“We use the word Afro World because we want people to know about the African culture. We want people to know that we are more than just our skin.” -Sheila Little-Forrest
Afro World began its journey at 7276 Natural Bridge Rd. in 1969, selling men’s toupees, and quickly grew into selling women’s wigs and hair care products. Since 1969, not only has Afro World been a considerable staple in the Black community, especially the 24:1 Community, but they have been a leading seller of wigs nationwide. It was not until 2000 when Sheila Little-Forrest took over her father’s, Russ Little Sr., business. Originally from Detroit, Michigan. Sheila grew up in the St. Louis region and graduated high school from Hazelwood East. She received her undergraduate degree from Southwest Baptist University, then shortly after obtained her M.B.A. Sheila has three amazing children, three grandchildren, and a loving husband.
We started the conversation with the current president of Afro World, Sheila Little-Forrest, by asking what some of Afro-World’s major accomplishments were. The response was more than we could have imagined! Sheila said, “Within the time span of 53 years operating, we have employed many people and provided money for Black families. People that could not have gotten a job we gave them a chance. That alone is an amazing accomplishment! Also, we were the St. Louis North County headquarters for President Barack Obama’s campaign. Politically, we were involved from the very beginning. We had canvassers and phone banking seven days a week. Worldwide news crews came to our store to gather footage. News sources such as CNN, Wall Street Journal, a French Media company, and many other news media publications were here to see what was being done to spread awareness for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. It was an unbelievable life-changing experience to see all that happen.” She also told us about her hat event that is held at Afro World annually. “We have an annual event that is called Hatitudes, which is in connection with Forest Park Forever. This event is not only about fashionable hats, but it allows women from various financial backgrounds to come together, network, and connect culture. The proceeds go to Forest Park Forever.”
Sheila has continuously inspired other entrepreneurs in the 24:1 Community and the St. Louis region throughout the years, so we wanted to know what ignited Sheila’s inspiration each day. “I get my inspiration from when things go bad in our community. I am also inspired by the African concept of Sankofa. Sankofa is a Ghanaian concept meaning we should retrieve things of value from our knowledge of the past.” Sheila told us she has learned a lot over the past years with running such a successful business. She gave us some advice for other entrepreneurs that she wished she knew in the beginning of starting her business. “Search for resources. Work as hard as you can. Stay extremely prayerful. Stay consistent. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Allow yourself to be surrounded by people that will help you get to the next level. Lastly, Education-education-education!” Says Sheila.
Talking to Sheila Little-Forrest was a great chance to hear about her passionate involvement with social justice and why that is. America seems to be going through a time of separatism, but Afro World is here to unite the community. Afro World is not only a major retailer when it comes to wigs and toupees, but they are also here to support and encourage the community by being one of the largest sellers of Black Lives Matter Gear, including T-shirts, masks, face shields, ball caps, flags, yard signs, and more. According to Jane Elliot, a diversity educator and anti-racism activist, “We are still living in a country full of systemic racism.” Knowing this, we must continue to build outlets and intuitions like Afro World in communities of color because we need to have more places that encourage knowledge, culture, and self-respect. We continue to wish Afro World great success in their business and involvement in the St. Louis region and 24:1 Community.