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John Legend teams up with A-Frame Brands to create skin care for people of color

January 21, 2022, 8:55 PM UTC

Poverty kills, good news for anti-racist Illinois homeowners, a new “Afro-futuristic” production of a Shakespeare play gets mixed reviews, and John Legend has been thinking about his skin and yours.

But first, here’s your banned book week in review, in Haiku.

Everything counts! says
Jason Reynolds, who writes books
that should be cherished, 

not banned, Stamped by
a librarian, and No
Hate Given by U.

Bluest Eye? Not in
Kansas. Between The World and
no one in Texas.

Pulling books from shelves
stokes outrage and fear that can
win over voters,

but at what cost?
A supply chain problem: Love,
empathy, respect.

Hope you get to curl up with a good book this weekend.

Ellen McGirt

In brief

John Legend, the award-winning artist, activist, philanthropist, and investor, has been thinking about his skin, and yours. 

“Of course, I'm in the public eye, and so there's a bit more of a premium placed on making sure we take care of ourselves and present ourselves well to the public,” he tells Fortune, on a late-night, post-performance Zoom call from Hanoi, Vietnam. “But everybody has skin, and everybody cares about their skin, and everybody cares about presenting themselves well in every situation, whether it's, you know, family, community, or wherever they are.” He pauses for a moment. “It’s such an important part of who they are, and how they present themselves to the world, and how they feel.”

That everyone wants to feel good in their skin is only part of the thinking behind Legend’s new skin-care line, still in development, which will be focused on the unique needs of darker, melanin-rich skin. The line is necessary for so many reasons, says Legend, which leads to broader conversations about beauty standards, the racial wealth gap, and some of the insidious reasons why people with darker skin need specialized products.

These conversations are happening within a new partnership that Legend has forged with Los Angeles-based holding company A-Frame Brands, announced today exclusively in Fortune

A-Frame, which was founded in 2019 by actor and activist Hill Harper and executive and entrepreneur Ari Bloom, has given itself an unusual market focus. 

“The entire purpose of the business is to create products for people who need them the most,” says Martin Ekechukwu, A-Frame’s charismatic chief brand officer. “And we’re defining 'people who need them the most' as Black, Brown, Asian, [people with disabilities] … anyone for whom there has been nothing specifically created for you, from the ground up.”

We talked about environmental racism, how the racial wealth gap sustains an opportunity gap, and the power of everyone to make the world a little more beautiful and a lot more equitable. It's a wee bit too long to post in the newsletter, so you can read the entire story here

On point

Bronx is burning, again For people of a certain age, the recent apartment fire which killed 17 people in the Bronx, New York and displaced many more, reminded them of the “decade of fire”: when some 80% of South Bronx residential buildings burned during the 1970s. Leah Goodridge, a tenants’ rights attorney, points to that grim history with an opinion piece on the interrelated history of fire and poverty. “Studies show that low-income families are more likely to die from residential building fires than more affluent families. The death rate of Black people in residential fires is twice the overall rate,” she writes. “When low-income tenants find affordable housing, many do not complain to the landlord about the conditions in need of repairs for fear of retaliatory eviction.”
Teen Vogue 

A new law allows Illinois homeowners to remove racist clause from deeds Known as a racial restrictive covenant, this language has been traditionally used to prevent people from certain racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds from buying or renting in particular communities. Though long banned, many clauses have still remained buried in deeds and similar paperwork around the country. With this new law, Illinois joins a dozen other states who are making it easy and affordable for homeowners to have the language reviewed and removed. Looks like New York is up next.
New York Times

An “Afro-futuristic” version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, is getting mixed (racist) reviews This bold interpretation staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company was an attempt to answer a bigger question of representation. Artistic director Erica Whyman said the company has been asking themselves, "Have we often enough made sure that black artists can lead the work?" Further, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, she said it was it "incredibly important... to look at ourselves and ask why there is so much racism in the world.” But after some theater patrons complained about the all Black cast, she stood firm. "The idea that Shakespeare's plays belong to one group and not to another is nonsense," she said.


This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On background

Speaking of deadly poverty: The most violent four miles in America It’s a deadly stretch of road called Natural Bridge Avenue in St. Louis, Mo. The street is so famous it shows up in rap songs. This 2017 piece accompanies a Guardian special report on the inequality of gun violence in America. The deep reporting moves beyond crime stats and census data to bring forth the human stories of this once thriving Black neighborhood, now a shell of its former self after years of racial exclusion, underinvestment and systemic neglect.

One tale: James Clark, a community organizer, dispatches volunteers to shutter up abandoned buildings and ask residents how they are and what they need. They leave yard signs behind, now so popular that they cannot keep them in stock. “We must stop killing each other,” they read. I’m not sure how years of pandemic have impacted the findings, but I do know that Natural Bridge Avenue has not gotten the investment it needs.
The Guardian

ICYMI: How to talk to your boss about race Y-Vonne Hutchison is one of my favorite thinkers on race and equity, an early raceAhead supporter, and the the CEO and founder of ReadySet, a diversity and inclusion training firm. Her new book, How to Talk To Your Boss About Race, promised to build on years of work in the field, helping employees have effective conversations with powerful leaders and live to make a difference. The TechEquity Collaborative is hosting a free webinar with Hutchinson on Feb 2, 2022 at noon Pacific Time. Y-Vonne is a treasure, please share widely.
TechEquity Collaborative

Mood board

“I just stay with my music because that’s the only way I can find to live in the world.” Speaking of banned books and super stars, Denzel Washington's performance in Fences is something else. We wonder if John could relate to that quote...
David Lee—Paramount Pictures/Everett Collection

This is the web version of raceAheadFortune’s daily newsletter on race, culture, and inclusive leadership. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.