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Who? Alicia Hemphill, creative designer, and Dewayne Washington, game designer, and Ruth Pauline Plumber, game designer.
What? A board game that plays like Monopoly and teaches players about Black history.
When? The game was created in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd.
Where to buy: https://blackopolythegame.com – the game costs $49.99.
The Fort Worth Report spoke with creative designer Alicia Hemphill and game designer Dewayne Washington about how they came together to create Ebony-opoly. This conversation has been edited for content, grammar, length and clarity.
Seth Bodine: How was the game created?
Alicia Hemphill: We each had three ideas and three intentions and three purposes and passions. And so I’ll start with Dr. Plummer, who’s in Israel. And her passion was to establish a night every week for families to come together, cut off the television, cut off the devices, cook a meal together. And, you know, we used to do this in the African American community on Sundays after church. We would all come together to church, we’d have a meal. And it was a place of bonding and support in the Black community. She wanted to re-establish that pattern after a weekly event in the Jewish culture, which is called Shabbat.
So we wanted to establish that – a Black family Fridays. For me, I felt like that’s wonderful. But we need to have something to do after we eat. That’s not going to take too long. And then 2020, about the time that George Floyd was murdered, a group of us began coming together. Lady Cathelean Steel from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, she began to teach a group of young women in their 30s and 40s. I’m a little older than that. And this was the first time young women began to really know and understand that there were women like them in their day that had an impact on the Civil Rights Movement, because it’s not very well advertised.
I was observing young women begin to have identity and to get energized, and to be able to connect with what was happening with the George Floyd movement, with the Civil Rights Movement, to where they could begin to make change and feel like they were empowered to make change in our community. So Dewayne and I just happened to be filming at around that time, I think it was in July. And we were just just chatting about what was going on in current events. I was sharing with him what I was observing, and then Dewayne began to talk about a prototype of Ebony-opoly.
Dewayne Washington: We were putting together a piece to kind of explain how African Americans got here. One of the things my history teacher would say all the time is that history is important because it explains how we ended up where we are here. If you look at any socio-economic indicator, African Americans, Black people, very specifically, native Blacks are at the bottom. Whether it’s education, whether it’s homeownership, whether it is wealth building, whatever it is at the bottom, there’s a reason for that. It’s not like that Black people are just inherently not good with money or anything like that.
We put together this game to tell the story from 1619 to 2019. So if we can think about a game of Monopoly, and you know, for people sitting down to play the game of Monopoly, and each round representing 50 years, and then their sons take over and get all of their money and all of their properties, and then they play, you know, another round, which is another 50 years, from 1619 to 2019. The only thing is that they had to play with the rules of that particular day. So for example, in 1619, you have three white guys and a black guy sitting down playing, the black guy doesn’t have dice because you’re owned by somebody you can’t move around, you have no mobility for actually five rounds. For 250 years, there’s nothing for you to pass down to your children or anything like that. And even when you could pass go and collect $200, and you could buy property, the laws of America stated that as an African American male, you could not pass that land or property down to your children.
If you can think about that for basically eight rounds, and then 2019 comes, and you know, four guys sit down to play and everything looks even, everything looks the same, you know, everybody can buy land, everybody can collect $200, everybody can pass Go and everything. Except one of those guys is starting at zero. And the other three have the benefit of really all four’s lineage. His forefathers actually helped to build other people’s stuff.
Alicia came and said: Hey, how much is the game? I’m like, well, the game isn’t really for sale. And she was like, you know, let’s get it retail ready, let’s kind of change it up, make it a lot more simple. It’s just like Monopoly, as a matter of fact. But to take the same type of concepts we had put it into a game, change the different squares, make it an affiliation with the Reconstruction Era here in the United States. From that, the game was born.
Hemphill: I just want to add that the final product really represents all three of our ideas. And so we’re super proud of that. I say that our company, and this game really, is to help restore relationships with some of the African American family and to teach history. It’s difficult to move forward into today’s world and contribute until you understand who you are and if you have a place in this world. It’s based on your history. This will help establish that in our younger generations, and then to help educate financially, as Dwayne was communicating the benefit of financial management, financial acumen. Those are the three foundations of this game of which we are able to leverage the single game and each of those three areas.
Washington: One of the things that makes it better (than Monopoly) is the interactivity. For example, let’s just say you’re going around the board and you land on Greenwood Avenue. And we’ve told you that Greenwood Avenue is important from an African American perspective, but you may not know why. Well, when you get that card, there’s a QR code on the back. It takes you online, it tells you about Black Wall Street. Matter of fact, when you scan that one, it takes you online not only to give you pictures of what Black Wall Street was, but you also see an interview that we did in the New Black Wall Street in the new Greenwood Rising museum interviewing the president of the museum. Not only are you getting the verbiage and the pictures, but you’re getting a live interview from that location.
Bodine: How many interviews did you do and how much research went into all this?
Washington: A lot. For example, when you get a chance and a chest card, all of the scenarios that you’ll read on there are not only real scenarios from a macro perspective. So you may see, hey, you may get a card that says you had a property, a business in the Greenwood District or the you know, the Black Wall Street district of Tulsa. It was burned down by some rioters and killed people in a massacre. You are not able to claim insurance, so you lose $50. Well, a lot of people will know that as a macro story, which is true. But we’ve pinpointed all the way down. If we say that that’s a micro story for us, we can show you the individual that it happened to, so everything in there is researched.
Bodine: What was the most challenging part of the game?
Hemphill: I think the most challenging part was trying to decide which properties or which scenarios needed to be included. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of stops, there are only so many cards you can put. But I think that doesn’t represent all of the stories during the Reconstruction Era. We started out with several categories: political, financial, business, banks. You’ll see scenarios and properties representing sports. We tried to bring a cross section.
As you know, Reconstruction was one of the most prolific times for African Americans. And to represent that in a small, small segment, that was the hardest part. These represent people’s lives, and so we wanted to make sure people had an understanding and putting ourselves in that place and to be proud of our history. So that was hard.
Bodine: What’s next?
Washington: We actually have three more games in the making. One deals with trade routes, one deals with civil rights, one deals with current events. We’re currently doing the research around those other three games, and that’s pretty interesting. We have another game that I can’t give you a whole lot of information about yet. Can’t let the cat out the bag, but we do have a Caribbean game that is coming out and that we’re pretty excited about as well.
We are now expanding to more and more stores across the country. We’re pretty excited about that and the opportunity, not only for us, but for us to be able to help these African American owned bookstores that survived the pandemic, which is extremely difficult. We’re adding a product that helps them to do even better, and do our part in helping them stay afloat. It’s been a great ride, we’ve been riding it. We’ve got more to come.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.
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