About Talia Whyte

Posts by Talia Whyte:

Zora Neale Hurston: Storyteller of the American Experience

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston is best remembered as one of the leading figures from the Harlem Renaissance and author of Their Eyes Were Watching God.  She was also a well-respected anthropologist who traveled widely throughout the American South and the Caribbean to collect American oral histories.

In 1938 Hurston joined FDR’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a researcher and editor for the Florida Federal Writers’ Project.  Originally the project was tasked with collecting “life histories” for state guides.  However, the project turned into one of the largest and well-researched documentation of the American experience that could be shared with future generations.

Hurston traveled throughout Florida interviewing Americans of African, Arab, Greek, Italian and Cuban descent about their lives and communities.  With a large recording machine loaned to her from the WPA, she recorded songs (some she sang herself) and folktales in many languages. Her travels also took her to the Bahamas, Haiti and Jamaica, with the support of the Guggenheim Foundation.  While she was in the Caribbean, she studied and recorded African inspired dance and voodoo practices.

Her research would become inspiration for many of her later works like Mules and Men, a study of “Hoodoo” practices in New Orleans and African folktales in Florida. Her other book, Tell My Horse, looks at cultural identity and voodoo in Haiti and Jamaica.  Their Eyes Were Watching God was written when she was in Haiti in 1937 and Seraph on the Suwanee, a novel about working class whites in Florida, was penned in Honduras in 1949.

Here are some Hurston’s audio recordings:

“Crow Dance”
While in the Bahamas, Hurston talks about interviewing Dr. Melville Herkovitz, originally from West Africa, about why the crow is sacred.

“Oh, the Buford Boat Done Come”
Hurston sings a song she learned from a Gullah woman in South Carolina. Gullah refers to a community of black Americans living in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida who have retained their West African heritage.

“Mule on the Mount”
Hurston sings this popular song that can be heard in work camps and recreational sites.

“Mama don’t want no peas, no rice”
Hurston sings this folk song from the Bahamas.

You can hear more of both Hurston’s recordings and other WPA Florida audio recordings at the Library of Congress.


The Pros And Cons of Bootstrapping Your Business

business plan

Last week I had a lunch conversation with a friend about a interior design firm she wants to start soon.  She doesn’t want to be held financially accountable to anyone, so she has decided to fund the business with both her savings and income from her day job at a furniture design shop.

This led us into a longer discussion about when and why it might be a better idea to bootstrap your business.  Let’s look at the pros and cons:


More Freedom – Usually when you invite monetary support from venture capitalists, angels and even loans from friends and family, you lose some or even most control over how the business is run, namely because the people giving you money are expecting you to use it a certain way and properly repay them some day.  Many people instead use their savings or moonlighting to start and run the business until it is actually making a profit.  Of course, no one will tell you how to run the business because you are using your own money.  With this said…

More Money:  When you are bootstrapping, you don’t owe money to anyone.  You have nothing to share with anyone else, so you will have more take-home profit.

More Pride: When you are bootstrapping, you tend to feel a sense of pride in your business, and thus, you will work harder to make it successful.

Learn Resourcefulness: Using your own money forces you not to waste it on things your business probably doesn’t need.  You quickly learn how to be creative with the resources you have access to and how to react to new situations.  Resourcefulness is a great skill that more of us need to have these days.


More Stress: Bootstrapping can be very stressful.  Many entrepreneurs either work at one full-time job or several part-time jobs in addition to running their dream business.  This can take a toll on both your professional and personal lives.  Working a day job while moonlighting literally becomes a 24-hour, 7 days a week job.

More Trouble?: On the subject of moonlighting, check with your current employer about their moonlighting policies for employees. Don’t get terminated from the job that is financing your business on the account of your business!

Slower Business Growth: Unless you’re independently wealthy, in many cases your business will grow slower because you are working with a limited budget and resources.  You might have to work from home and not be able to hire employees for a while.  Again, this is why you need to be resourceful.

Access to Networks: One of the better things about getting external funding is that many investors can also act as mentors and are willing to give you access to their network of other people who might want to do business with you.   Many bootstrappers don’t have that kind of access, unless they are willing to find mentors that can barter resources in lieu of money.

More Risk: When you are using your own money, it is riskier.  Many bootstrappers go a year or more without making an profit.  Whereas, when you have investors, the risks (and successes) are shared.

Most entrepreneurs have mixed feelings about bootstrapping.  Personally, I think bootstrapping makes sense depending on the type of business you are running.  I have never used external money to fund any of my business ventures.  I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to my affairs. Instead, I barter resources from trusted individuals, and that has worked out best for me.

I am also very resourceful.  All of my businesses are online for a reason.  I decided early on that renting a physical office would be too much for my budget.  I think it only makes sense to have an office if you have the type of business where you have to meet with clients on a regular basis.  Technology like video conferencing and e-commerce has made a big difference in how I run my businesses and make a profit.

Another example of smart bootstrapping is another friend of mine who is about to open a restaurant in Los Angeles.  For the last 13 years, he has always wanted to run his own restaurant, but he was not able to get the funding he thought he needed to get the idea off the ground.  He originally had two investors eight years ago, but they were not able to agree on how to use the money.  So he decided to take a detour to his dream by starting a part-time catering business.  He kept his day job as a sous chef at another restaurant, while catering on the weekends.

This worked out for him in many ways.  He was able to save money from his regular day job to help finance his catering at the beginning.  He made sure to learn everything about running a restaurant from his day job, where eventually became a manager.  The catering business allowed him to experiment with new foods he wanted to cook for new clients.  He was also able to network with many clients who were powerful in the entertainment business, and who also gave him referrals.  During this time, he was able to test out, develop and finalized a menu, scope out potential restaurant locations and create a business plan for his restaurant.

Fast forward eight years, and now he is about to open his Asian fusion restaurant in West Hollywood later this year.  I am so proud of him and I plan to go out to Los Angeles to celebrate the restaurant opening.

The lesson here is if you are going to bootstrap your business, make sure you think it through and have a plan of action, which should include a pro forma financial statement (very important), a strategic plan and a business plan.

Ousmane Sembene: Freedom Fighter For African Cinema

Ousmane SembeneLast week I attended a special viewing of Ousmane Sembene’s classic film La Noire de… (The black girl of… or Black Girl). With the recent “snub” of Ava Duvernay’s Selma at the Academy Awards, seeing Black Girl reminds us that the African diaspora has struggled to have fair and balanced portrayals in film since the dawn of the medium.

I had the pleasure to ask at this viewing Samba Gadjigo, a French professor at Mount Holyoke College and the official biographer of Sembene, about Sembene’s legendary life and racism in the film industry.  He has spent the greater part of his academic career researching Francophone African cinema and in particular Sembene’s career.

“Sembene was a freedom fighter in African film,” Gadjigo said. “Black Girl was a gift to the world.  Before Sembene, there was a law against Senegalese taking up cameras.  Black Girl was pioneering and revolutionary, as it put Africa on the map.”

Gadjigo is referring to the “Laval Decree”, a 1934 French law that prohibited Francophone Africans from making films.  This was done to control the messaging about colonialism, while stifling free expression by Africans. Most films about Africans prior to independence were made by white filmmakers and were incredibly racist.

After independence, a new crop of young idealist African filmmakers came onto the forefront who saw the medium as a force for political change.  According to Gadjigo, Sembene decided to make films the day Patrice Lumumba was assassinated.  Black Girl is loosely based on a real story that happened in the 1950s and Sembene wrote about it in a short story before the film was made.

Black Girl tells the story of Diouana, a young Senegalese woman hired by a white couple as a maid in France.  Notice that Diouana is “voiceless.”  Her thoughts are only said through a voice over narration.  Sembene did this to show that Africans still didn’t have a voice in the post-colonial era.  Her white employers still had a colonial mentality, by treating Diouana as a slave that can only be appeased by money.

The use of the mask also represents the relationship between Diouana and her employers.  While the mask represents the culture and history of the colonized, the white employers only see it as wall decoration.

Black Girl is known today as the first film directed by a Sub-Saharan African to receive international acclaim.  However, Sembene had limits on the length of the film due to French regulations.  Black Girl was dubbed in French to “use the language of the master.”  The film was made on a shoestring budget, but that was done on purpose by Sembene.  He also preferred to hire unknown actors, or as Gadjigo said, “people off the street” because Sembene didn’t want to become part of Hollywood.  (By the way, you can read an awesome interview with Thérèse M’Bissine Diop, who played Diouana in the film.)

Sembene’s goals was to make films about Africans by Africans.  He was concerned that Senegalese were losing their culture.  French colonial education was limited to a select few, and African history was entirely left out of it. Wolof and many other native languages were banned in Senegal during colonialism.  Sembene saw film not only as a tool of liberation, but also as a way to preserve the oral histories of his people.

Gadjigo said he didn’t see a moving still until the age of 12, but he knew then the power of “hearing with your eyes and seeing with your ears.”  His political awakening came at aged 17 when he read Sembene’s book God’s Bits of Wood, a strong rebuke of colonialism.  Sembene’s literary and cinematic canon have had a strong influence in the post-colonial era to preserve African identity.

“It was important to tell those stories,” Gadjigo said.  “When you lose your language, you lose your history.”

How to Make Exercise Part of Your Daily Life

Keep Calm and ExerciseWe are one month into 2015, and many of you may have already given up on your New Year’s resolution to hit the gym and lose weight.  Getting into the routine of physical activity can be difficult for many of us.  I have a family member who has finally started going to the gym regularly after many years of dragging his feet to make the better health commitment.

I only got serious myself about exercise after learning that diabetes runs in my family about 10 years ago.  At the time, I got a membership at my local YMCA, but I think I only went once a month.  I would walk for a while on the treadmill and maybe jump on the bike, but then went home feeling like I didn’t really accomplish much.

Then I spoke to one of the personal trainers at the gym who told me that I had to find an activity that I enjoyed doing; so it wouldn’t feel like it was work, but rather a fun activity.  He also said that when you feel good after that activity, then you have found the exercise that works for you.  “It will be hard to do, but you will know when you found that sweet spot,” he said.

I tried a variety of group exercise classes at the gym, from Zumba to spinning, and none of them appealed to me.

So then I tried running for 10 minutes outside in my neighborhood.  It was hard to do at first, but I actually felt good afterwards.  For the next few weeks, I ran for 20 minutes three times a week.  Over the course of the next year, I noticed I was losing weight and toning muscles.  So I ran longer distances, running up to 15 miles in a week.

About five years ago I wanted to diversify my exercise regimen, so I tried yoga.  I had read that yoga was a great compliment to running.  Again, it was hard to do the first class, especially downward facing dog and crow, but at the end of the class I did feel energized and willing to come to another class.  Since then I either go to a vinyasa yoga class or practice at home twice a week.

This summer I took up outdoor cycling again in earnest.  What sparked my interest after all these years? I wanted to try something different that I might enjoy.  And, yes, I did enjoy riding with my friends along the Charles River and just around my neighborhood.

So just to recap how I exercise during the week these days:

Running: I run about 5-7 miles a day, three times a week – regardless of weather – and after a meditation session.  Because of the dreadful New England weather, I have to run on a gym treadmill, but I long for outdoor running and nicer weather.  Running outdoors and indoors are two completely different experiences.  I also run first thing in the morning, like 4:30 or 5, because that is when the body has the most natural energy stored up for use.  Furthermore, I also feel like I have accomplished something before the day has really begun!

Yoga: I practice yoga for 30 minutes a day, twice a week, after a meditation sessions and also first thing in the morning.   And, yes, I can do a crow pose now without falling on my face!

Cycling: Since I don’t try to bike on top of all the snow we have been getting lately in Boston, I started taking spinning classes again at the Y.  Not sure I will keep doing this, since outdoor cycling is a way better experience.  But then again, I don’t have to worry about a car mowing me down on the street either, so I will see.

Also, exercising in the morning has worked best for my hectic work schedule.  I have become so used to exercising that I feel guilty when I don’t exercise on schedule.

Just to reiterate, exercise should be something that you enjoy doing, so running, yoga or cycling may not be your thing, and that’s okay.  That is how you make exercise part of your daily life.  Even if you don’t have time to participate in an exercise session, there are many ways to incorporate physical activity into your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking somewhere instead of driving a car.  What matters at the end of the day is that you are physically active and staying healthy.