Community feature: 'Afro-Deliciouz' organizers on quest to preserve culture

Erica Thompson
Griffin Nyachae (left) and Kevin Zamora

Griffin Nyachae, who grew up in the Nyanza Province of Kenya, learned of the substandard living conditions of the less fortunate by witnessing the dual lives of his family's house worker.

“I was just like, ‘Damn, we have this worker who comes to a nice neighborhood during the day … then she's going back to misery,'” he said of their employee, who lived in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya.

Nyachae saw the extent of the poverty firsthand when he took a job selling dishes and cutlery in the neighborhood before moving to the United States. “That's where I got my inspiration of wanting to change the slums,” he said. “It wasn't a pretty sight, or morally right.”

Nyachae's long-term goal is to eradicate slum living conditions in African and Latin American countries through an in-the-works nonprofit called The Jamii Concept. (“Jamii” is a Swahili word for “community.”) To promote the organization and raise funds for applying for 501c3 status, Nyachae has been co-organizing the “Afro-Deliciouz” cultural event series at Brothers Drake since March. The next edition will take place at the Short North establishment on Saturday, Sept. 16.

“It's an educational event where people get to know what these cultures are doing,” Nyachae said of “Afro-Deliciouz,” which showcases the music, art and fashion from countries in both Africa and Latin America.

Additional planning is provided by Kevin Zamora, who is of Mexican descent, but described growing up as an “undercover minority” in Columbus, where many assumed he was Caucasian. “White people can be around me and slip out a lot of racist things,” he said. “Being exposed to a family with a mixed background I think really saved my mind [and] my heart.”

Zamora also spent time working in Chile where he was exposed to citizens of many colors. That diversity can be found among many various cultures, Zamora explained. “People … think that everyone south of United States is just this Mexican person, but it's not that simple,” he said, citing the African populations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Brazil. “The African pulse is still beating within those cultures.”

“Latin culture and African culture, they're very similar,” Nyachae added, noting an overlap in cuisine, clothing and art. “There's a lot of influence between the two continents.”

That culture is on full display at “Afro-Deliciouz,” which has featured drumming, singing, rapping, dancing, poetry and fashion shows highlighting clothing from local businesses. Performers and participants span all ethnic backgrounds, from African and Latin to African-American and Caucasian.

The audience is similarly diverse, and Zamora relishes the opportunity to challenge preconceived notions ethnic groups have about one another.

“One of the main functions of the event itself is to provide exposure to people from all perspectives,” he said. “So we had people from Kenya, we had people from Somalia, we had people from Ghana [and] people from Uganda. We want them to be exposed to African-Americans, and we want black people here to be exposed to Africans. And we want all of those people to be exposed to white people and the white people to be exposed to them [and] Latin people.”

One standout moment for Zamora occurred when a woman from El Salvador, who provided food and showcased clothing from her boutique, stood up and shared her story.

“She talked about her journey to America and said she had cancer and that having a small business was a dream of hers,” Zamora said. “It was a powerful moment.”

In addition to celebrating Afro cultures in Columbus, Nyachae, who owns his own construction company, and Zamora, a law school graduate, are also passionate about preserving culture within the slums of Africa and Latin America.

“People don't understand that cultures … die in slums,” said Nyachae, who is also pursuing a degree in world politics. Through The Jamii Concept, the duo hopes to establish community centers where residents can make a living by producing cultural products like dashikis, crafts, paintings and sculptures. They also plan to build housing out of recycled materials and maintain the neighborhoods using renewable energy sources.

“It provides people with a new sense of hope and … a means of living a dignified and modern life,” Zamora said.

Though The Jamii Concept will prove to be a lot of work, Nyachae and Zamora have no plans to stop the “Afro-Deliciouz” events, which will likely number approximately six per year.

“People should get from it that ‘Afro' might not be just one thing,” Zamora said. “It's not one language, [it's] not one skin tone [and] it's not one type of music. … It's a spirit.”

Brothers Drake Meadery

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16

26 E. Fifth Ave., Short North