Nzingha Amma Nommo is a very soft-spoken yet determined young businesswoman. As the longtime owner of AfriWare in Oak Park, her success has a lot to do with her involvement in the community and her personality.
Recently, she moved her longtime location at 948 Lake St. to 266 Lake St., directly across from Dominick’s Foods and closer to Austin. Austin Weekly News recently sat down with Nzingha in her new larger quarters for an interview.
AWN: Why did you decide to move?
Nzingha: Actually because the building was sold to someone, and they had made it clear they are going to change that building, demolish it, and put up condos. So actually all of the merchants will have to go at some point or another, but we decided to move right away because we realize that Oak Park is changing quickly. There are many areas that have already been designated for change like Harrison Street and Chicago Avenue. After looking around, we found a place still on Lake Street, just further east. So that was the main impetus for the move. Now people don’t have to pay for parking, they don’t have to look for parking, the sign is more visible, and we have much more space. We usually had to break down the entire store in order to have events, now we just have to move a few things.
Having a place built to suit is also a blessing. The place that was here before [a dress store] had been here for many years. The owners decided they were going to update it in this historical area and maintain the antique copper on the front and side of the building. They were asking me where I wanted my office, etc. I couldn’t have scripted a better situation to move into, and so we’re happy to be here. The grand opening will be the 14th of October, and we’re celebrating our 13th year in business this past August.
AWN: You worked in corporate America before starting your business?
Nzingha: Yes I did. I did not have plans growing up to own a business. This is something I would say called me later in life. Once I started falling in love with our African culture after attending a convention on African culture, I just wanted to share that with so many because this was not something I had seen and certainly not in the media, and certainly not in school.
I was a System Engineer, electrical engineering. I went to a Black History Month event and saw some greeting cards with black faces on them (now you see that all the time) but back then it was quite revolutionary. I just wanted other people to see it. I wanted to share this. Once I made the connection between sharing things with people and selling them, that was it. Before that point I thought selling was like a used car salesman. And so I designed cards my own way and the product really sells itself because it is connected to what is lacking in our society, which is anything that is positive about African people.
AWN: You also hold various community and cultural events at your store.
Nzingha: The events are really the pride and joy of AfriWare. Some events are the drumming classes held on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., harmonica players, singers and poets who share their talents. We also have the book club that meets once a month. We read non-fiction, African classical and various literature. We have had many book signings with people such as Dr. Yosef ben Jochannan, one of the greatest African scholars and educators; Purvis Spann; Walter Mosley; Lerone Bennett Jr.; Craig Hodges; Dr. Conrad Worrill; and I often participate with WVON in many of their community events.
AWN: What are your future hopes for AfriWare and what will be your legacy?
Nzingha: Hope for AfriWare is to continue to serve my community. The community has always been there for me, and I want to give back to the community. My legacy, I would say AfriWare is an institution and will be carried on way beyond my time. The main thing is training our young people and preserving our culture. You know, this is really a community-owned bookstore. The whole move to this new location took place because 10 men showed up, packed up everything, I didn’t have to lift a finger. I was feeling so overwhelmed because I didn’t have the money to pay them, and they did not ask, nor did they want to be paid.
Also, I’m happy to announce that AfriWare has gone hi-tech. We will have four Internet Wi-Fi (Wireless Internet Fidelity) locations so that people can bring their laptops, plug them in and get Internet service. Lastly, I must thank our African ancestors for giving AfriWare an opportunity to utilize the cultural treasures and build upon historical legacies. And much love and thanks to my own parents, Irving and Ragina Bunton, for always being there for me and supporting me.
Meaning of name: Nzingha (quiet storm) Amma (born on Saturday) Nommo (balance)