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DC Area Students Open For ‘Hamilton’

AFRO — When Anacostia High School students Kelli Johnson and Brenda McKinney took the stage at the Kennedy Center to rap about the Boston Tea Party prior to watching “Hamilton,” McKinney called on the audience of more than 2,000 teens to help the duo overcome stage fright.

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Dontrell Parson of Phelps ACE High School was one of the students chosen to perform at the Kennedy Center after completing his coursework and creative component of the ‘Hamilton’ curriculum offered in high schools in 14 cities around the country. (Courtesy Photo)
By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO

When Anacostia High School students Kelli Johnson and Brenda McKinney took the stage at the Kennedy Center to rap about the Boston Tea Party prior to watching “Hamilton,” McKinney called on the audience of more than 2,000 teens to help the duo overcome stage fright.

“The first thing I did on stage was say ‘Anacostia, ya’ll get lit,’ McKinney told the AFRO. “I said, ‘Please ya’ll’ and they helped me.”

McKinney and Johnson, both 16, were two of 4,300 high-school students from around the region who descended on the Kennedy Center September 12 and 13 to watch the widely acclaimed musical which details the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, America’s first treasurer.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, “Hamilton” producers and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and his family collaborated to create a curriculum, which required the kids to study the Founding Era, pick a person or event to research, create an original performance based on the person or event and perform it at school.

If the students successfully completed the program, they got to see “Hamilton,” a Tony-Award winning musical that has a diverse, youthful cast featuring many Blacks and Hispanics in prominent roles, and to meet the cast. In the five years since the program launched, it has reached 250,000 students in 14 cities around the United States, said Jim Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

“The point is for the kids to take ownership of the Founding Era, of the people they care about, the events, put them in their own words, their own music idiom and put them out there, put their voice into the mix,” Basker told the AFRO. “So, we hope this carries over into a whole appreciation for caring about the Founding Era, [and] the issues it raises which are very much of our time — immigration [and] why one vote matters.”

The best of the best performed their works at the Kennedy Center before an audience of their teachers, peers and others.

Dontrell Parson, 17, of Phelps ACE High School performed a poetry slam about Richard Allen, a former slave and Black activist who founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“He’s so underground, no one really knows about him,” Parson said. “He hid slaves underground in the church basement and was a leader of … the first mutual aid society for newly freed Blacks. It just put me onto this mindset of like, ‘What I can do?,’ so that’s why I chose him.”

The musical sucked the kids in from the first notes. They hung on actors’ every word and started singing along to the music before realizing they weren’t supposed to. They erupted into loud cheers when Alexander Hamilton introduced himself, couldn’t stop laughing when King George III told the revolutionaries they’d be back, picked sides during Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson’s debates and expressed shock and sorrow when two prominent figures were killed in duels.

All told, the program cost $345,000, money that was secured from Google.org and philanthropists Sophie Lynn and David Frederick, according to Susan Zuckerman, director of development for Gilder Lehrman Institute & Hamilton Education Program.

That brought the cost down to $10 per student — tickets were well over $100 during the musical’s D.C. run.

But $10 was still too much money for 856 students, according to Stephanie Lilley, a local education consultant. So, she convinced Walmart to not only underwrite the $10 but also to provide lunches and transportation for all of the students.

“They’re not staying home over $10,” Lilley said. “They’re just not.”

This article originally appeared in the AFRO

Special to the AFRO

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Afro

Family Awarded $1.1M By Baltimore County

THE AFRO — The controversial death of Baltimore County resident Tawon Boyd in police custody has led to a $1.1 million settlement for the family. The deal comes after a contentious battle in federal court during which county officials argued Boyd’s death was an accident. 

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Baltimore County Police were summoned to the home of 21-year-old Tawon Boyd in Sept. 2016, because he was in mental and emotional distress. After being severely beaten by police, four days later he was dead. (AFRO Photo)
Baltimore County Police were summoned to the home of 21-year-old Tawon Boyd in Sept. 2016, because he was in mental and emotional distress. After being severely beaten by police, four days later he was dead. (AFRO Photo)
By Stephen Janis

The controversial death of Baltimore County resident Tawon Boyd in police custody has led to a $1.1 million settlement for the family.

The deal comes after a contentious battle in federal court during which county officials argued Boyd’s death was an accident.

But, A Dwight Pettit, who represents Boyd’s family, countered with expert testimony that said Boyd’s death was the result of positional asphyxiation and a brutal beatdown by police.

“We were satisfied, the family is satisfied,” Pettit told the AFRO. “We knew there would be a very conservative jury in federal court.”

The incident raises more questions about the procedures for investigating police custody deaths; including a series of rulings that classified the death of African-American men who died during police encounters accidents, but outside experts has argued were due to excessive force.

Boyd’s ordeal began when he called police on Sept. 18th, 2016 to his Middle River home seeking assistance for a possible intruder.

When police arrived Boyd first tried to get into a parked car, and then ran to a neighbor’s house across the street, according to court documents. It was at that point Boyd’s fiancé said police began trying to restrain him, which devolved into an unnecessary beatdown.

“Defendants Garland, Seckens and Bowman punch and kick Mr. Boyd in his head, face and all over his body while he is on the ground. Mr. Boyd does not strike any officer back or attempt to strike any officer back, but moves his arms as best as he could in a protective position to cover his body from the attack he is receiving,” court filings alleged.

The lawsuit also contends a Baltimore County EMT unnecessarily administered Haloperidol (Haldol) a muscle relaxant and treatment for schizophrenia to Boyd during his encounter with police. The filings alleged the drug caused cardiac arrest.

Three days after Boyd was hospitalized he was taken off life support due multiple organ failure and swelling of the brain.

The Maryland State Medical Examiner ruled Boyd’s death an accident. “It is unlikely that restraint by law enforcement caused or significantly contributed to his death based on the reported circumstances and timeline of the restraint,” The Baltimore Sun reported. The Sun also reported that use of a drug called N-Ethylpentylone, or “bath salts,” also contributed to his death.

However, outside pathologists hired by the plaintiff said during depositions that Boyd died as result of the beating and positional asphyxiation, a condition that arises when excessive weight is placed upon on a person lying on the ground.

The settlement came after federal judge Ellen Hollendar allowed the lawsuit to proceed to trial against the officers on counts of excessive force and unlawful death. The county had argued that the officer’s response was reasonable and that the officers were not responsible for Boyd’s death.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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D.C. Health Warns Against Disease

THE AFRO — The District of Columbia Health Department is warning residents against an increase in an intestinal illness, called Cyclosporiasis, after 14 people have been diagnosed in 2019 compared to 8 total in 2018. The Food and Drug Administration is urging residents against buying, eating, or serving fresh basil products exported by Siga Logistics de RL de CV located in Morelos, Mexico where they believe the contamination is originating. 

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The District of Columbia Health Department is warning residents to watch where one buys basil due to cyclosporiasis, an intestinal illness. (Courtesy Photo)
The District of Columbia Health Department is warning residents to watch where one buys basil due to cyclosporiasis, an intestinal illness. (Courtesy Photo)
By Tyra Wilkes

The District of Columbia Health Department is warning residents against an increase in an intestinal illness, called Cyclosporiasis, after 14 people have been diagnosed in 2019 compared to 8 total in 2018. The Food and Drug Administration is urging residents against buying, eating, or serving fresh basil products exported by Siga Logistics de RL de CV located in Morelos, Mexico where they believe the contamination is originating.

While doing your best to avoid purchase or consumption of basil, D.C. Health Department is also advising local businesses to refrain from selling, serving, or distributing fresh basil exported from this or other unknown providers.

For prevention inside your own home, be sure to wash hands thoroughly before handling any fruits and vegetables, wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating. In addition store fruits and vegetables away from raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and refrigerate cut, peeled, or cooked fruits and vegetables as soon as possible or within 2 hours; amongst all other food preparation procedures.

If infected, Cyclosporiasis  symptoms start about one week after consumption and can last a few days to a month. The infection causes watery diarrhea with frequent, sometimes explosive bowel movements.

Other symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, or fatigue; you may also experience flu-like symptoms like headaches, body aches and fever.

If you experience any of these symptoms see your healthcare provider immediately.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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Afro

Organization Sparks ‘Year of Return’

THE AFRO — With 2019 marking the 400 year anniversary of the first recorded slave ships docking on Western Shores, The United States Congress recently put into motion, {H.R. 1242}, a bill also known as “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act.” This initiative is an umbrella for a number of different projects, but more specifically, as it states in Section 3 of it’s doctrine, “This bill establishes the 400 Years of African-American History Commission to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.” 

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The Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio, under the leadership of Diallo Sumbry, helped spark the “Year of Return,” which encourages African Americans to visit Ghana as 2019 marks the 400 year anniversary of the first recorded slave ships docking in the United States. (Courtesy Photo)
The Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio, under the leadership of Diallo Sumbry, helped spark the “Year of Return,” which encourages African Americans to visit Ghana as 2019 marks the 400 year anniversary of the first recorded slave ships docking in the United States. (Courtesy Photo)

By Nyame-kye Kondo

With 2019 marking the 400 year anniversary of the first recorded slave ships docking on Western Shores, The United States Congress recently put into motion, {H.R. 1242}, a bill also known as “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act.” This initiative is an umbrella for a number of different projects, but more specifically, as it states in Section 3 of it’s doctrine, “This bill establishes the 400 Years of African-American History Commission to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.”

Funded through donations and steered by a committee of volunteers, the Bill sets precedence on honoring the Black Experience in America, while also being open to international collaboration.

The bill is ” to look at the ways we can confront our history and ensure that the contributions of African Americans to society are never forgotten,” according to  Wade Robinson of Civilrights.org.

The passing of {H.R. 1242} was the incentive that D.M.V based entrepreneur Diallo Sumbry, needed to further expand his business, fulfill his purpose, and to help diasporans build a new relationship with Africa, specifically, Ghana.

The founder of Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio (ACAS) in Mount Rainier, Sumbry is at the helm of the “Year of Return” movement that has many African Americans heading to Ghana for pilgrimage, immersion and enjoyment. Leading a handful of tours to Ghana over the last five years, Sumbry recognizes that immersion is apart of the reacclimation process.

“I came to Ghana for the first time in 2013, and in a short span of time I have been able to build an exchange between Ghana and America that is steeped not only in arts and culture, but the African Americans reclamation of the continent as a whole,” Sumbry said.  “It is my hope that this movement will help to reconnect not only those displaced as a result of slavery, but the African Diaspora in general.”

Having more than a decade of experience in arts managing, directing, and facilitating, Sumbry has been a, “key figure in the planning and development of the year-long calendar of activities in celebration of the resilience of the African spirit,” reports {Business Ghana}.

Recently named the first African-American ambassador of Tourism by former Minister of Tourism and Culture, the Honorable Catherine Afeku, this year marks the third year that Sumbry will be facilitating his own tours. With the first tour featuring GoGo legends, Backyard Band, and the 2019 edition featuring singers Raheem Devaughn and Wes Ellington Felton, the tours are amplified by the fact that they are open to the community as well. Much like the classes and cultural activities that ACAS provides for the D.M.V area, it should come as no surprise that the “Year of Return” grew out of a grassroots organization like ACAS.

Nestled in the heart of the Mount Rainier Arts district, ACAS offers a number of African Dance and drumming classes, fitness classes, intensives, workshops, various pop ups and a slew of resources for the community.  At the epicenter of a creative exchange with Ghana, ACAS also offers yearly tours to Ghana in the form of the “Back2Africa” movement. Partnering with a number of different entities to make tour happen, it was the Ghana Tourism Authority itself that officially proclaimed this as the “Year Of Return” on a global scale.

With ACAS establishing important relationships prior to the “Year of Return,” movement being fully established, the possibilities evolved when  the idea was brought to the Ghana Commission of Tourism and Culture, and after the president of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo gave his seal of approval, it took off.

“It all started with Birthright” said Sumbry, referring to an annual celebration of African dance and drumming that his organization produces each year. “It became more than an event, but a portal of discovery, and over time it evolved into the tours and a partnership with African Ancestry so that when everything lined up, we had a full package ready for the people.”

The passing of the {H.R. 1242} was a catalyst for a number of important exchanges and activities that have taken place or will take place throughout the year.  Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, went to Ghana last week. In addition, there is the “Jamestown-Jamestown Tour” which is focused on  the NAACP, and will travel from Jamestown, Virginia, to Jamestown,Ghana this August. Taking place on the actual date that the first ships carrying human cargo arrived, this tour like all of the tours that will happen this year, Is meant to honor those whose lives were irrevocably changed, and to welcome their descendants back to their continent of origin, forever changed but always connected.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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Youth Candle Business Expands to Macy’s

THE AFRO — When three of Celena Gill’s sons asked her to buy them a Nerf gun and more than $500 in video games, she told them to get a job or start a business.  She was only kidding. 

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Young entrepreneurs Ryan Gill, Collin Gill and Austin Gill with their candles. (Courtesy Photo)

By Lenore T. Adkins

When three of Celena Gill’s sons asked her to buy them a Nerf gun and more than $500 in video games, she told them to get a job or start a business.

She was only kidding.

But her sons, Collin, 14, Ryan, 11, and Austin, 8, they took her words to heart and launched Frères Branchiaux Candle Co. in October 2017 to make soy and vegetable wax candles, room sprays, diffusers, soaps and bath bombs out of the home they share with their parents in Prince George’s County.

Frères Branchiaux means “Gill Brothers” in French — Collin is already fluent in the language while his younger brothers are studying it.

“We wanted to do Gill Brothers Candle Company, but there’s Gill Brothers’ Trucking, Gill Brothers Air Support,” Ryan Gill explains.

In the 22 months since they started their company, the boys have sold more than 10,000 units — candles are their top-selling product and range between $18 and $36.

“It’s really all word of mouth,” Celena Gill told the AFRO. “Like, I rarely reach out to people.”

They’re already selling their products in more than 30 stores and they’re looking to expand.

Starting in November, their products will be sold on The Workshop at Macy’s alumni e-commerce site, confirms Katelyn Yannie, Macy’s manager of Northeast Relations.

And the brothers are raising $20,000 on gofundme.com to buy a truck that’ll serve as a mobile store for their business. This will make it easier for them to sell their wares at various events.

“It’s easier than a van and we … don’t have to pack the candle stuff in it,” Ryan Gill explained.

The truck would also double as a mobile training center where the boys could help coordinate job training for homeless trying to get back on their feet or as a hub for the brothers to pass on their entrepreneurial skills to various youth groups and schools.

As it is, they donate 10 percent of their profits to the homeless.

The boys settled on making candles not only because their mother loves burning in the house, but also because her research found candles are the most successful kiddie business, Celena Gill said.

They started out experimenting with candle making using formulas their mother brought back from a candle class that her friend and soror Danita Nikki Brooks, founder of Zen in a Jar, a home and body care line, ran. Then Celena Gill went to a pro candle maker workshop to learn more techniques that helped her boys learn little tweaks.

“Making candles is purely science,” Celena Gill said. “Everything matters, whether your candle cannot burn or (if) it’ll blow up. It’s a very deliberate product because you can burn someone’s house down.”

The boys made candles as a lesson in school — Celena Gill homeschools her younger sons and Collin Gill will soon begin his freshman year at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C.

After about two weeks, they were ready to start selling, Celena Gill said. The boys have made more than enough to buy all the things they wanted and then some.

They earned six figures for their work last year and are on pace to double that in 2019, their mother says.

At the time the boys launched their business, their mother was already selling inspirational T-shirts, mugs, lapel pins and pillows through her website, Celena Gill Design and she did pop-ups as well. Meanwhile, her husband, Patrick Gill sells personal care and beard products for men through his company, Black Oak Grooming.

“All of us do something,” she told the AFRO.

In those early days, the boys relied on their family members, as well as their parents’ friends, school and business contacts, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters.

Looking to the future, the boys plan to focus more on the retail end of their business and training other kids to become entrepreneurs.

“If they don’t want to do it, you can’t make them if the effort isn’t there,” Celena Gill said of kids thinking about opening their own business. “Some people love working nine to five and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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Afro

BSU and HU Alumni Earn DC HBCU Alliance Awards

THE AFRO — Two distinguished alumni from Bowie State and Howard University are among the six-member class who will be presented with HBCU Alumni Awards September 20 as the DC Metro HBCU Alumni Alliance holds its annual gala to honor outstanding contributions by local Historically Black College and University graduates.

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By Mark F. Gray

Two distinguished alumni from Bowie State and Howard University are among the six-member class who will be presented with HBCU Alumni Awards September 20 as the DC Metro HBCU Alumni Alliance holds its annual gala to honor outstanding contributions by local Historically Black College and University graduates.

Eunique Jones Gibson, a 2007 Bowie State University graduate, and Howard University alumnus Rosie Allen-Herring will be recognized during the ceremony at the 3rd Annual HBCU Alumni Black Tie Gala at the National Museum of Women in the Arts during the Congressional Black Caucus weekend.

Jones Gibson is described as a creative visionary, cultural architect, and social activist. She will be honored with the HBCU Alumni Media and Communications Award, which recognizes print and media professionals and journalists in radio, television, social media, and print publications.

Gibson has previously directed commercials featuring NBA all star Kevin Durant and R&B artist Jennifer Hudson. Her online advertising career began with Microsoft and she has worked with Nickelodeon and the Green Bay Packers as well.

Gibson has been noted for developing advertising and promotional campaigns that spark conversation. She has also used her talent to address timely and relevant issues impacting a variety of communities. After the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, Gibson created her first photo awareness campaign, “I AM Trayvon Martin,” which spread through news and social media inspired the public to use it’s voice to highlight social injustices and the need for change in their neighborhoods.

In February 2013, Gibson launched the award-winning, “Because of Them We Can” photo campaign in time for Black History Month.  The campaign featured photographs of children, leaders, activists, and celebrities. It has evolved into a platform for the next generation to honor the legacy of their ancestors.

Last year Jones Gibson, a Maryland native, launched the Dream Village in Hyattsville. Dream Village is a co-working space that hopes to build a supportive community in both physical and virtual spaces.  The Dream Village opened in February 2018.

Rosie Allen-Herring is President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Way of the National Capital Area and will be honored with the HBCU Alumni Community Involvement Award which recognizes outstanding engagement in community programming for citizens and/or youth, and selfless volunteerism.

She has been recognized as one of the most powerful business women in the District three times since 2011, when she earned Washington Business Journal’s “Women Who Mean Business Award”.  In 2013 Allen-Herring was named Washingtonian Magazine’s “Most Powerful Woman” and Washington Business Journal’s “Most Influential Business Leader”.

Allen-Herring holds leadership roles with several business and civic organizations including: the Greater Washington Board of Trade, District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, and Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital and Raise DC.

Raise DC is a partnership of more than 250 organizations   throughout the District and across public and private sectors working toward “cradle-to-career” goals in education and the workforce.   It’s programs are designed for all students to earn a postsecondary credential and for those who aren’t in school to receive the education and training that will prepare them for a sustainable career.

North Carolina A&T’s Iris Wagstaff earned the HBCU Alumni Education Award.  James McNeil, from Alabama State, the Founder, CEO and President of McNeil Technologies, Philandrophy, is being honored with Alumni Business Award. Former Senior Health Science Adviser to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Dr. William E. Bennett, from The Lincoln (PA) University class of 1950, will receive the HBCU Alumni Public Policy Award.   Leah M. Williams, Supply Chain Analyst from Delaware State earns the Young Alumni Award.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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Afro

Black Fatherhood Shines in New Animated FIim

THE AFRO — For the most part, Historically, stories about Black fathers in mainstream media often carry a misleading, yet pervasive tones of absenteeism, hyper masculinity, insensitivity, and irresponsibility, monolithic. But this week, the beauty of Black Fatherhood debuts. But this is narrative does not fairly represent the role of the Black fatherhood.

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The picture book “Hair Love” was released by Kokila Books/Penguin Random House releasing on May 14, 2019, and became a New York Times Bestseller. (Courtesy Photo)

By AFRO Staff

For the most part, Historically, stories about Black fathers in mainstream media often carry a misleading, yet pervasive tones of absenteeism, hyper masculinity, insensitivity, and irresponsibility, monolithic. But this week, the beauty of Black Fatherhood debuts. But this is narrative does not fairly represent the role of the Black fatherhood.

Hair Love is a heartfelt animated short film that centers around the relationship between an African-American father, his daughter Zuri, and the most daunting task a father could ever come across – doing his daughter’s hair. The short, a passion project from Matthew A. Cherry, will be making its theatrical debut in North America on Aug. 14.

Directed by Cherry (executive producer, “BlacKkKlansman”), Everett Downing Jr. (animator, “Up,” “WALL·E”), and Bruce W. Smith (creator, “The Proud Family,” animator, “The Princess and the Frog”), Hair Love is a collaboration with Sony Pictures Animation that was launched as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 with a fundraising goal of $75,000. Strong support led to the campaign amassing nearly $300,000, making it the most highly-funded short film campaign in Kickstarter history.

“To see this project go from a Kickstarter campaign to the big screen is truly a dream come true,” said Cherry. “I couldn’t be more excited for ‘Hair Love’ to be playing with ‘The Angry Birds Movie 2’ in front of a wide audience and for the world to see our touching story about a Black father trying to figure out how to do his daughters hair for the very first time.”

“Hair Love” features the voice of Issa Rae (“Insecure”) as the young girl’s mother. The short is produced by Karen Rupert Toliver, Stacey Newton, Monica A. Young, Matthew A. Cherry, and Lion Forge Animation’s David Steward II and Carl Reed. Peter Ramsey (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) and Frank Abney (animator, “Toy Story 4”) serve as executive producers.

“This is such a special story that means so much to us,” added Ramsey, “Matthew has rallied an insanely talented group of people to get this short made, and to be able to share it with the world is a gift. We hope that audiences can feel this team’s dedication up on the big screen, we are incredibly proud of it.”

The short’s co-executive producers include Jordan Peele, Andrew Hawkins, Harrison Barnes, Yara and Keri Shahidi. The short’s associate producers include N’Dambi Gillespie, Gabrielle Union-Wade & Dwayne Wade Jr., Gabourey Sidibe, Stephanie Fredric and Claude Kelly.

Physical production of “Hair Love” has taken place at the Los Angeles-based animation studio, Six Point Harness (“Guava Island”).

The picture book “Hair Love” was released by Kokila Books/Penguin Random House releasing on May 14, 2019, and became a New York Times Bestseller.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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