Above: Dolls found at Long Beach’s Shades of Afrika store and community hub. All photos by Crystal Niebla.
First, a little background information on Shades of Afrika…
My mentor emailed me about the Afrikan Restoration Project of Long Beach workshops. I had no idea what happens during the set time but I knew I wanted to check it out. So, I decided to write an informative article about it because I felt that people who are looking for safe havens, like myself, should check it out. A few weeks later, I called Ms. Renée Quarles, the store owner, to let her know that I wanted to do an article on the Afrikan Restoration Project and I wanted to attend the meeting. I was a little nervous about her response, but Ms. Renée said anyone could come and that she would “welcome me with open arms.” And on that Thursday, that is exactly what she did when I arrived. As soon as I walked in, Ms. Renée welcomed me graciously. I felt as if I’ve met her before. The store has a pungent incense aroma. Soon after, two girls around my age walked in and started setting chairs for the Afrikan Restoration Project meeting. Below is a Q&A I did after with project founder Ms. Renée via email.
So what is the Afrikan Restoration Project?
The Afrikan Restoration Project is a project that intends to reach our youth by respecting the stories of our elder’s, allowing the past to teach our youth, designed to be the place where those of every age can come in and join in on the topics of the day, through book studies, lectures, current and historical events, documentaries, and special guests.
Who is welcomed? Is there are a membership?
All ages, with or without degrees, all genders, and especially our youth. There’s no membership required; it survives on a donation basket.
What topics are discussed in the meeting?
Topics vary, please visit http:www.shadesofafrika.com to explore our past history of events.
How is this organization benefiting the people of Long Beach?
The City of Long Beach has been a struggle in itself. I began our business in the Art District of Downtown Long Beach, and like most places we find ourselves as a people, The City came to tell us to get out of that location. Shades of Afrika was the only Afrikan-American art presence in their art district. Having to get out and with no intention of leasing anything from its previous developers, God provided us with a building that I could buy and continue our services to the community, just two blocks east of their precious art district. The City of Long Beach to this day does not have an Afrikan-American presence in its art district. We are taking baby steps to take another building and this one will be in their treasured art district, raising our flags once again onto what will be called Wa-Qanda Station, an eatery of feed-me healthy snackables, vegan soul food and will raise our flags once again. Ashe (a term comparable to “Amen”).
Where do you see this organization in 5 years?
I’m preparing The Afrikan Restoration Project, Long Beach to receive the Shades of Afrika Corporation as it will have the board members in place to continue the services and commitment to our community if anything should happen to me. It will govern the properties and all other assets and continue the success which we have come to know.
Are there any upcoming events hosted by this organization?
Sunday Morning Meditation & Yoga, The Griot Cafe, Open Mic Saturday Night and the Afrikan Restoration Project are all hosted by Shades of Afrika.
What does this group incorporate that other groups don’t have (cultural awareness wise)?
We are the culture we seek, having a place where your thoughts, issues and voice count. We have the determination and the dedication to continue our services. Our gift shop and art gallery provides us with the economy to continue our commitment to our community.
If there were three words you could use to describe this organization, what would they be?
Restorative, evolving and informative.
What are some common feelings inside these meetings as topics are being discussed?
They are usually supportive in these topics but I guess you would say they are mixed when it comes to the opinions and the thoughts of those that attend.
What experiences can you share with the people who want to join?
Come on in, the vibe is good.
Lastly, what is your purpose?
I dedicated my life to Shades of Afrika. It started out just saving my life from the humdrum life on a fixed hourly wage to now saving the world as we find that business liberates us in a way no job can.
Shades of Afrika is located at 1001 East 4th Street in Long Beach. The Afrikan Restoration Project takes place at the story every Thursday at 7 p.m. Contact 562-436-2210 for more information. You can follow them via Facebook @ShadesOfAfrika or www.shadesofafrika.com.
Note: This Q&A was lightly edited for clarity.