No one should feel shame about their skin, no matter their pigment and no matter their race. That is precisely what Grace Amey-Obeng believes.

Amey-Obeng is the founder of an extremely successful cosmetics company that aims to help women feel confidence and accepting of their natural beauty. She began her business in Ghana after going to college for beauty therapy in the UK. She loved the way women glowed when they got dressed up, and had their makeup and hair done.

Gaining success in Ghana was not an easy road for Amey-Obeng. When she returned to Africa after college, she had to figure out how to work around the demand for skin-bleaching, which is quite common in certain countries in Africa.

“[Women] associated being light-skinned with being affluent…and I thought that I can do something about that by going on an anti-bleaching campaign,” stated Amey-Obeng.

The process of skin-bleaching has been found to be harmful and risky to the body, especially to those living in area with lots of sun. Bleaching, which requires chemical usage, strips the layers of the skin causing unnatural exposure to the harmful ultra violet rays. The process can range in side effects, including acne, skin cancer, exposed capillaries and easy bruising.

In some countries, selling creams that should require a prescription are sold over the counter, where they are easily accessible to women and often times extremely popular.

When these prescriptions are not available, some women will go so far as to concoct their own cream “using perming creams and all kinds of chemicals to bleach,” says Amey-Obeng.

Amey-Obeng endorses a healthy glow, one based on exercising, eating healthy and sleeping well. She promotes her concept through an educational program that she set in motion. In order to discuss natural ways to take care of one’s skin, she gives advice through a newspaper column, which is published on a weekly basis. She also trains students about skin care at her beauty school, one of the three branches of her cosmetic foundation known as FC (Forever Clair) Group of Companies. Her company also includes a cosmetics line and a few clinics.

The FC Group of Companies goal far surpasses the campaign against skin-bleaching. It also advocates for pride in one’s natural beauty not limited to skin color, but mainly one’s ability to accomplish and succeed. Since the launch of the FC beauty colleges, more than 5,000 students, the majority being young women, have been able to graduate and become beauticians.

“On the day of graduation, I always cry because I see the joy in their faces that they have accomplished something. They’ve been through challenges,” Amey-Obeng says.

And although Amey-Obeng went through her fair share of challenges and struggles as an aspiring businesswoman, she always shares her own story in hopes that it will help another young woman find the confidence she needs to reject harmful beauty standards and embrace their own natural beauty.

You can watch a video about Grace Amey-Obeng by Ghana Culture Politics here.

– Becka Felcon

Sources: Ghana Culture Politics, The Voice, CNN, The New York Times
Photo: Sankofa Online

Nelson Mandela’s legacy looms large over South Africa. Everyone agrees that his death will mean something significant to the country, but few agree on what that will be. Mandela’s death on December 5 left behind a country still rife with painful inequalities, an African National Congress no longer bolstered by their famed leader and a new generation of “born frees” who have never known the pain of apartheid though they live its aftermath every day.

South Africa’s Persistent Inequalities

Though it has made huge strides since the end of apartheid, South Africa continues to be plagued by massive racial inequalities.

Between 2001 and 2011, the annual income of black households nearly tripled while percentages of the adult black population who have completed high school have grown and are continuing to do so. There has even been an increasing, if only by a tiny amount, segment of the black population going to college. These numbers seem to represent real progress, until they are compared to the statistics for whites. In 2001, white households earned an average of $17,000 more than black households, a disparity that grew to $30,000 by 2011. And while a national increase in high school education for blacks certainly represents some positive change, this is a barrier most whites, who have also attended college at higher rates than blacks since apartheid ended, will never face. Unemployment among young black people is, furthermore, at an all time high. Such statistics make it clear that there is much more work to be done.

ANC at the Polls

With the loss of its most beloved leader, the ANC may be facing its most competitive election yet. The party, which came to power in 1994 with Mandela’s election, has lost its “biggest link to its glorious past,” says William Gumede, the author of numerous articles and a book concerning the ANC.

Despite his retirement from politics, many believed Mandela to still be involved in the decision-making of the party which allowed the ANC to enjoy the electoral bump that the legend provided for many years. Now, without him, the party is forced to confront the staggering economic and social inequalities that they have done little to eradicate. Not only are allegations of corruption abound, but the party has been unable to both alleviate unemployment and reduce crime rates.

Moreover, it is likely than many disillusioned ANC supporters will accept how far the party has fallen from its revolutionist ideals now that Mandela has died. Some predict that the weakened party will splinter and fall out of favor. As the ANC is proving, in many ways, to be an inadequate leader of South African democracy, perhaps a change is necessary.

Born Frees: The Next Generation of South Africans

The “born frees,” as the generation born at the end or after apartheid are called, make up about 40% of South Africa’s population according to census data. As one of the largest population segments, their views on the future of the country have the potential to change much of it.

Many born frees feel that the best way to honor Mandela is to focus on the future of South Africa instead of dwelling in the past. They often resent the frequent references to apartheid from their elders, wanting instead to address the problems currently facing the country. Such focus tends to cause tension with older generations, who often feel born frees are too distanced from the harsh realities of apartheid to fully understand the importance of political involvement.

“It’s not a matter of not understanding apartheid; it’s just a matter of us having different challenges,” Akhumzi Jezile, a 24-year-old producer, television personality and speaker, told the New York Times. Jezile cited youth-run efforts to reduce drug use, crime and HIV rates as evidence of changing priorities.

A 2012 Reconciliation Barometer report revealed changes in the born free generation that may hint at a changing social and political landscape for South Africa. The report found that born frees were more likely than older generations to be friends and socialize with people of a different race. The report also found that they were less likely to trust political leaders.

– Sarah Morrison

Sources: The Guardian, New York Times: A Test at the Polls, New York Times, New York Times,Real Truth