An AfroDigital Sign O’ the Times: A Big Sista Hug to Akilah Johnson

akilahIf you did a  google search at any time today, then you immediately noticed today’s Google Doodle by Akilah Johnson.  Johnson, a high school tenth grader, won this year’s Doodle for Google contest, winning a 30K college scholarship and 50K worth of technology for her school.  I did not actually know about the contest but was immediately drawn to Johnson’s doodle called “My AfroCentric Life.”

My initial reaction was related to the adult coloring book trend. I have been curious in the past few months about adult coloring books and their supposed connection to mindfulness and mental health. I tend to flip through the pages when I encounter one.  Though I have an abundant supply of colored pencils and markers, I seldom use these utensils for any concentrated creativity anymore.  More importantly, I’ve never been compelled to actually purchase one of these coloring books because I am not particularly inspired by the designs, though I appreciate their intricacy.  I am always annoyed that Africanized cultures are ommitted despite the undeniable power of pattern and design in African visual life.  Though I contemplate doing my own Afrocentric pages, I just never managed to do that work.  When I saw Johnson’s artwork, I thought: see THERE it is!  Her signature black sharpie, black crayon, and colored pencil style should be an inspiration for what an Afrocentric coloring book and line-design project could offer.


Johnson’s “My Afrocentric Life” is, however, much more than just a new possibility for how adult coloring books could be approached for Black creative audiences.  Her piece is, to borrow from Prince, an AfroDigital “Sign O the Times.”  A beautiful, box braid spells out g-o-o-g-l-e: the handmade box braid is reminiscent of self-taught natural hair care enthusiasts as we use the internet to teach ourselves how to protect and sustain our natural styles.  It’s a beautiful way to represent— both literally and figuratively— how Black lives are literally braided with and into the technologies that apparatuses like google have made possible.  At center is a Black face/mind/head.  Symbols calling up Khemet, Black Power, #BlackLivesMatter, references to African America poetry, Africa, Black urban life, and words/libations calling up the ancestors are all further intertwined.

When I look at Johnson’s “My Afrocentric Life,” I can’t help but smile.   This young Black woman shows us who we are at this moment, with this sign, at this time.  I imagine myself giving her a BIG sista-hug! Ashe!

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