Category Archives: Lifestyle

Living & Teaching Abroad: Xavier University (LA) Alumna Britney Francis Conquers Beijing


There has been a recent revelation in the past five years that African Americans need to get out and explore the world. The passport has become the new IT thing to have among African America’s young and educated. Adding to that reality is that more and more college students must set themselves apart in a more competitive global workforce. One sure way to do that is to show that you have the ability to go anywhere and be successful, especially if it means going some place out of your comfort zone. If adding tools to your tool chest is what sets you apart, then studying abroad during your undergraduate years gives you one mean hammer to swing. It also presents some amazing career opportunities upon graduation if you are willing to take the chance. HBCU Money caught up with Britney Francis, an alumna of Xavier University (LA), who is conquering the classroom in the capital of arguably the world’s number two superpower – China.

How did the opportunity arise for you to live and teach in Beijing, China?

By May 2016, I was unfulfilled, disillusioned and dissatisfied with life, particularly with my job. I had also been going through a health issue that had been going on for nearly 3 years at the time. Feeling like I needed real change, I was inspired by a friend from high school who had gotten a teaching job in Dubai. I had started to come around to the idea of teaching, and had started studying to test for an acceleration program that helps people become teachers — who had degrees in other specialties besides education. I had my sights set on becoming a high school history teacher in Houston. I had also been mentoring kids at the juvenile justice center and felt it was time to get into the classroom to find other ways to reach the youth. So I figured, “hey — maybe I can also teach abroad particularly next year or the following year”. I thought I would do myself a service by gaining experience in the States before taking the show abroad. I was interested in Japan and started to do research. For some reason, it seemed much harder to get to Japan (which wasn’t true but you don’t know what you don’t know). Then I started to see posts from China. After researching for a few weeks on various job boards, I came across a job ad for an education company called Education First, based in China. What made me pull the trigger was getting written up at my job for performance issues (and my health stuff, if you wanna keep it a buck. My manager had told me that all I had been going through was “impacting the business” – whatever that means). I was so bored and disgusted; the place was no doubt a dead-end job. My work and my health continued to suffer and I was listening to podcasts at my desk all day… anything to escape. I had applied at a charter school at the recommendation of a friend. I had written an elaborate essay but received a response almost immediately saying they would “keep my application on file”. Something inside me told me to change a few of the words around and apply to the same company I had seen in China days before. So I did, and by the end of that week I had the job and was set to arrive in Beijing by September. PERFECT timing!

How do you believe going to an HBCU and XULA in particular prepared you for being an expatriate?

One thing I always say is that being HBCU alum prepared me for life in a way I feel no other school could have. I learned so much about myself at my HBCU and my sense of Black pride strengthened. Being a Xavier student during the year Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city of New Orleans is what particularly made me strong. It made all of us strong. We had faith in our school and returned to the city five months after the storm hit. Houses were destroyed, there was mold everywhere. The city was crippled and the students/admin kept it pushing. Hell, all schools in the NOLA area did the same thing. Most of us that returned after the storm have graduated and have moved on to do great things in our lives.

Living in a place like China where most people you encounter are ignorant and inherently racist, I feel that what I’ve experienced prior to now gave me tough skin. But not to say it’s the all bad. For every ignorant person, there are a million more kind, giving, and helpful people here as well. The mindset, cultural and societal norms here are SOOO different.

As an educator, what are some differences and conversely similarities you have noticed between the education systems of China in comparison to the United States?

Being that my teaching experience is only limited to my time here in China I can’t speak too much on the American side as I haven’t seen it from the eyes of a teacher. But I will say that certain teaching methods I’ve tried to use on my older students were frowned upon, especially in instances where I tried to make my classes fun (for my high school students). Things that I know worked for me as a student or methods I’ve researched can sometimes be overridden as you’re expected to adapt to the “Chinese way” and not have much say-so in the matter.

Chinese students don’t have lives of your typical American teenager. They are groomed to study 7 days a week and get LOADS of homework. On weekends, they study, sleep and play on their computers. They don’t have social lives, and hardly date. Emphasis is placed on math and science more than other subject areas. And I’ve found that most parents here will pressure their kids to be successful, to the point where they are depressed and often unsure of themselves. I’ve even had parents ask me “how can my son/daughter be better?” with an overall class score of 99 and rated highest in the entire class. On the other side, there’s also a bit of denial when it comes to things like learning disabilities and behavioral disorders.

Do you have a favorite memory thus far in your time there?

Most of my favorite memories involve my students, present and old. Children are so amazing and smart and I’ve become emotionally attached to nearly all of my students. It’s very hard saying goodbye to students when new opportunities arise and it’s time to move on to a new school (or they move on to a new school). My other favorite memories involve all the friends I’ve made here and especially the trips I’ve taken. Living here has afforded me opportunities to travel that I didn’t have before and it’s been amazing. So far, I’ve been to Thailand, S. Korea, Hong Kong, and a few interesting cities around China. I have so many other places to see before I pack up and head back home.

Being African-American in China, what has that particular part of the experience been like for you?

Honestly, it can be a bit frustrating. It can go either two ways: either people are deathly afraid of you or WAY too curious/friendly/unable to respect boundaries. Being Black in China, you can expect people to take pictures of you without your permission. It’s cute at first – until after you’ve been here a few months, you had a long day at work and just trying to get home to your bed. Seeing someone sneaking a picture of you like you’re a zoo exhibit can be angering. Also, people don’t have concepts of boundaries and personal space. With there being 20+ million people in bigger cities, there’s not much room for you to breathe and people like to touch your hair or try to rub your skin to see if the black comes off. I try not to fault most people for it because they are conditioned and they simply don’t know much about the world outside of China. They also assume any black person they see is from Africa… and when you don’t know the language you can’t explain to them how the Diaspora works. It’s just a LOT of ignorance. For me personally, in work spaces and social spaces, I require respect from everybody I interact with, language barrier be damned. It’s the only way I can cope with what goes on around here.

We know you can not prepare for everything prior to living abroad, but is there something you wish you had known in particular prior to your move?

No. Besides bringing enough black hair care products and make-up that matches your tone to last you a while, there’s nothing I think I could have been told prior that would have made much of a difference. Everyone’s experience is different. You could ask another person to talk about their experiences and they may LOVE it here, or hate it with their entire being. I like that I was given the opportunity to come here and be out of my comfort zone. Everything I’ve learned about myself and the world thus far has only enhanced my personal growth. I am a different person than I was in September 2016 and I can only continue to soar from here. I’m still very happy about my decision to move here.

Tell us about one of your fondest HBCU memories while at XULA?

Graduation day. Enough said.

Britney Francis is an English teacher from southern Louisiana by way of Houston, TX. She has a bachelors degree in Communications from Xavier University of Louisiana, with a concentration in public relations and speech communication. She is currently working as a kindergarten teacher in Beijing, China. She is passionate about travel, sports, and children’s causes.

Follow her experiences via Twitter at @britneyisland

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An Untapped Opportunity: African American Women’s Absence In The Craft Beer Industry


By Della Fain

There was a time when you thought of beer, it was a beverage to accompany you to picnics and ballparks. No one was doing anything innovative or creative with beer. Fast forward to now and crafted beer makes up 98 percent of all breweries in the U.S. This in no small part is due to the support of craft beer lovers. But who are these craft beer lovers?

In an industry that nets 107.6 billion dollars annually a 2014 survey conducted by Neilsen found that African Americans rank a minute 3.7 percent of all craft beer. And of that 3.7 percent, how many are Black women? To quote 702’s song “Where my girls at?” Now do not get me wrong, we are not non- existent and there are Black women in the industry as brewers, bloggers, owners, culture and lifestyle branders, but the numbers are minute. With society and lifestyle brands like Dope & Dank co-founded by a Black woman Beny Ashburn, who advocates diversity in the dank world of craft beer.

But in a decade of sustained growth, the craft industry has largely ignored minorities and in the past, diversity meant white women. And even today it only in a small part means men of color. So, where do we (African American women) fit in?

In 2017, Craftbeer.com listed 8 women in craft beer who are making a mark, and none were Black. No mention of Celeste Beatty, founder of The Harlem Brewing Company, or the fact that her beers are available in 39 Wal-marts across New York. In April of this year The Brewers Association, an organization dedicated to small and independent American brewers, named a Black woman J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham their first diversity ambassador. I tried unsuccessfully to interview Dr. Beckham about what a diversity ambassador does. Hopefully future dialogue about what diversity means in craft beer and what’s missing.

While recently watching a video of Alisa Bowens-Mercado the first African American woman brewing beer in Connecticut canning her own unfiltered lager named Rhythm I noticed she was the only woman of color present in the video. She is quoted as saying she would like to “see more women in the industry, more brewing, more women canning.”

Since craft beer has mainly been a white man’s game and only recently included men of color and even more recently white women, black women have a few hurdles to leap before we can be acknowledged and respected. The predominately boys club has also made it clear that they are not interested in our taste or opinions on beer unless a pair of breasts accompany it. So first we have to overcome sexism seals then race.

A lot of breweries do not even consider African American women as their consumer because Black women are not being seen drinking or purchasing craft beer. When I am in line for a can release I’m one of few women and the only Black woman in line. We do not feel included so we do not show our love for it and our opinion isn’t largely sought after because we aren’t present.

And finally, an issue I’ve seen with my growing presence on social media is lack of support to one another. I see our white counterparts trade, share, follow, repost and support one another on their craft beer journeys, but a huge lack of support amongst each other. Women are often pitted against each other in every facet and culture of life and the craft beer community is no different. I especially see it among black women. I say this having experienced more support, follows, shares, trades and paid appearances through white men. I see black men get together and have a guys weekend of comradery, fellowship and mutual love of craft beer. I know there are Black women who love craft beer, so how about we show the industry what we have to offer it. Cheers Black Women and if you see me, next rounds on me.

Della Fain is an Chitown native Arizona resident. Married mother of 3. She’s also a contributor to Bourbon Zeppelin giving bourbon barrel aged beer reviews. You can follow her on Instagram at @sixfeetofdynamite. 

FAMU Alumna & Atlanta Cigar Week Co-Founder Octavia Toliver is Adding New Flavor to the Old Boys’ Club of Cigars


On any given day, you can find Herficionado, Octavia Toliver’s moniker, just about anywhere from the cigar shop to a rooftop terrace puffing on a cigar and planning her next move as she takes the cigar industry by storm. A storm that she hopes will continue to change the demographics of those who embrace a good stogie on a beautiful afternoon and present opportunities as far as the eye can see, smoke clouds aside. The cigar world has traditionally been the stomping grounds of old white business men, but Ms. Toliver’s “feminine perspective” as she puts it is bringing elegance, style, and a breath of knowledge that runs cigar circles around many of her male counterparts who dare try to see her as  just a beautiful face. Nor is she alone as the #SOTL or Sisters Of The Leaf are a rapidly growing and yet underappreciated segment in the cigar world. According to the CDCP, women cigar smokers have grown from 1/10th of 1 percent in the 1980s to 2 percent of U.S. women’s population. It may not sound like a lot, but 2 percent is equivalent to 3.2 million women. As such, Ms. Toliver has become an influencer and innovator within the industry and HBCU Money was able to catch up with her for interview.

What is your HBCU background? I achieved a B.A. in English from Rattler Nation better known as Florida A&M University. Never ask a (southern) lady her age OR graduation year.

We are sure you get asked this a lot, but what got you interested in cigars? I was introduced to cigars by a guy who took me on a date to a cigar bar 10 years ago. I don’t remember his name, but I remember the cigars! Lol.

In light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements where women are empowering themselves to push back against sexual harassment in their respective spaces. How do you believe women are treated within the cigar industry? What improvements would you like to see in respect to women within the industry? The cigar industry is obviously male-dominated, so there are still some instances in which women are treated as just pretty faces. A woman can know more about cigars than any man, but if she’s very attractive, she will never be considered an authority, by some guys. This hasn’t been my experience, completely, because I’ve gotten tremendous support from men in the industry, but I’ve definitely felt the resistance from some. I’m not really sure if there is an improvement that can/will be made. I just advise all of the SOTL’s (Sisters Of The Leaf) to keep carrying themselves with class so that eventually the guys will come around. Or they won’t and we’ll start more of our own cigar companies! *wink*

For HBCU students who may have an interest in the industry, what advice would you give them on getting started? Frequent your local cigar lounge or shop! Hang out, ask questions, try various profiles! Join a Facebook cigar group! There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of people online who are just waiting to teach others about cigars! Just like with any other industry, educate yourself and go for it.

Tell our audience about what led to the creation and mission behind you co-founding the Atlanta Cigar Week? Atlanta Cigar Week was created from a desire to showcase Atlanta as the top cigar market in the country. We have almost 100 cigar shops and lounges so we wanted to show the country what we have to offer. ACW2017, we executed 13 events in 7 days! We had a great turnout, but we’re expecting even more attendees and sponsors for 2018. We are also expanding to Dubai in May, and hopefully at least one other city before the end of the year!

Do you think your HBCU experiences prepared you in any special way for the work and life you live today? I’m not sure if it prepared me for my work, but my experience at an HBCU was a great bridge from childhood to my adult life. FAMU was my first experience where minorities were the majority. I’m from a city that is sometimes called the Redneck Riviera, but it was just HOME to me. In retrospect, I now see that my perspective of black people was quite limited. Attending an HBCU opened my eyes a great deal because there students from many backgrounds who just all happened to be black. When we speak of diversity, we’re usually referring to people of different ethnicities or races, but I had never seen such diversity in people of the same race. I now live in Atlanta which is the same on a much larger scale.

What is one of your fondness HBCU memory? One of my fondest memories was Set Fridays at FAMU. As a freshman, I lived in a dorm only a few yards away from the set, which was a courtyard on campus. On Fridays, vendors would come set up tables and food stands! There would be music playing, and all of the students would hang out in between classes. I LOVED it because everyone would put on their flyest outfits, and the Greeks would always come stroll through. The camaraderie out there was absolutely beautiful.

You can follow Octavia Toliver on Instagram at @herficionado for all of her latest projects and events.

 

 

Can YOU Run This Institution: Prairie View A&M Looks To Train Next Generation of HBCU Administrators


President George C. Wright has been an integral force in bringing Prairie View A&M University a new stadium, but his legacy may be in a new program that allows students at the HBCU just outside of Houston to shadow administrators for a day to learn what it truly takes to run, manage, and grow an HBCU. This is vital when looking across the landscape of HBCUs where far too many HBCUs are being run by non-HBCU alums. It is almost an indictment on HBCU boards that when choosing an administration that far too many candidates have little to no HBCU connection. The pipeline from which HBCUs can choose their leadership reflective of their strategic needs and cultural values is vital to the future of them remaining true to being institutions that serve African America’s interest in higher education.

Prairie View A&M’s program allows students to shadow administration for a day is vital for both exposure and mentorship. Engaging students in the experience is also is key to their ability to participate as alumni in understanding how they can both help externally or maybe one day as leadership themselves. If the program is nurtured it could become a program that trains not only students at Prairie View, but others as well. Such a simple step could have a meaningful and lasting impact on the future of our institutions. We decided to reach out to Antony Owens (pictured above center) who participated in the program to see the impact that is truly had.

Name: Antony Owens

Classification: Junior

Major: Architecture and Construction Science

What made you decide to participate in the program?

My organization, Panther Ambassadors hosts the Can YOU Run This Institution program, as a member of the organization I wanted to lead by example and participate in the program myself.

Who did you shadow and how was that determined?

I shadowed Dr. Thomas-Smith, generally students are given a list of the faculty that will be participating and are then able to choose whom they would like to shadow.

What was your takeaway from participating?

There is a lot of grunt work done by a few key people across the university. Dr. Thomas-Smith for instance has a lot to do with the university’s accreditation, she has to work with people across campus and all the different departments to acquire full accreditation for the university. To do her job would require a strong work ethic, patience, management skills and the ability to lead.

Are there things that you were surprised at learning that it takes to run the university?

I was taken back by the fact that even after one finishes college and is done with school, they may still have homework. It was a realization because I thought homework stopped after school, but in order to complete things in a timely and well done manner, one may have to sacrifice more time in order to meet expectations.

How do you think the participation in the program will help you as an alumnus even if you do not go on to become an administrator?

It has helped me mature and get a better picture of what the work life is like when you have nobody but yourself to truly hold you accountable.

Craft Beer 101: Bourbon Zeppelin’s Della Fain Sips And Chats About Suds


Most of us have an early memory or story about our dad or uncle giving us our first taste of beer. Do you remember the first time you had beer of any sort?  If memory serves me, the first time I had a beer was probably the same as everyone else’s first time. A not so strict aunt that yells “it’s okay if she has one sip”. I do recall however that first sip being awful and every sip after that.

Many of us simply are wondering – what exactly qualifies to be considered a craft beer? A craft beer is in fact a brew crafted in a more traditional, non mechanized way. Usually, but not always by a small brew house or microbrewery.

What got you interested in trying out craft beers?  I initially steered clear of all things beer and beer like for most of my adult life. My grandfather and I had a long standing lunch date every birthday at our favorite steakhouse. He ordered beer and I wine. During one of our last lunches together a new hire at the restaurant was an expert at pairing beer with meals and suggested my pop pop try a beer different from his usual. He made it sound so good I followed suit and ordered the same, it was a winter lager. I’ve been hooked ever since.

For those who have a curiosity about craft beers, is there any advice you would give about how to introduce themselves to different beers? Anyone interested in trying out craft beer my suggestion to them would be my suggestion for life – try it all to see what you like and don’t like.

What do you believe are some qualities of a great craft beer? The qualities of a great craft beer for me is all about the layers. Aroma, mouth feel, how well it compliments and draws out the best part of a meal. How stouts can be savory, and sours refreshing. How a porter can satisfy your sweet tooth, and an IPA be the perfect addition to Taco Tuesday.

There are about six African American breweries we have found, but this is certainly underrepresented for the explosion that has occurred in the microbrewery space over the past decade. Why do you think more African Americans are not brewing beers? With the craft beer industry vastly rising and major breweries buying smaller brew houses we’re gonna see less craft in craft beer. So now’s a perfect time for African Americans to throw their hats into the collective breweries. I know a few African American home brewers who really have a love and passion for it. But like anything else they’ll need support from beer drinkers to get their artistry noticed.

What would be your theme music while drinking your favorite beer? Anything by Nujabes. 

Editor’s Note: Check out the album Modal Soul by Nujabes. Be sure you are having a cold one when you do and always drink responsibly.

Della Fain is an Chitown native Arizona resident. Married mother of 3. She’s also a contributor to Bourbon Zeppelin giving bourbon barrel aged beer reviews. You can follow her on Instagram at @sixfeetofdynamite.