Positively Africana founder and owner Aimee Salmon (left) was awarded a senate citation by state Sen. Jo Comerford (right) after being recognized as this year’s Black Excellence on the Hill Award recipient for the Hampshire, Franklin Worcester districts.
Reminder Publishing photo by Ryan Feyre

NORTHAMPTON — City officials and community members gathered on April 2 to honor a second-floor business in Thornes Marketplace with a prestigious state award.

State Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton) awarded Aimee Salmon, the founder and operator of Positively Africana, the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus’ annual Black Excellence on the Hill Award for the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district.

According to the state website, the Black Excellence on the Hill and Latino Excellence Awards are annual events hosted by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus to commemorate Black and Latino leaders and trailblazers who are “moving the needle forward in cities and towns across the commonwealth.”

Comerford said that the Black and Latino Caucus looks for someone who is leading with “grace and grit” and transforming communities. She also said the nominee recognizes a deep pride and commitment to racial and social justice as well as the well-being of the commonwealth.

“It’s such a great honor and privilege to receive this nomination,” Salmon said. “Growing up in the Congo, Black Excellence was not a vocabulary for me, because I grew up very poor, working-class family, raised by a single mother, so I’m very touched.”

Positively Africana opened its doors on the second floor of Thornes Marketplace in November as a retail and wellness business that celebrates African culture in multiple facets. During a grand opening ceremony in January, Salmon told Reminder Publishing that she obtained an entrepreneurial spirit during her time at Mount Holyoke College, where she graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and education and a minor in entrepreneurship, organizations and society.

It was there where she was asked to create a company for a business class related to her minor. A former resident of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Salmon knew she wanted to evoke her passion for African culture, fitness and wellness through her business. Positively Africana became that channel.

“It represents my passion for Africa, my passion for movement and my passion for community also,” Salmon said. “I recognized that there was a need and a market for this in the community.”

Positively Africana showcases Africa’s diverse artistic culture through authentic fashion, jewelry, accessories and bold prints, all of which are offered on the website and at the shop in Thornes.

Among the items sold at Positively Africana are earrings, bracelets, beaded sandals, bags and other accessories. The shop also offers an athletic line of items.

According to Salmon, what makes these items special is a lot of them are made by makers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Ghana and other African countries. She told Reminder Publishing that she plans to send 25% of her profits back to female artists and entrepreneurs in Congo.

“The idea is to empower other African artists and businesses,” said Salmon, referencing her collaboration with other artists in Africa.

Positively Africana also exemplifies Salmon’s passion for physical well-being and mental health improvement. Aside from being an entrepreneur, Salmon is also certified in many fitness-related fields, including as a Zumba instructor, group exercise instructor and personal trainer.

Salmon puts these certifications to good use by also offering group fitness classes at Positively Africana, like Afrobeats Dance Fitness, and she also offers a monthly fitness membership and corporate wellness programs.

By combining the physical and mental fitness portion of Positively Africana with the retail shop, Salmon’s passions are on full display.

“What we’re doing here is a movement,” she said. “It’s a movement to stay physically, mentally and emotionally healthy through fitness and also a movement to share African culture through fashion.”

During the gathering on April 2, Comerford presented a senate citation to Salmon, signed by state Senate President Karen Spilka, as recognition for Salmon’s work and the Black Excellence on the Hill award.

“You are an inspiring force, and a leader in our community, and I feel like we’re all so lucky to have you here doing what you’re doing,” Comerford said to Salmon.