In conversation with… Kemi Akinola
The theme for Black History Month this year has been ‘Saluting Our Sisters’. Through a series of conversations, we are proud to highlight and platform four inspirational Black women who are creating a lasting impact in their communities, on generations of young people and their families. The interviews explore their personal experiences, inspirations, and motivations, and reflect on why Black History Month is so important.
Today, we spoke to Kemi Akinola who is Founder and Chief Executive of Be Enriched and Brixton People’s Kitchen, an organisation that creates access to food for local families everyday of the year, and training to help people gain confidence and skills to cook and get back to work. She is also Deputy Leader of Wandsworth Council.
Can you tell us about your personal connection to Black History Month and what it means to you as a Black woman in London?
I am a Nigerian-Grenadian born woman from Birmingham – or I should say West Brom. When I was growing up, the history that was available to us through standard education did not reflect my heritage. So having a month dedicated to history that does reflect mine and other people’s heritage is an important opportunity to learn, and it’s this history that makes London the diverse place that it is. We need to take time to understand ourselves and those around us in order to live in harmony. Also, there is a lot more delicious food during this month and trying new foods is an important part of engaging with different cultures.
Who are some Black women in British history who have inspired you and why?
Inspirational Black women in history have often had an impact on me because they have opened my eyes and the doors to opportunities that otherwise seemed inaccessible. As I have gotten older, I have been able to empathise with people like Dawn Butler and Diane Abbott and some of the microaggressions that they will have experienced in their professions that are predominantly White and male.
And obviously my Mum, bringing me up in Roehampton in the 80’s and 90’s, she managed to shield me from a lot of harmful racist behaviour, she educated me about my heritage and brought me up to have a strong sense of self, which I am grateful for.
What quote keeps you going?
“Mess about and find out…” reminding myself to not let the haters, or those trying to disparage you and what you do to stop you from doing those amazing things. When it is needed people should be called out on these kinds of behaviours, there are people in this sector working really hard and doing great things but not being appreciated for it, and that needs to change.
How can those who aren’t of Black heritage become active allies?
Learning, reading, educating yourself. Take time as individuals to learn about the history that is missed out in schools. If you are a business, be aware of your own foundations and how it relates to Black history and acknowledge things that needs to addressed. Being educated will also give you the courage to challenge people when they are behaving in an oppressive manner. I did an online course, after the death of George Floyd, on the history of the Empire to make sure that I felt educated and more confident speaking out about and addressing these issues.
What is your go-to meal when cooking for others? What makes it so special for you?
I make a mean goat curry with couscous, as well as a tofu alternative for my vegan friends, which I actually make every year on my birthday. It’s a delicious West Indian meal that I love, and it usually gets devoured in a few days in my house.
As we celebrate Black History Month, ‘Saluting Our Sisters’, what message or legacy would you like to leave for future generations of Black women in London?
The sky is the limit, forget the glass ceiling because you can break through it. If people are telling you no, just do it anyway.