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In Conversation: Lemn Sissay On His New Book About Re-claiming the Ethiopian Heritage Stolen From Him by England’s Foster Care System

In 'My Name Is Why,' the 2019 PEN Pinter award winner passionately advocates for children in the institutional care system, and in turn tells a unique story of identity and the power in discovering one's heritage.

It took the author Lemn Sissay almost two decades to learn his real name. As an Ethiopian child growing up in England's care system, his cultural identity was systematically stripped from him at an early age. "For the first 18 years of my life I thought that my name was Norman," Sissay tells OkayAfrica. "I didn't meet a person of color until I was 10 years of age. I didn't know a person of color until I was 16. I didn't know I was Ethiopian until I was 16 years of age. They stole the memory of me from me. That is a land grab, you know? That is post-colonial, hallucinatory madness."

Sissay was not alone in this experience. As he notes in his powerful new memoir My Name Is Why, during the 1960s, tens of thousands of children in the UK were taken from their parents under dubious circumstances and put up for adoption. Sometimes, these placements were a matter of need, but other times, as was the case with Sissay, it was a result of the system preying on vulnerable parents. His case records, which he obtained in 2015 after a hardfought 30 year campaign, show that his mother was a victim of child "harvesting," in which young, single women were often forced into giving their children up for adoption before being sent back to their native countries. She tried to regain custody of young Sissay, but was unsuccessful.

Whether they end up in the foster system out of need or by mistake, Sissay says that most institutionalized children face the same fate of abuse under an inadequate and mismanaged system that fails to recognize their full humanity. For black children who are sent to white homes, it often means detachment from a culturally-sensitive environment. "There are too many brilliant people that I know who have been adopted by white parents for me to say that it just doesn't work," says Sissay. "But the problem is the amount of children that it doesn't work for."

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(Screenshot from "Every Woman" video)

Check out Cameroonian Crooner Vagabon’s New Ode to Female Power

The singer dropped a video for new single "Every Woman" today, shot by fellow Cameroonian director Lino Asana.

Cameroonian-born singer-songwriter Laetitia Tamko, better known as her stage name Vagabon, has been spoiling us with delights as of late. First, the crooner teased us with two singles, "Flood" and "Water Me Down" from her forthcoming sophomore album, Vagabon, a work she wrote and produced herself. And today, she surprised us with a new single and video for "Every Woman"—a track Tamko claims is the "thesis of the album," as per a press statement reported by The Fader magazine

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Rihanna Reached Out to South African Maskandi Artist Mbuzeni For a Collaboration After He Performed A Remix to ‘Diamonds’

"This is a big thing for South Africa and for maskandi as a whole," says Mbuzeni.

Popular South African maskandi artist Mbuzeni Mkhize is delighted to work on a song with Rihanna, SowetanLIVE reports.

According to the news website, the seasoned maskandi artist performed his own take of Rihanna's 2012 hit "Diamonds" in Istanbul in 2018. A year later, Riri's team reached out to him for a collaboration on a song.

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Here's a Glimpse of Rihanna's FENTY Maison Campaign Shot by Nigerian Photographer Ruth Ossai

A true black diaspora creative link-up we deserve.

Rihanna has been killing it lately with the slow rollout of her new high-fashion brand, FENTY Maison. This launch makes her the first woman to establish a brand at LVMH, Konbini reports.

The powerhouse artist and businesswoman seeks to embrace a freedom from convention and rules with FENTY. "Women are forces of this earth. We are multifaceted, complex, vulnerable yet bulletproof, and FENTY speaks to all of our intricacies," she says on the brand's website. "Some days I want to be submissive, many days I'm completely in charge and most days I feel like being both….so it was imperative that we created a line versatile enough to embrace and celebrate us in that way."

A few images from the campaign shot by Nigerian photographer Ruth Ossai stopped us in our tracks as we wait for the online launch.

Ossai's sartorial, portrait style with scenic backdrops reminiscent of the photo booths we found our parents pose in front of at the functions growing up surely compliments Rihanna's aesthetic for her first collection.

Take a look at them below as we wait for more.

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