If the average little black girl asks her mom for a princess party, odds are, she would choose a white Disney princess with Elsa from Frozen at the top of the list. With so few images of black royalty, it’s become an inherent part of our society.
Thankfully cartoons like Doc McStuffins and Disney’s introduction of Tiana, are diversifying the figures young black girls look to as an example of their own greatness, but there’s always room for more images of black royalty and prominence.
Eki Asemota is here to help fill the void. She is the founder of Your Queens, a group of women who dress up like historical black princesses to present as characters to entertain and inform young people at parties and events (The group also has a male figure who portrays King Tut from Egypt).
I spoke to Eki about her mission, how the public is receiving them, and how her Nigerian and Dominican background inspires her work.
Why did you decide to start Your Queens?
I started Your Queens because it felt like the right time for today’s youth and adults to learn about the beautiful royal lineage of African Queens through costume character. There’s nothing wrong with Disney princesses but we cannot relate to them when you consider the fact that Queens like Nefertiti, Makeda Queen of Sheba and Queen Cleopatra ruled the world in BC and AD. I started it to show that we did not come form slavery we came from Kings and Queens. We are living at a time where we can feel the shift in the universe. Many Women, men and children seem to have lost their identity, and we are bombarded by images and video of police brutality, negativity from social media fights, and superficial images of beauty on reality shows. Your Queens is a way to bring about positive images and messages through storytelling song and dance.
What has the response been like?
The response has been overwhelming, a blessing and life-changing. To be able to live at a time where we can inspire people of all ages and connect in a very powerful way is quite humbling. When we present at different events, the look on the children and adults faces makes us feel and know that we are making a positive change in their life. One moment out of many that stood out to us was when we were walking at a festival last year dressed in our garbs and a young girl walking with her mother, pointed at us saying ‘I want one of those’. It made us feel that she was able to connect to the royalty and greatness in herself.
How does the Your Queens message differ for different age groups?
When we are performing for a daycare group, Your Queens focus on telling each royal story in a poetic and memorable way. For example we have a song and dance that we teach them and we may provide instruments to play with Queen and Warrior head wraps.
For teens we perform in a way that we are telling a positive and inspirational message that connects with their goals and dreams. We also add an educational component where students are asked questions after they learn about each King or Queen about how much they have learned. We also dedicate a special dance for them.
For adults we create special crowns or head wraps for the women or men. We show them how much we appreciate the work they have done with their families, coworkers, friends etc. We also dedicate a special dance. All these presentations are done dressed in our royal Garbs.
Your Background is Nigerian and Dominican. Does this project reflect how you feel about your cultural heritage?
Absolutely, I know that my culture is definitely a reflection of Your Queens. Growing up my mother was a school teacher and my father an accountant who owned a cultural shop for 10 years in Brooklyn NY. My mother always put on amazing cultural fashion shows and events at her school and at the shop we sold African clothes, books, jewelry and so much more. I believe being around my parents has definitely made me the passionate entrepreneur, choreographer, teacher and creative director I am now.
Was there ever a time you struggled with beauty/identity? If so how did you overcome that?
Yes, but it wasn’t long. I was always able to bounce back quickly because of my parents and family that provided a lot of love and support. My father always reminded me that I was a princess and I came from royalty. He is from Benin, Nigeria. His words at a young age stayed with me. I definitely dealt with self esteem issues especially as a teen, but I give thanks for that because it had been the driving force now for me to overcome it by teaching and inspiring children and adults to believe in themselves always
Which African queens do Your Queens represent?
Makeda Queen of Sheba from Ethiopia, Goddess Isis, Queen Neferititi, Queen Cleopatra, King Tut from Egypt, Queen Amina from Nigeria and Queen Nzingha from Angola. I chose these Queens and King because I remember as a child learning briefly about them and I wanted to learn more, so I studied them for months before launching the company. I became inspired by each one of their stories and legacies and I felt that children and adults will be inspired too.
The garb you wear, do you base it on historical references?
Yes our Garbs are based on historical references. The idea of Your Queens was thought of in September 2014 and Launched in January 2015. During those months leading to the launch I researched on each King and Queen’s attire though images, videos and books to make sure when we are in the presence of an audience they can feel that they are in the presence of real ancient African Royalty.
Finish this statement: I discovered my own beauty and greatness when…
First, when I was a little girl around 9-years-old walking home to school in Lagos Nigeria, I remember having a conversation with God. It was about remembering that in order to achieve my goals and dreams, I had to follow his plan! Now at 35, I discovered my own beauty and greatness by going through obstacles, trusting the process but always remembering God’s promise, that his plan is always the best.