richest man in history”. But the governor of the Mali Empire in West Africa during the fourteenth century did not deserve such a title just for his amount of gold. Musa believed in the importance of attributing to commerce purposes greater than the buying and selling relationship. His fortune funded the creation of large universities that taught theology, philosophy, history, law, and medicine. Under his command, Mali became an urbanized civilization, with monumental architecture and markets connected to other nations. The richest African who ever walked the earth invested in his people. He was, as it were, a born entrepreneur.

Six thousand kilometers from Mali, Rego Freitas Street in downtown São Paulo houses a universe of many others called Afropolitan Station. There’s clothing, accessories, cosmetics, artwork, gastronomy, unique pieces, all done by Afro-entrepreneurs who have their own business and the collective mission of including history, identity and creativity in their products – as well as cultural immersion with every purchase. The goal of the startup inaugurated in 2018 is to be a collaborative environment where innovative connections take place. In this Afropolitan space, Hasani Damazio keeps the legacy of Mansa Musa alive.

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Portrait of Mansa Muça (Mansa Musa), emperor of Mali

“I was born into a black family. Black mother and black father, militants of the Movimento Negro (Black Movement),” says the Afro-Brazilian international relations expert who travels the world providing consultancy and investing in disruptive ideas. “I moved early and lived until I was 14 in Catalonia. There, I learned who I was, where I came from. I was proud of it, but I also assimilated the culture of others without any shame. I am a transculturalist, a person who transcends his original culture and can live with other people’s cultures,” he explains. It was thanks to the multiplicity of perspectives that Hasani fostered meetings that changed his and many other stories.

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“We don’t make culture, we are culture,” says investor Hasani Damazio about his network of Afro-entrepreneurs

Afro-entrepreneurs

A study commissioned by the Instituto Feira Preta, supported by Itaú and conducted by the Instituto Locomotiva, revealed that black Brazilians move BRL 1.7 trillion (reais) a year in their own income. Of the working blacks, 29% have their own businesses and move around BRL 359 billion (reais) per year. Hasani united around them three of them.

“I realized that my carteira assinada (official work contract) jobs didn’t make sense, I felt empty because it didn’t impact others,” says Yan Ragede, Afro-entrepreneur and co-founder of Afropolitan Station, whose father, a black businessman, advised him not to take the same path as his. But the desire for independence spoke louder, like an ancestral calling. He went into retail in 2011, sold imported clothes on the internet and studied history when he came across socio-racial and socioeconomic data that awakened him to the condition of black people in Brazil. “From that moment on, I decided to dedicate my life to fighting racism,” he says.

The path chosen was inspired by a key historical figure for the struggle of the African people in the twentieth century: Marcus Mosiah Garvey, businessman, entrepreneur and communicator. Garvey was born in 1887, Jamaica, and during his years of life combined activism and entrepreneurship as ways of liberating and restoring the self-determination of the African people in the world. His campaign for the economic development of the black people has resulted in major creations such as the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), The Negro World newspaper and the “Black Star Line” shipping company.

The next step for Yan was to find black men from his city, Salvador, who produced clothes. In 2016, came the first project that brought together empreendedores negros (black entrepreneurs) in one space, an “Afro-collaborative shop”. In 2018, the meeting with Hasani made Yan realize that he was not the only one in this movement. Soon after Afropolitan Station was born with the challenge of “bringing not only the story that’s in the piece, but the story behind it: that of these people.”

Another entrepreneur saw in the connections between black producers and consumers the gap to designing the Clube da Preta (Black Club), the first Afro fashion club by subscription. The administrator and journalist Bruno Brigida used his black networking to make the project that, in 2018, would fall into Hasani’s hands. Bruno explains that “I wanted to understand the process of being a small black designer inside the country”, so, talking to some friends, he realized that sending something of a surprise to the most varied audiences could work. Today, the club’s more than 450 active subscribers receive boxes of varied fashion products created by Afro-entrepreneurs from periphery regions. “Afro-entrepreneurship comes to be the main path towards more black people with financial and economic power,” he says.

Valmir Nascimento was another who crossed paths with the investor in search of projects that would make viable the common purpose of creating a value and wealth chain for the povo preto (black people). “He told me that he wanted to build an ecosystem to support Afro-entrepreneurs through e-commerce,” says Afro.Estate’s chief technology officer today, an angel investment fund led by Hasani. Initially involved with music and content for social networks, Valmir studied Systems Analysis and last year set out to develop the ecosystem expansion project. “Technology allows us to change the market, change the perspective of a group, change the way a tribe communicates,” he reflects. “We have a creative essence that comes from millennia, from Egypt.”

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Afro.Estate’s Valmir Nascimento (left) and Afropolitan Station’s Yan Ragede unite black producers and consumers

From Dalí to Malcolm X

One of the last – and perhaps most striking – memories of Hasani’s childhood in Catalonia was a surreal encounter. “We lived in Figueras, where the painter Salvador Dalí was born and lived. Imagine a relatively small town, where a black lady with two children arrives, the only black people in the place. It didn’t take long for him to want to know who those two little black kids were walking up and down (the street),” he says. The Catalan artist’s curiosity yielded an unusual friendship with his brothers – from which only many years later would he understand the dimension.

As an adult, after a quick return to Brazil due to the health of his father, a sociologist and anthropologist, Hasani moved to the United States in the early 2000s. There, he was the first Afro-Brazilian to be accepted into the American Chamber of Commerce’s Young Executives program. He studied International Relations at New York University while working as a waiter’s assistant. It was a documentary, Startup.com, that motivated him to write his first business plan.

“I showed [the business plan] to a black professor. He organized about 20 meetings, they were all with me,” he recalls. Under his guidance, the young black man first heard a “yes” accompanied by a half-million-dollar investment. “I got a call to open a bank account. I responded that I would only open at the first black bank in Harlem,” he says. That’s what he did. The chosen agency, interestingly enough, was at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

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For Bruno Brigida, of Clube da Preta, the meeting with Hasani made him realize that he was not alone

Far beyond the stage

Returning to Brazil in 2010, Hasani became Head of the International Office of the Ministry of Tourism, which allowed him to meet African ambassadors and create a network of contacts on the mainland. Since then, he has traveled to more than 20 countries working for companies and governments and connecting African entrepreneurs. Today at 40 and established here, the businessman runs Afro.Estate, the network where Afropolitan Station and the Clube da Preta live, as well as other projects and startups such as Afropolitan Wallet, which will have its own digital currency, and AWO, a cloud service, big data, and artificial intelligence.

The goal, in numbers, is to channel 100 million reais in investments to 100 disruptive startups, resulting in a total portfolio of BRL 1 billion (reais). Consequently, create 10,000 technology-related jobs in the next 10 years. How does he see Afro.Estate? “We don’t make culture, we are culture.”

Avoiding confining himself to lectures and phrases, Hasani believes that care must be taken not to become a “stage entrepreneur.” If the purpose is to grow wealth among black people, there is no time to be invested in fallacies. “An entrepreneur is one who observes the society in which he is inserted, identifies a problem and proposes to solve it with products and services. That is the definition. If he is not solving problems, he’s running away from his purpose. There is no reason to exist,” he defines.

Mansa Musa and so many other historical Africans have proven over the centuries that a cosmopolitan Africa can break down geographical barriers imposed by the Trans-Atlantic trade of its enslaved ancestors and indeed unite an entire people in the Diaspora. A recurring word between Hasani and the other Afro-entrepreneurs, sons of this diaspora, is “purpose.” But there is another that complements its meaning and is also known to everyone. “It’s one of the words of my life,” reveals the transculturalist. “What am I going to leave here? Legacy.”

With information from Sixth Sense

About Marques Travae 3170 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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