Interview with Shannette Prince from Africa On My Back
Do you know what we love reminding everyone? That humanity was born in Africa. No matter who you are or where you came from—we all started on that vast, beautiful continent. It’s important everyone finds time to visit their roots, no matter how deep those roots may be. Shanette Prince, the Owner and Founder of Africa On My Back, did just that.
We asked her a few questions to learn more about her motivations, her business, and everything in between.
Inumunai: Hey, how’re you doing? Do you mind introducing yourself to our readers?
Shannette: Hi, everyone! My name is Shannette Prince, the owner and founder of Africa On My Back.
Inumunai: Thanks. So in 2016, you went to Africa. Where in Africa did you go, and what inspired you?
Shannette: I went to Ghana on a trip of a lifetime. It was my first time going. I chose Ghana because one of the universities in town takes students every summer. I always wanted to go to Africa. As I did more research, I found out that most black Americans who came to the US as slaves had come from Ghana or through the port of Ghana. I wanted to go and see what those ports look like. I wanted to see the shores from which my ancestors had been stolen from.
Inamunai: That’s powerful. And what did you find during your visit?
Shanette: Love. I fell in love with the people. I fell in love with the food. I fell in love with the textiles. I just loved being home. As soon as I got off the plane, it was like; I was home. That feeling has stuck with me since starting my business.
Inamunai: Backpacks? How’d you get started? And how did you expand into accessories?
Shanette: We started with backpacks because I was working at a school at the time, and I just thought it would be amazing to see black children with a piece of Africa on their backs. But we had to expand into other accessories because kids only need one or two backpacks a year. That can’t sustain a business.
At the same time, people started asking us for other things. It’s incredible because the Artisans we use are so creative. They started sending us samples of other things that they had made. So we just kept trying new things, adding new accessories to our products.
Some accessories came out of necessity, like face masks. We had taken a group of students and parents to Ghana in March, and when we took them, we had a blast. But it was the beginning of the shutdown for most countries. When we got back, everyone needed face masks, and we had the designs and materials.
Inamunai: How do you find these beautiful designs?
Shanette: When I'm in Ghana, I search for a fabric that is appealing to me. I like to wear bright, bold colors. I like to stand out, and our products do that.
When I'm not in Ghana, I get on FaceTime with my makers, and we walk through the markets looking for different prints. I give them an idea of the colors I'm looking for. The goal is to make designs that are unique to Africa On My Back.
Inamunai: You started the Brilliant Black Boy Initiative. Tell us more about that. What is it? How did it start?
Shanette: So, the Brilliant Black Boy Initiative is meant to empower African-American young men through international study abroad opportunities. Every year we get a few black men and boys to travel to Africa and see outside of their bubble and into a world with faces that look like theirs.
I got the idea from watching my son enjoy his time in Ghana when we went in 2016. I just saw this freedom within him. I saw him come alive. I wanted other boys to have this experience.
The name came after seeing how the media covered the Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice killings. There was always a negative connotation in the air. Like with Mike Brown, the media acted like his existence was enough to provoke his death.
So, I started calling my boys on Facebook, Brilliant Black Boys. That’s how I see them. And that’s how I want the world to see every black boy, as a Brilliant Black Boy.
Inamunai: That’s amazing. Well, before we go, is there anything else you’d like everyone to know?
Shanette: Yeah, sure. The more we do business with each other, the better outcome we have as a society. Africa On My Back helps give work to the artisans in Ghana and helps put their work on the global market. Everyone helps everyone.