From Africa to America: Three Women Making History in Los Angeles

Kehinde Ololade

Nigeria’s Kehinde Oloade

Kehinde Oloade, 49, came to America from Lagos, Nigeria in 1987 following the pattern of African nationals who took advantage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which saw an estimated one million Africans immigrate to the United States.

“I came here alone,” she recalls. First arriving in San Diego, where she remembers getting her first job at a local Jack-in-the-Box restaurant.

From there, Kehinde says that she had a string of jobs ranging from a parking lot attendant in Boston, to a home health aide in New York, before eventually settling in Houston as a shipping and receiving manager with a part-time seasonal job at the post office.

By the time Kehinde had moved to Houston, she had been married and divorced and was now a single mother.

“When I got laid off in Houston I decided to follow my passion for styling hair. Back home in Lagos, I was always doing everyone’s hair.”

Kehinde then enrolled in Franklin Beauty School in Houston getting her cosmetologist license before moving to Los Angeles in 1995.

In 1998, she opened the Spice Salon, 4855 W. Pico Blvd., just east of La Brea.

“It wasn’t easy but I saved my money,” she says. “I saved my money, found investors, and had help from my brother.”

Since opening the Spice Salon, Kehinde has made a name for herself not just with Los Angeles’ ever-growing Nigerian community, but with American Black women.

Kehinde and the Spice Salon were featured on NBC affiliate KNBC Channel 4 during the height of California unemployment crisis for offering unemployed men and women in Los Angeles discounted salon services to help them in their job search. The reason is simple Kehinde says.

“Black women are always judged by their hair,” she explained. “And because our hair texture and care is so different from that of everyone else, we require special services that can sometimes be costly when you’re unemployed. I wanted to give back and also at the same time support my Black sisters who were struggling trying to find a job.”

In addition to helping the unemployed, Kehinde and her team of stylists have provided free services to foster care youth by doing their hair for their proms and graduations.

Most recently, the salon has been teaching White parents who have adopted Black children from the U.S. and Africa how to properly care for the child’s hair-a project Kehinde is particularly proud of.

“It’s important that the parents who adopt Black children understand how to care for their hair,” she explains. “Our hair is very different from theirs and unless you grew up knowing how to style Black hair it can be a challenge to learn. But we know as Blacks that the state of our hair plays a role in how we feel about ourselves and so it’s important for these parents to learn early on how to take care of their child’s hair.”

In addition to running the Spice Salon, Kehinde is a mother of three, including a set of fraternal twins. Her oldest, Zena, is a freshman at Harvard University and a forward on the school’s basketball team.

Kehinde Oloade can be reached at (323) 936-7830.

Nana Gyamfi

Ghana’s Nana Gyamfi

Known as the ‘People’s Attorney,’ Nana Gyamfi, 46, is a human and civil rights advocate, attorney, professor, and community activist. She is known for working to solve the problems of the community through legal advocacy, involvement in local causes and volunteer activities.

Born in San Francisco to a father who was a World Bank executive and mother who was a businesswoman and homemaker, Nana moved with her family from San Francisco back to their native country of Ghana shortly after her birth.

Originally from Kumasi, Ghana, a descendant of the Akan people of Ashanti, Nana grew up in Accra, Ghana and the former capital of Ivory Coast Abidjan. She speaks French, Italian, Portuguese, and the principal native language of the Akan Twi fluently.

Inspired by lawyers C. Vernon Mason, Alton Maddox, and Dr. Lennox Hinds and their work on behalf of the people in the Howard Beach, Tawana Brawley, and Central Park Five trials, Nana graduated from Cornell University and earned her law degree from UCLA’s School of Law.

She considers herself an attorney for the people and says that she is dedicated to resisting White supremacy and world domination and chooses to focus her work on helping the disadvantaged and oppressed.

“When I was just getting started the persons who really helped shape my understanding of what it meant to be the people’s attorney were lawyers Chokwe Lumumba and Iris Johnson-Bright.

Lumumba was a New Afrika politician, human rights lawyer, and mayor of Jackson, Miss. who passed away this year, while Johnson-Bright was a legal community activist and social justice advocate known throughout South Central Los Angeles for her dedication to helping the underserved through legal action.

In 1992, while still in law school, Nana worked with Chokwe Lumumba at the Black Law Institute and co-organized and directed the community organizing aspect of the defense for the LA Four Plus, a nickname given to the men charged with the attack on Reginald Denny.

She will always remember winning her first trial.

“I won my first trial on the same say that O.J. Simpson was acquitted,” Nana remembers. “It was a trial for murder and it was my first ever trial.”

That not-guilty verdict and her representation of her client ended up being mentioned on the then-popular Oprah Winfrey Show.

Shortly thereafter, Nana successfully represented a member of the Watts Grape Street Crips who happened to be one of the gang truce leaders who was wrongfully charged with murder. She caught the eye of South Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters who asked her to consider getting involved with the Black Women’s Forum. Co-founded by Waters, the nonprofit had more than 1,200 African American women in the L.A. area as members. It was through this invitation that Nana served for several years as the executive director of the organization.

Nana is also a co-founder and co-director of Human Rights Advocacy, a community based organization dedicated to defending the human rights of Black and oppressed people everywhere.

“We have successfully represented several people wrongfully charged with assault on a police officer.”

In November of 2013, Nana, who cut her teeth in criminal law, made news when she won her first civil case. She represented a Los Angeles Fire Department Black firefighter who sued the city for harassment, racial discrimination, and retaliation. That case resulted in a $1.1 million verdict for the plaintiff.

Today, she runs the Crenshaw Legal Clinic where she provides legal ease workshops regarding knowing your rights. She is intent on empowering people with the information that they need and dispelling what she calls “homie to homie law advice.” The clinic also provides a home for groups that working to abolish the death penalty, freeing political prisoners, and breaking the prison industrial complex.

She is an adjunct professor of Pan African Studies at Cal State Los Angeles and a practitioner of Capoeira Angola, a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music. She is the director of the Capoeira Angola Center of Mestra Joao Grande.

Nana is also the host of “Conversation On the Way,” a weekly internet radio show where she “strives to re-organize the way people see the world with an eye toward the upliftment of the human condition.”

Follow Nana Gyamfi on twitter at @attorneynana and online at www.nanagyamfi.com

Charlotte Kouassi

Ivory Coast’s Charlotte Kouassi

Known for her trademark hair and African couture, Charlotte Aya Kouassi, 35, is a native of the city of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast.

Through a program of the United Nations, in 2005, Charlotte came to New York as a translator. She speaks French, Spanish, and her native tongue of Gouro fluently.

One year later, she joined her family in California where she quickly became integrated in Southern California’s growing African community.

“After I was elected president of the Ivorian Community of Southern California,” she explains, “I joined a group called the African Leadership Council, a group of African community leaders in Los Angeles.”

It wasn’t long before she was elected secretary-general. Using her influence and passion for working with both the African and African American community, in 2008 Charlotte organized town hall meetings and candidate’s forums for the community—most notably the race for Los Angeles County Supervisor with now Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Councilmember Bernard Parks. She organized fundraisers in Little Ethiopia and encouraged members of the African community to volunteer on both campaigns.

“As Africans from the continent I felt that we needed to get more involved in politics in Los Angeles,” she said.

Charlotte has also been a supporter and volunteer of Carson Councilman and Assembly candidate Mike Gipson.

In addition to her political activism, at Christ Citadel International Church, one of the largest African congregations in Los Angeles, Charlotte is a church administrator. In her capacity as an administrator she says that she is able to work more closely with the African community on integration and seeking out services.

“Spousal abuse is something that is not talked about much in the African community,” she reflects. “Through the church I am able to steer women towards services around domestic violence.”

In 2011, Charlotte co-founded a marketing and promotions company called Vuvuzela, through which she hosted Los Angeles’ first ever African soccer tournament that featured Africans from more than 26 countries.

I wanted Africans from the continent to come together for something different,” she said. “For us to come together and have fun and also give the opportunity for non-Africans to see that we play soccer and at the same time experience the culture and the food.”

Vuvuzela helps companies and organizations reach Southern California’s African community. They’ve partnered with Western Union, Turkish Airlines, MoneyGram, Broadway Federal Bank, and the LAPD.

In 2012, Charlotte helped to bring the Ivory Coast ambassador to the U.S. to Los Angeles for a trade and tourism expo centered on the Ivory Coast. It was a rarity given that most African ambassadors opt to visit east coast cities.

Her latest success is the inaugural African Gourmet Food & Wine Festival that was held in Culver City Labor Day Weekend 2013.

Food and wine from more than 20 African countries were highlighted with the city’s officials and community leaders coming out to support the event.

“I call it education through food,” she says. “We have Thai and Hispanic food festivals so why not an African food festival. Plus the food is so good.”

The festival is set to take place again this year, Labor Day Weekend.

Charlotte has also been a long-time supporter and volunteer with the Pan African Film Festival.

Charlotte Kouassi can be reached at charlotte@africangourmet.us.

The Court of Public Opinion