Damilare Kujembola co-founded Amplify Africa after working on three ideas for other startups. Eventually he realized that the potential he had to work on amplifying African artists and leaders around the world. Eventually, the idea stuck, and he hasn’t looked back since. We sat down with Kujembola to discuss everything from the inspiration behind the movement to his life at USC.
Grit Daily: You had your own entrepreneurial adventures before launching Amplify Africa. Share those.
Damilare Kujembola: Before Amplify Africa, I had worked on three startup company ideas; a fishery business, an HR firm and an entertainment law practice. Growing up, my parents were big on agriculture. Their smoked catfish business piqued my interest because I noticed a gap in the marketing and distribution of the final product. Therefore, I created a company and rebranded fish packaging. As a result, the product was sold in 20 major stores around the country. I still have memories of my car smelling like smoked catfish haha.
Following that endeavor, one day a friend asked me to help fill a job opening at his company with people within my network. He was very impressed with my referrals and suggested I do it for a living. After receiving one too many similar compliments, I decided to start another business.
Finally, after law school, I started my own law practice to cater to friends within my network because it was more lucrative than working as an associate at most law firms in Lagos. The average monthly pay for a new associate at a mid-sized law firm in Lagos was less than $100. In my first year, I hit the ground running and worked with some talented Afrobeats artists, who are arguably some of the best in the game right now.
I’m grateful for all these experiences because I developed interpersonal, marketing and legal skills that have helped with my work at Amplify Africa.
Grit Daily: What’s behind the Amplify Africa name?
DK: Amplify Africa is simply that, to amplify Africa. In 2014, I moved to LA to attend grad school at USC. To all of my Trojans, “fight on!” The first couple of months were tough because the African community in LA wasn’t as strong at the time. I had extreme difficulty locating African food stores, restaurants, Afrobeat parties and even something as basic as where to get a haircut. Being as though I was far away from home, I yearned for nostalgia. Finding successful Africans in my profession for mentorship was also challenging because I didn’t know where to look. Lastly, I was taken aback by the one-sided portrayal of the continent (i.e. poor, sick, hungry, etc.), as well as the lack of representation for African-born talent.
The desire to create community, education and representation gave birth to Amplify Africa. As our team expanded, I realized the need for connection to the continent wasn’t exclusive to African immigrants like myself, so we expanded our community to be more inclusive of people from other parts of the diaspora. The response was massive. Our mission is to amplify Africa and the African diaspora by cultivating a global community, storytelling, and digital innovation. In addition, our goal is to bridge the gap between the continent and the Black global experience, which includes African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinx and Afro-European communities.
Grit Daily: For the uninitiated, what should our audience know about your events; for example, Afrolituation?
DK: Remember how I spoke about creating community? The Amplify Africa team realized the fastest way to start building community was by putting together amazing events. Afrolituation was the first event we created. The name speaks volumes! Afrolituation is a unique African experience that features dancers dressed in traditional wardrobe, flags that represent countries of the continent and its diaspora and tribal painters. It’s definitely not your regular party. Everyone is welcome, regardless of where you are from or your orientation. Dancing is not optional! Since its inception, we have expanded to over 10 cities in the U.S. and were on track to do 100 events in 2020, but the pandemic had other plans.
In addition to the parties, we have produced other amazing and diverse events such as include Made in Africa, an annual concert series in Los Angeles during the BET and Grammy Awards; and the Afro Music Festival, which is a celebration of different music and cultures within the African Diaspora. We have also produced town hall events, networking events for singles and professionals, pool parties and sports competitions, to name a few. Our most notable event is the Afro Ball! It is our annual gala in partnership with the U.S. Congress where we highlight (Amplify) different professionals of African descent who are excelling in their respective fields. In the past, we have highlighted notable people in entertainment, politics, healthcare, tech, fashion, etc. It’s always amazing for me and the team to witness these amazing people get their flowers. Each honoree receives an award and a certificate of recognition from the U.S. Congress. Press outlets have dubbed the Afro Ball as the African MET Gala because of the level of fashion and class showcased at the event.
We at Amplify Africa consider ourselves community organizers because we create a diverse range of events through which everyone can connect back to the continent. We have something for everyone.
Grit Daily: What’s one myth about African Americans that’s just plain wrong?
DK: The idea that African Americans are willfully disconnected from our ancestry, as though to embrace one’s African roots devalues the power of their Black experience. The misinformation campaign to divide Africans across the diaspora has created a psychological separation through narratives that each group has been fed about themselves, as well as each other. The colonial caricatures of tribalism and colorism have long fostered self-hate and resentment amongst and within each group. In today’s world of information, there is a shift towards the appreciation of traditional African culture, ancestry and rituals among African Americans, and growing respect for the history, struggles of the Black experiences. We are one.
Grit Daily: Can you share your thoughts/insight on the different groups within what it means to be African?
DK: At its core, to be African is to be in community. The African diaspora is a manifestation of the communities consisting of descendants of native Africans, people from Africa and around the world. When we speak about Africa, our cultures and issues that affect us, we have a tendency to focus on countries/cultures on the continent. Meanwhile, we forget about our brothers and sisters who were forced to develop new cultures away from the motherland as a result of slavery.