Black History Month collaboration hopes to spark a ‘resurgence of the griot’

Crafted Culture’s Anthony ‘Sizzle’ Perry Jr., Rahim Ewan of Fortune Over Fame and artist Evan Williams acknowledge the past, embrace the moment

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Rahim Ewan, Evan Williams and Anthony “Sizzle” Perry Jr. photographed outside of Flavor 91 Bistro in Whitehall on Feb. 19, 2022

A new collaborative venture has its roots in February’s Black History Month, but it easily could have surfaced at any point during the year.

“My history isn’t 28 days, so I’m going to keep talking it,” said Anthony “Sizzle” Perry Jr., owner of Crafted Culture Brewery, joined for a late-February interview by Rahim Ewan of Fortune Over Fame and artist Evan Williams, the three of whom recently joined forces to produce a hooded sweatshirt and a T-shirt, both of which are available for purchase at Crafted Culture’s Gahanna taproom. “We talk it all the time over at Crafted, and we take whatever opportunity we can to highlight as many people as possible. So, when everybody else is celebrating ‘May the Fourth be with you,’ we’re like, ‘This is happy Ashley Boone Jr. Day.’ People don’t even know who that cat is, but he was the Black marketing executive that took on the ‘Star Wars’ franchise when everybody else threw it away. We wouldn’t have that first trilogy if it wasn’t for Ashley Boone Jr. So, we take opportunities to tell our story every month, and not just the one month when every eye is on it.”

Ewan, a Gahanna expat and current resident of Miami, Florida, who has previously collaborated with Perry, echoed these thoughts. He noted that the dual clothing items could have been released “any day, any time, any year," highlighting designs that pay tribute to the past — the hooded sweatshirt includes a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. done in Williams’ instantly recognizable style — while simultaneously capturing the importance of this moment with the wording emblazoned on each item: “We are Black history.”

“And that’s a message that needs to be echoed over and over,” Perry said. “So many people are part of that history, and they don’t get recognition for it. To at least be able to don a piece of clothing as a reminder to yourself that we, as a collective, as people, are Black history, and that it’s changing every day, and we’re making new history every day.”

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Growing up, Ewan said he always felt a deep connection with Black history, tracing it in part to his great-grandmother, who grew up in Selma, Alabama, a city central to the Civil Rights movement. “I was raised into knowing where you come from, knowing who you are and knowing what it means to stand for something,” he said. “So, yeah, Black History Month and ‘I have a dream,’ I’m all for that. But the true dream is to be like a stone thrown into a pond, and to be that ripple that reaches others. … This is a small foundation: three entrepreneurs coming together. And then hopefully next time it’ll be five. The dream, we didn’t just sit back and listen to it. We took it and paid it forward, and we tried to make something bigger out of it.” 

These ideas are particularly relevant coming at yet another point in existence where there is a concerted effort being undertaken to erase Black history, with legislation in some states being pushed to dissuade educators from teaching students about the enduring legacies of slavery and racism, while other school districts have started to ban books that grapple with subjects some might perceive as challenging, a disproportionate number of which were written by Black authors.

“We can’t erase what they’re doing,” Williams said. “But what we can do is offer up different avenues and information to spark the mind and give people something to follow up on. If someone sees one of my pieces, or goes to his brewery, or buys something off Rahim, maybe that sparks something, or makes them think differently. … We have a platform and a voice, and that’s something we have to acknowledge.”

Perry said he views the work the three have been engaged in as part of an ongoing correction to what is currently unfolding within society, which itself is just a continuation of a cultural purge undertaken by early colonists, who, under the auspices of slavery, razed villages, burned sacred texts and killed the storytellers tasked with connecting the African people to their history.

“The griot was assassinated so that no one could ever tell the story,” Perry said. “And this is the correction moment. Through the social media platforms we have, there’s a resurgence of the griot, and the storyteller in the Black community is now us. None of us signed up for this … and so many people before ignored that responsibility. But that’s why it’s cool to collab with cats like this, because it's like, no, we’re gonna tell the story. So, the resurgence of the griot is really what I'm looking at. That’s why I say, 'We are Black history,' because the storytellers are the ones who pass it on from generation to generation, who remind people of what they might have forgotten. So now we have the opportunity to remind some, and to recruit others. And I dig that.”