ACAF

Jennifer Bennett, center, with Sharif Abdur-Rahim and Rashie Abdul Samad, founders of the African Cultural Arts Forum, during a private screening of a documentary on ACAF at their 52nd Street location. — Tribune Photo by Nathaniel Lee

Supporters of the African Cultural Arts Forum (ACAF) attended a private screening of a new documentary series, which documents the history of the African-American owned and operated community-based manufacturing business.

Founded in 1969 by two brothers, Sharif Abdur–Rahim and Rashie Abdul Samad, ACAF has become known for its fragrant incense and soaps, which are sold in various stores throughout the city.

The series is written and produced by local realtor, Jennifer Bennett. She met the two brothers in 1992 at their store on 60th Street in West Philadelphia where she purchased a wall clock.

The business moved to its current location at 221 S. 52nd St., and it wasn’t until years later Bennett reconnected with them.

“I met up with them again here on 52nd Street and I fell in love with them immediately,” Bennett said. “I told them that I wanted to tell their story and I’m glad that I got the opportunity to do so.”

Bennett noted ACAF, known affectionately to some as the ACAF Tribe, is much more than just an African-centered business.

“On the one hand it is community, on the other hand it is business and then it is family,” she said. “It is the past and it is the present.”

Visiting their store on 52nd Street, you will find diverse works of African art, which range from paintings to hand-carved sculptures, as well as their famed incense, lotions and other cultural products.

But ACAF has transcended mere business to become the continuation of the African Consciousness Movement founded in the 1950s and ‘60s.

“It’s all about African people all over the world coming together to do business to empower ourselves through commerce,” Bennett said. “Brother Sharif and Rashid always preach that the social has to turn to economics.”

As an entrepreneur, Bennett said the brothers have personally inspired her as well.

“Times that I was feeling low, I would come here and get gassed up again, so this is a very important place and they are very important people,” she said.

Abdur-Rahim said he was very pleased with the Bennett documentary.

“I was very impressed with her ability to really capture reflections of our history and I think she did an excellent job,” he said.

The film documented the origins of ACAF and recounted the efforts of the two brothers to engage in Black commerce in a way which ensured the art, culture and history of African people were honored.

“We decided to become a tribe instead of a corporation,” Samad said. “All we do is preach one idea: That we can function as a people and take care of ourselves.”

The ACAF Tribe is a family, which hopes to inspire future generations of young artists and entrepreneurs, and to do so by becoming an example for them to emulate, according to Samad.

“The main thing is that we are trying to develop economics among each other and create a society that will give us a chance to love one another, party with one another — or we are going to perish with one another,” he said.

Bennett said the documentary series “The ACAF Story” is still in development.

“I have done many, many things and this is really the hardest thing that I have ever done,” she said.

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