Branding Room Only Interview with Ifeoma Ike: Flawed Bravery
Ifeoma Ike, Esq., is a Partner at Pink Cornrows, a national firm specializing in public policy, communications, and social impact for women and people of color. A lifelong advocate of equity, Ifeoma is the author of The Equity Mindset: Designing Human Spaces Through Journeys, Reflections, and Practices.
Ifeoma frequently appears as a guest expert in policy, political dynamics, communication and behavior, diversity and inclusion, criminal justice reform, and equity in data and tech. Additionally, she is an award-winning playwright and creative director.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Ifeoma’s passion for political and social justice
- How marginalization can impact personal branding
- Why Ifeoma wrote her book and what messages it conveys about creating equitable spaces
- The work of self-education outside of the workplace
- Radical sabbaticals, what they look like, and why they are important
In this episode:
Each personal brand should include some form of advocacy. Countless issues and battles desperately need support in the current times. When placed in leadership, it is both a right and a responsibility to leverage your platform to find your causes and help others. While this looks different for everyone, Ifeoma Ike discovered her voice in policy reform and equity advocacy.
Ifeoma has led a vast career focused on creating equitable spaces, drawing directly from her story. Her public persona is marked by action, education, and creating strategic narratives. So, how can these ideals be translated to your brand?
In this episode of Branding Room Only, Paula Edgar speaks with Ifeoma Ike, a Partner at Pink Cornrows, to talk about advocacy and the concept of flawed bravery. They reflect on Ifeoma’s career and life, her approach to branding, creating equitable spaces, and the message of her new book, The Equity Mindset: Designing Human Spaces Through Journeys, Reflections, and Practices.
Resources mentioned in this episode
- Paula Edgar
- Paula Edgar on LinkedIn
- Ifeoma Osinachi
- Ifeoma Ike on LinkedIn
- The Equity Mindset: Designing Human Spaces Through Journeys, Reflections and Practices by Ifeomasinachi Ike
- Pink Cornrows
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Sponsor for this episode
This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.
PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.
Paula Edgar: Hi, everyone. It’s Paula Edgar, your host of Branding Room Only, where I bring on industry leaders and influencers to talk about how they built their personal brand and as well as their reflections on personal branding. And today I’m so excited because I have someone who I’ve known for a long time on the podcast.
We have Ifeoma Ike with us today. She is the founder and Chief Equity Weaver at Pink Cornrows, a Black-femme led social impact, policy and equity firm that weaves formal and cultural strategies to solve problems. She is also the author of a new book, The Equity Mindset: Designing Human Spaces Through Journeys, Reflections, and Practices.
And we’re going to talk about all of that today on the podcast. Welcome to the podcast. How you doing?
Ifeoma Ike: Thank you, Paula. I’m so glad. I know I’m somebody. I made it. I made it, everyone. I made it. And I just also want to say congratulations to you, 10 full years of not only, building your personal brand, but helping others build their businesses. So thank you. Thank you for all that you’ve done.
Paula Edgar: Thank you for saying that. I appreciate it. All right. So, I’m going to ask you some questions, but we’re just going to jump in and just be conversational for the next 45 minutes or so. My first question that I ask everyone is what does a personal brand mean to you? How would you define it?
Ifeoma Ike: So this is very difficult because while I love the fact that people feel strong in their brands I have been known to say that as a person I’m not a brand and that is separate from, like, what aspects of my work should be branded. So for me, I really think of, for me there is a healthy divide between how do I want to be known in the world, and that can overlap with my brand. But then I do think that branding, for me, is very much connected to what is the purpose and the drive of why Ifeoma is here.
And for me, that’s really equity, it’s policy. That’s, those are my love languages. I am naturally, if there were to be an Ifeoma brand, I am naturally an empath. I naturally like to sprinkle comedy into things. I… I am silly, and I am … and I’m also, when I’m excited, my voice can raise, and it can escalate, and I think that in some ways, when we talk about branding, branding for me feels too packaged, and doesn’t allow for me to exercise those things, and that may just also be a combination of my intersectionalities in a world that struggles with how do we balance or take, What we see of especially Black femme women, and honor what they’re showing us, but not requiring us to give everything of who we are.
But I do think that branding is so important when it’s connected to like, but when I am present and when I am showing you a thing, respecting that I am very well informed, I am an expert. So I do think that there is also part of me that the serious side is that data informed. It does have receipts.
It is here to support and educate and inform, but ultimately it’s not there to showcase my intelligence as much as provide an invitation for people to participate in what I believe is all of our rent on this earth, which is making society better for all of us to experience. So I don’t know if that fully answers your question, but I struggle with that.
I struggle with the concept of branding. I know it’s important. And I also I’m okay with the fact that, like, there’s a human side of me that struggles with how much gets put into a brand, and how much and how okay I am, even if the public is not okay with the fact that my brand is not all of me, right?
It is the part that is there to help advance some of the work that I think is more crucial.
Paula Edgar: I love what you said because it is outside of I won’t even say what I usually get because I think everybody looks at this very differently. But what you did is you brought up something that I often talk about when I’m doing sessions it’s I, believe the branding is the magic of you, right? So everything that you explain is the magic of you. That’s not, it’s not the fun side that’s a brand with a serious side. All of those things. However, there is a challenge when it comes to understanding the concept of branding and then being someone from multiple marginalized identities and how people read that brand proposition.
So, I love that you put that out there because I’m sure the folks who are listening right now are going to be like, oh, this is something different than it has been because you’re the first person who has said. This is a challenge for me to understand the concept in terms of how it’s been laid out, and I appreciate it because it’s not that I don’t think of it that way, it’s just I don’t often talk about it that way unless I’m talking to folks in a certain grouping about a certain thing who are wondering about how to navigate that piece of it.
So I appreciate that. That being said.
Ifeoma Ike: And I love your definition, I just wanna highlight that I do love your definition of the magic of you, because I do think, again, as people that come from multiple marginalized and ongoing marginalization, branding is so tied to perception and perception oftentimes for me, as a lawyer, as a professor, as a teacher, I’m also thinking of the voyeuristic aspect of what it means when people are always looking at us and looking at us, for good and bad things. So sometimes I’m like, I don’t want you to look at me, but I do… but I love that when you frame it as magic, magic is like a conjure, like I can, participate in creating, what is safe for me and what is necessary to be seen, while also recognize that recognizing that anything I put out there is magic right? So I love that definition.
Paula Edgar: Good. I am glad. So I, some of the pieces that were in there are probably going to be in response to this question, but I’m going to ask you in specific anyway, because I just like to get the snapshot of it. So, describe yourself in three words or short phrases.
Ifeoma Ike: Loving, justice oriented, and an overthinker. I didn’t just demonstrate that.
Paula Edgar: I love it. And if you will. So if you will allow me for a moment, I want to, to take personal privilege and give you three that came up for me just now for you, which is, advocate, activist, and I think when you said an empath, I was like, absolutely right. I found you to always be someone who understands and maybe it’s empathy and EQ at the same time, right?
Getting what feeling as well as, being able to adjust to that. And I think, well, not, I think, I know a lot of people don’t have that.
Ifeoma Ike: Yeah, and I think you’ve known me, like, I’m always connecting how I feel to action. And some of it has been that, like, I’ve also been taught that, like, just feeling a thing is not always healthy.
Feelings are real, but they’re not always healthy for me to sit and feel like there’s nothing I can do about a thing, can drive me a little bit, crazy. That being said, I do, I do think that if there were a fourth word that I would absolutely add, it would be strategist. Like I do believe in creating pathways to justice and I do believe that there are big level pathways and then there are everyday pathways and everything is about a choice.
So I would say strategist is probably, just as strong as any of those words that were raised.
Paula Edgar: I love that and I’m gonna, speaking of brand. My camera is trying to not be my friend today, so I’m going to turn it off for a moment and turn it on again. Okay, good, because you know what it is? I realize that the camera’s not adjusted to Black Girl Magic, because I do all of this all the time, and it’s always trying to find me.
Ifeoma Ike: It’s just doing that. It’s trying to find you.
Paula Edgar: It’s trying to find me. Let me do what I want to do with my head, and for those of you listening, are going to be like, what is happening? Okay. So that is very helpful. So my next thing is this. Do you have a favorite quote or mantra that you utilize to navigate life?
Ifeoma Ike: Not… so I will say that I have several that come to mind. I think I like to think of Chinua Achebe’s, the title of his book, Things Fall Apart. I think, I don’t know, there’s something really comforting about being a human being and being able to say things are falling apart. But then also recognizing, but I’m still here.
Right. So there is something about how we think the bottom is the bottom and it’s not, but it is a way of like being real with, it also happens to be one of my favorite rap albums by The Roots, but like the concept of like when things fall apart, oftentimes is the birthing place of a lot of creativity and so that’s, one that stands out to me.
Paula Edgar: I need to take a minute because that you just took me back to, a place where I was speaking of brand, many of you didn’t know I went to boarding school and it was a transformative experience for me in that I really learned how to access information in a very profound way, because I had college professors in high school, right, they were like, you’re going to learn, you’re going to think about it in a different way than just giving the information.
So shout out to Mr. Fraker who I love dearly. But we read that book in his class and I was a freshman in high school reading that book and understanding, particularly from a white male professor saying that this is important for us to understand just that, that what happens when folks’s lives are turned upside down because people come in who are not invited.
I’ll just put it that way for those who haven’t read you should read it and that you think, but there’s advocacy and agency that can, shift your world, even when your world seems like it’s done. So I appreciate you talking to me about that. I love it. So we’re going to link the book to all y’all.
Okay. All right. What about your favorite song. And this is a hype song is what I asked for from folks. So this is, if you’re walking into a room and they need to know that, like you coming into the room, it’s going to be you, or you’re having a terrible day, need something to lift you up. It could be the same song or two different songs. What song is that?
Ifeoma Ike: So I’m going to take a little bit of privilege and put two songs. And so my hype song when I come in the room, and people don’t know this, is literally the intro to Black Sheep’s This or That. Like, that whole, here they come yo, here they come. That’s what you should feel. You should feel that when I’m coming in the room.
Even if it’s in a soft way with a beautiful fragrance, it’s probably going to smell good. But, I spoke last night and there was a woman that was just like, I’ve been waiting for this. And I was like, ooh, what has she heard? But I also, there was a time when I think I was really nervous about like my presence and my being, but I’m like, but actually, if you’re feeling that before I’m there, I have a better understanding as to like, what is being ushered before I get in the room, how my ancestors are there, how my Creator is there, all of that is true.
And so, whatever you’re feeling that’s real. I think when I’m actually in my space, though, of like, just me and I’m needing to think, jazz really helps me think. So anything like Miles Davis’ Nefertiti, can put me in a mood. I am a Take Five person, shout out to Dave Brubeck. Like I like non words because oftentimes I feel like there’s like a lot of words and messiness in my head. So I need that to get out. And then I’ll just end with this, like when I’m… Lauryn Hill makes me cry. So if I need to cry, I’m just gonna just throw on anything from the Miseducation. Like all those songs are the right songs, but it’s also like, they evoke a mood. And, I think in some ways I’m still trapped in that neo soul era.
So anything that’s akin to that, if you feel it, I get it. Yeah, I hold that.
Paula Edgar: I love that. And, yes, shout out. And also I get the whole, the Lauryn Hill. That was for me, that was college time and it was like I can put myself back into that space where I was like, Oh my God, the Fugees. Okay. So given your understanding of branding and you also your description and your feeling about it.
I’m thinking of what you just said in terms of that person knew that they were excited because they knew that what they were going to get from you, that what they knew what they wanted. It is because of how you have been stewarded and that is also because of your brand. And so what are some of the ways that you have built your brand?
Ifeoma Ike: So it’s interesting the first time I did anything on, let’s just use the term social media. Well, let me take a step back. When we were in law school, you may remember this, maybe you don’t, when I was running for student government president, I had put a flyer in everybody’s box. My little bit of coins.
I went and did my own Kinko’s. And it had a picture of me at that time. For those that didn’t know, I had a blonde afro. That’s how I came to law school. And there was a picture of me and everybody calls me Ify. So the slogan was, She may be Ify, but she’s not confused. It’s really crazy how many people still remember that slogan.
But I put it in everybody’s box. I won. But I say all that to say that to your point, I don’t know if I knew it as branding, but I knew I had to be memorable. And I also am really really, just really really connected to, like, the authenticity of me. Like, even if I am running to be president, I want you to know the type of person that I am going to be in that space and so that’s one thing that comes to mind. But I will say that, like, with social media, the first time I actually… Facebook had been out for a very long time, even I mean it, it was accessible even when I was an undergrad, but my first post on Facebook wasn’t until I was in law school, and the first post that I put out there was what I was at this point serving on the National Board for the National Black Law Students Association. And we all had decided that we were going to post something, in lieu of a major action called Jena 6, which was an injustice happening in the South. So my first post ever was that, and it was a conscious decision around it because I actually, A, I don’t know how, but I saw, like, the runway of social media and had already deemed, I wasn’t sure if it was for me. But I was just like, if I’m going to put something out there, is there some good that I could find behind it? So I will say that for me, getting back to your question, I really felt like it was, and I still think it’s important to not overthink the, is this professional or not professional?
Is this supposed to be in this space or not in this space? Because I, think it actually, for me, takes more work to give what people think versus to give, like, what I think people should know. And that doesn’t mean that every issue or every justice issue is on every platform, but the likelihood that there’s going to be ways, and I think I’ve gotten better over the time, over the years, but mostly behind the scenes as a policymaker as working on the ground, whether it’s in spaces where people are trying to survive, or working on political campaigns when you’re working with other people that are also trying to get their issues out, the thing that I’m thinking about is like, how can I support in service of humanity? So how can I support in this time? And getting smart about the branding of the platform is helpful.
So if it is a professional site, what are the ways that professionals can connect to this information? If it is for my family and friends, what are the things that would help? What are the things that, in the midst of their busy days, that would stop them a bit and be like, huh, I didn’t really know that this was happening.
So I think, there’s like the public and messaging of like what I would love for you to take away from when you’re done finished reading, or how I think you should feel, but then the other part is like, also, I think part of my brand or invisible brand is like, I think I’m hella creative, like, I’m really really, thoughtful about, like, just the psychology of colors and the psychology of poetry.
I do like to write, like, on my own. So, I’m okay with, like, leading with a story before I say, like, this is what we should do. Like, I’m really just thoughtful as to, like, what are the ways that human beings like to be drawn in, versus, like, hitting with a hammer. And I did have hitting with a hammer times, and there are some hitting with hammer times.
I’m sorry if you got hit by that hammer, in the past but I also think that some folks need… Also, and I’ll end with this. I do think that there is a space for people that also validate, in the ways that Brittney Cooper talks about eloquent rage. That in a lot of ways, part of what I am trying to model and navigate myself is how I can be a well rounded individual that cares about the things that impact all of our lives, while also caring about my economic security and caring about the things that I care about. I think that’s very difficult for a lot of people. So I don’t say that I have it all together. And I do recognize the privilege as an entrepreneur that I don’t have in the same eyes, if you will, that are, looking at everything that I do.
But I do think that, I am fortunate that I listened to my gut first about my branding. And I think that helped me navigate the, even the types of careers or the types of opportunities I would take advantage of.
Paula Edgar: Yeah before you even said it, I thought to myself, I have to ask her about authenticity next because, we, talked about this a little bit before we got on and started recording, but I would say something that we definitely both have in common is that we have been consistently ourselves for as long as I’ve known us.
Ifeoma Ike: I think so. Have I been me since you’ve known me?
Paula Edgar: Not only have you been you, but what my experience has been is that you were. And like everybody else, but some people are different in this way. You, surprise me. And I mean that in a way that it’s like delightful about people. Like I’m an anthropologist, right?
I studied anthropology. I love culture. I love people. And I love excavation. I love finding out things. And there’s some people who I’m like, all right, I got you. I know you we’re good. Right. And there’s some people I know the core concepts of you, but you continually show me new and different about you. And it’s like layer cake, right? As opposed to just one layer…
Ifeoma Ike: Yeah.
Paula Edgar: Clearly I haven’t eaten lunch, but anyway,
Ifeoma Ike: Neither have I. That cake sounded really good.
Paula Edgar: So tell me this, give me a little, and not an elevator pitch, but tell me, a little background story of you. Like how, did you get from wherever to now, but, do it in a, brief way so that, we’re not here for three days, but I want to know the story. Like, where did you come from and why are you here?
Ifeoma Ike: Well, I am the first of five children of a Nigerian American family. Grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. Trenton Makes The World Takes if anybody knows that bridge. And how did I get here? So it’s interesting when you said you went to boarding school.
I went to private school for six years, and I say that to say that, coming from an immigrant family, what I do remember vividly, is the relationship with labor. In fact, in my book, I talk a lot about, there’s this chapter around journeys and, how I didn’t necessarily know everything about what my parents did, but I could sense that it was urgent and it was fast because even just us getting ready for school, we had to get ready within a certain amount of time because it was one car to the house and you got to drop people off as you’re getting ready for school and just like, and so and I do that as a way to illustrate for folks like how we’ve normalized our work behavior is way before we contemplated college or what have you. But I think I’m here through the combination of a journey that early on before there was even the terms like social impact or equity, at least for me. I felt those things very deeply while I was experiencing it. I knew what it was like to be the number two highest scoring, contestant for this math competition in the state of New Jersey for my grade, but still being put in the remedial math class and that didn’t make it just didn’t make sense.
I knew what it was like to, be in history class and get in trouble for asking questions around, I don’t, so you mean to tell me that somebody would just come uninvited to your home, and you would give them a turkey and a pie, like, I just was, I was just trying to ask the questions in the hopes of an answer, but I just was like, Mrs. Carroll, this is not logical, right, and so, I, and then getting in trouble for it. So it wasn’t even just the inquisitive nature of it, but I was very very close to the ways that I was outed for my inquisitiveness and I don’t think that never really stopped. I think, my undergrad years were very interesting ’cause I went from being a poor kid in New Jersey to seeing poverty in a very different state, in a very white state.
In a state where the first time I ever saw a KKK rally was right in front of my school, and it wouldn’t be the last time, but I just, in my mind, I’m like, I thought this was, I thought we were past this, like, it, I think that there is something about my journey that was so much around just like really feeling the worlds around me and New Jersey to West Virginia, West Virginia to New York And I am a New Yorker, but even in New York where you feel like there’s this quote unquote liberalness, learning, as you mentioned, the layers, and in some ways, the many different ways that, you know, even, and I don’t have a problem saying this, even going to a law school that on paper was very mission oriented and public interest oriented, was probably entrenched with the most amount of dismissal of racism for that reason, and what that meant when I was then starting to find my voice.
I tell people all the time that, like, undergrad, being in West Virginia, like, I knew that things were off, but I don’t know if I necessarily knew how, unsafe I was. By the time I got to law school, I started realizing that, like, we’re talking about equity, but we’re not talking about safety. We have a problem.
If we’re talking about who the next people are that are the problem solvers, well, then we have a problem. Because as you remember, there were very few of us in that space. And I’m like, well, how are we going to get the people that understand the trauma and also are going to fix the problem? And when you have a space that has all these policies and procedures that don’t necessarily say, We don’t necessarily care if the majority of Black and Brown students get sent home after their first year of being at this school.
My first time advocating was on behalf of a very close friend of mine, as she was appealing to stay and remain at the school. I still to this day think she’s one of my greatest inspirations. She actually came back to the school, a year and a half later, and graduated with a completely different class, but I say all that to say that, my journey to here, and I know this is a painting, if this was like David Ross for all you PBS people, I’ve only given you like the watercolors of it as the backdrop, because I don’t want to go through all the different instances, but I will say that, again, when things fall apart, I do think that I started creatively starting to figure out like, all right, well, then what can we actually do? Like what? Where then should our energy be in? And I think, like, I was as vocal as I could be about social justice issues. All of us collectively worked on issues as far as Darfur but as close home as Hurricane Katrina. When I heard about Sean Bell being killed, like, tracked down his mother, who was, for those that don’t know, was a young man who was killed the day of his wedding by police officers.
I think we were having our CUNY, our law school soul food dinner, and I just started thinking, like, how was her season being? And we invited her and his children. And so I think I wouldn’t say it was a brand, but part of my brand now is that I have been seen as somebody who really looks to strategize as to like, A what is the human response to people that have experienced trauma, not trying to like exploit their pain just to be like, are you good, right? And then how do we work in concert with what they want? So now that you’re good, what do you want? Right. And even if it’s like, no, I don’t think this can happen, but, let’s try it. And I think the audacity of trying and the attempt – attempted equity is just as good as achieving equity because there’s so many things you learn from attempting a thing.
And so, yeah, I think I’ve just, I think that, I don’t know if that even really answers your question, but I am in the definitely in the good trouble conspiracy team. Like, I am here to try a thing. I do tell people, even though folks would brand me as an equity expert, I have started moving towards the term practitioner as a form of power, because I do think to practice a thing, you have skills, you have tools, you know what you’re doing, but you’re also trying things and you’re experimenting and you can get caught up in the applause and not really get caught in the, like, the actual, like, but there’s another problem to get to, right? So I don’t have a cape. I want, I don’t want people to think, don’t contact me to fix all the problems. But I do, I do love the freedom of being able to find my place and my lane in problems that I can support as well as to bring people in to do the things that I can’t do.
Paula Edgar: I think we all know that I have several capes and I love them. So anyway, you said so much and you just reminded me, when you have experiences in which there are, there’s growth and then there’s challenge at the same time, sometimes I think the way that our brains protects our body is to forget.
For sure. Specific details. and I think about that a lot when I think about the experiences of trauma, just in period, but, and not necessarily lying into trauma, but just thinking about, I hadn’t thought about some of the things you just said in such a long time, particularly about our law school experience, because I was like, okay, bye.
For those of you who don’t know, my backstory , I got married my first year of law school. I had a baby my second year of law school. I bought a house my third year of law school. And in the time of being pregnant, there were like three or four of us who were pregnant at the same time in law school, and my first experience of really advocating for myself in using legal skills that I was learning was, I was like, well, if I’m going to have this baby, then we are going to have a space for us to make sure that the baby gets fed.
I need to, we need to have a lactation room. Right. And we wrote letters. And I didn’t. I remember. In a space like such as the one that we were in with the mission as the one we’re in there will be a fight, but it certainly was a fight and I always say when I go there now, and there’s an actual room, not a closet.
I’m like, hey, if there’s no other impact. I know that I did this and all of the babies… It should be called the Paula and all the rest of them who had babies… When I think about the concept of equity, the term equity, it immediately makes me think about what is not equitable, right?
Like I defined it, by the not, and when you were just talking about your experience, I thought perhaps your connection to wanting to drive equity has to do with the fact that you have experienced the fact that the equity is not there in your, in your upbringing and then what you experience and what you witness.
So tell me, because your book, which all of you online I’m showing you again, The Equity Mindset, why was it important for you to write this book?
Ifeoma Ike: Yeah. Oh, it just brought me back. so right before the pandemic, two things, I was already a founder of a startup, was excited. Full Black team did a lot of civic engagement work and we’re also making money. Great. But I realized, and this is going to surprise some people because they may think it’s the other way around, that it was like working in white dominant spaces that I was like something’s wrong.
But I was actually realizing that in a lot of progressive and or, Black and Brown led spaces, there wasn’t enough attention to the types of supports that different groups that have different intersectionalities need to achieve equity. A lot of us, when we talk about things, we say things like Black and Brown, we say BIPOC, we do a lot of lumping, but I was realizing that even in spaces where, and you may know this, but a lot of people don’t know this, I’m a former executive deputy director in the City of New York for the Young Men’s Initiative, which is… a misnomer in some ways, because there is no young women’s initiative. It’s the only initiative and the largest, initiative within any municipality that focuses on young people of color. And I… was able to design and create amazing programs. One of the leading teacher recruitment strategies in the nation is, from literally from these two hands, this brain and this mouth that had to yell at so many people to get out of the way as we’re trying to diversify the classroom.
But, and of course, an amazing team that was a part of building that. But I say all that to say that. It didn’t matter what space I was in, Paula. There is a difficulty with people, A, being able to identify, especially as teams, on like what does equity mean for us and how are we going to use our collective tools to actually fix a thing.
Then I also think that as we started moving in this world where there was a struggle and a tension, and I’ll get back to like my former firm in a minute, but this struggle and this tension around, should it be D&I, should it be EDI, should it be DEI, there was this lumping of all issues that had to do with social inequity should be dumped in D&I, which was crazy for the life of me.
I was a researcher before I went to law school. So I’m like, why are we doing that? And shout out to all those that do with human resource and people issues. But I also was like, that’s not the fullness of equity. Like when I hear equity, and it’s also possible because of my positionality as a social justice attorney, as a human rights and civil rights attorney, as a policymaker.
It’s different for me than just focusing on like what the dynamics are inside of an organization. It is both and, but it is different for me. And I think that the last part is that I recognize that just being in a space where everyone looks like me does not necessarily mean that it is equitable. So having those different feelings was like, Ooh, how are we going to try to fix the thing when our mindsets aren’t even on a fixed thing?
Like we don’t actually have a clear understanding of like, what it means for me to wake up in the morning and be me before I even get to my cubicle, or what it means, when we are talking about the ways that young people of color are all experiencing a certain type of marginalization, but there also are differences as to how they’re experiencing marginalizations.
I was like, and then specifically, which, led to me founding, Pink Cornrows. What does it mean for those that are femme and of color, and specifically Black? Like, why is it that we’ve never really had the attention span, even as people who are in these bodies, to focus on us when we know that the well being of who we are impacts so much on all these other indications of wellness or lack thereof?
So, The Equity Mindset is a conversation. It’s really a combination of conversations that I’ve had. There’s a curriculum that I created with the same name that I had been teaching on for quite a bit, Fortune 500 companies, startups, nonprofits. But I was like, I’m actually tired of this being like a one off thing.
What does it look like for people to sit with almost like the inside inner workings of practitioners that do this. And I think that’s been the pleasant surprise of how people respond to the book, because what has happened is that D&I in many ways, or whatever you want to call it, and I don’t, I tell people all the time I respect D&I practitioners, I do not hold myself as a D&I practitioner, just because I feel like it’s so limiting, but I get that some of my work is also relevant to that space.
I think a lot of folks have felt like it’s either too sterile, definitely some questions as you raise, like questioning of like, how can people teach people on a thing if they haven’t experienced the thing? So that’s, I think these are still things that we have to grapple with. And even if you haven’t experienced the thing, what are the ways that you create space for people that have experienced the thing to also help with the problem solving?
So there are conversations in this book with people that are experiencing things that I will never know what it’s like to be marginalized in that way, it is important for them to have space then to support what does an equity mindset mean for you as you’re doing your work. And so, yeah, I think there is a part of me that’s like, I would love for us to get familiar with the messiness of this. And messiness, not in the, it’s too messy, it can’t be fixed, but messiness, like the way that you bite into a peach and the juice is just dripping down on your hand, like, it’s messy, it’s sticky, but it’s full, and there’s, every bite is different. And, there are things that are actually practical tools of how we can do this work better efficiently and strategically.
But then there are also some things that do challenge like, have you spent enough time with yourself as you’re doing this work? Are you doing impact work that doesn’t take into account that when you enter the room, especially as somebody of privilege, that what you have inherited is a signaling of the ways that everyone around you, adjusts because you’ve entered the room, which is hard for people to, like, grapple with, but in many ways… reminding people that you didn’t create this, you inherited this, is also what this book, like, strives for. And the final thing I’ll say, and you said it so I didn’t have to say it, we only talk about equity because inequity exists. And that’s important for people to recognize. That if equity was solved for, we would not actually even need a term for it.
So part of this is like, equity is very much connected to data. I believe in that, like, it’s very much connected to the data that we know and the data we don’t talk about, but equity is very much connected to, like, we can actually reduce disparities. We can actually, like, close the gaps, but we do have to be collective on how our minds see the problem and how we see the problem solvers and how we equip those who are trying to solve the problem.
Those are decisions that human beings make. That is not something that just happens, right? So I do, like to think that anything that’s been designed can be undesigned. And no, it does not feel good to be in an, to have inherited a reality where we still have not been able to reverse the fullness of like a decision as bad as the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, we have many evidences that we are not a full person, but I’d be damned that if somebody can write on a piece of paper that I’m not a full person, that I’m not, I’m going to fight hard to make sure that the fullness of it, can be more possible than not. And for those that choose to do this equity work, I argue that equity work is a choice.
If you choose to do it, then there are some things that you need to know about the people that experience the brunt of it.
Paula Edgar: That’s like so many words. It’s all of the things. I, it’s, it is, it’s sobering sometimes to be, and I say tasked in a privileged way with navigating conversations where you know that there is going to be discomfort and you know that in order for actual change to happen that folks’ reality has to shift, right? When in spaces and say, we have to engage in a process of unlearning, because what we have learned and experienced has not been in a space that supports us all, it doesn’t matter what letter you have, DEI, JIB, A, B, C, D, all of those letters. It is not right, right? It’s not, it is not working in terms of our collective humanity and personhood. And so when you were talking just now, and that’s why I like talking to practitioners generally, aligned or the same regardless is because I like to not feel like I’m being gaslit.
I have to be like, okay, so somebody else gets this too. But to that end, I know that folks will hear this and be like, all we have to do is just love each other and it’ll be fine, but this is… the striving for equity has to be dismantling because we know that right now that it doesn’t exist and you can’t build on top of a foundation that is, that’s damaged or maybe wasn’t even there in the first place.
So, so I’m glad that you didn’t just say, I’m going to write the book because people need to hear what I have to say, but you writing the book to hear what people are experiencing and what other people in that space have to say and driving that change and that information gathering is really important.
So I honor that you’ve done that. And I thank you. I think it’s important for us to be having these conversations and educating ourselves in a space of where education is…
Ifeoma Ike: And I also want to add that I think that there is this notion that and this is going to hurt a lot of people’s feelings.
I think there’s this notion that all of our workplaces are the spaces for that thing to happen. Like this is an opportunity for you as one woman had said, This is my bedside reading. Like this is an opportunity for you to commit to the work outside of the spaces that may not be for you. We spend a lot of energy at times trying to change all the little offices, but it’s like, but if the little offices are run by little brains, you may have to go, right?
Like, you may have to go, but that does not mean that you do not have an equity mission or that you don’t have an equity journey or that experience of feeling unsafe can’t be fuel for something else. But you do have to do the work. And I do think that we have, for whatever reason, adopted this, like, we all go to work, and, I think this is also why some people are burnt out by this stuff.
They feel like, oh my god, I gotta go to work, and I gotta do my work, and then I also gotta do, this diversity training. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t. Because in many ways, those who are the most privileged are the ones that are the most, the data shows are the most reluctant to do this work.
And we need y’all to do the work. But also there’s work to be done outside of the workplace. So yes, you may feel a little guilty in the workplace. And that’s by design. Like that’s not, don’t run away from the guilt. Like, why do you feel guilty? What are the things that you’re feeling at this moment?
What are the things that you know, history tells us that you may have inherited, that you would like to disrupt, or that you would like for it to be different. Be curious about that and ask those questions. But this book actually has people in a space where it’s like no one’s around now. No one to blame.
It’s you and you get to make decisions about like what you want to move or what you want to move and how you want to move differently. And so yeah, like, it’s really hard. I put a lot of personal stories in there as well. So it is, also to express to folks that the messiness of this is you can’t really get around from the fact that you are a human being that is an ingredient in the equation of doing this work.
So all of my goodness and my messiness is also showing up in these spaces. And if I don’t learn how to mitigate that while I’m in these spaces, I may think it’s about improving things, but it may turn out to be just about me. And I think folks need to like, figure out why the data points around the safety of Black women in corporate spaces or the lack of leadership for Native American, Indigenous, and Latina, we don’t even really properly collect that data.
Like, why is that? Right? And I think that I don’t know. I think we sometimes we invest more time on people’s feelings – while they are valid – we have made that the center of D&I versus like, no, how do we actually look at the data and create a road map beyond your feelings to get to a different outcome?
Because there are also feelings we are dismissing for your comfort. And so I will stop there. I will stop there.
Paula Edgar: I just pictured that sound clip just now, just being like BAM! Because it is true. And I know that even in the work that I do, in order to be in some spaces, I have to acknowledge, that I gotta get, like, I have to literally say, this is uncomfortable, like I was saying before.
And you gotta get comfortable even to come into the space with me. Like, I’m always like, people are running into rooms. And it’s why a long time ago I said that this is not, this is a part of my work, but it’s not the fullness of my work because as a Black woman, it is very hard for me to navigate through some of those conversations.
And, one of the last things I want to ask you about before we close is that you and I have something else in common. In 2021, well, I guess 2020 to 2021, I started doing what, I called my summer sabbatical. And you, yes, and you have a sabbatical practice that you do. Is it radical sabbatical? Is that what it is?
Ifeoma Ike: Radical sabbatical. Yeah. Oh my gosh.
Paula Edgar: Tell me how radical sabbatical helps you to do the work that you do.
Ifeoma Ike: Well, I will admit that I have not. I’m lying. I have had to look, reflect back and redefine the spaces where I radically and the way I define radically is twofold. Radically in the definition of Angela Davis, which is just simply getting to the root of a thing, that go figure that getting to the root of why all these things happen is still considered radical to this day, but then also radical in the form of almost like being a misfit to the norm, like disrupting what has been denied. And, in my practice, there’s so much that I would love, in a separate conversation to talk with folks about the realities of what it means to be an individual. That all the statistics say that right now our worth, our net worth is, what, $5? Like, on average, a Black woman’s net worth is $5. When you run a business, the average Black woman business does not make it two to three years. Their annual salary is between $22,000 to $33,000. We don’t talk enough about this. We hear all these things about, like, Black women with businesses are on the rise, but we don’t, A, talk about how most of them are pushed out from unsafe spaces and how they are forced to create entrepreneurial experiences just to survive, which then also means that things that come in the traditional workspace, like days off or, sick days or whatever, you don’t necessarily have that when you are building your own business.
And the assumption is that you can do whatever you want, and that is not the case. So for me personally, radical sabbatical was like, how do I still accept the fact that like, I’m not going to dodge these health statistics around, like, what the lack of rest means for my life. And I’m still working on that.
But I really advise again, equity mindset. I really want people to interrogate life expectancy and why those numbers are the way that they are, recognizing that they correlate with like the disproportionate number of Black women out index every one of our counterparts when it comes to working. And we work, we start working earlier and we work longer than other community members. We work while we’re pregnant. We go to school while we’re pregnant. Like, we have all of these life experiences that people assume call for rest and we don’t get it. And they do build up and they do have consequences and I will say that the final straw, there are two communities that I really looked at that helped me build the thesis around radical sabbatical that’s now, received funding for ongoing support through Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The first was like my engagement on the ground during movement, the height of movement work, whether it was Ferguson or Baltimore or Haiti, organizers, the people that the changes that we are experiencing are to the credit of people who risked it all and protest without a paycheck, without a title. They did not get promotions on their jobs. Some of them lost their jobs. Some of them lost their lives, but it has changed how we talk about these issues, literally in spaces that we’re too afraid to even say things like white supremacy. I will never forget the first time I heard white supremacy normalized on CNN and MSNBC.
And I was like, oh … Excuse me. They’re going to be really nervous. Like, I don’t debate… Did they just say that? But then it’s like, oh, yes, you’re welcome. It was because of people who were, like, continuing to push that, like, you may not like a term or a definition, but as defined, that’s what it is.
So let’s be truthful about it so we can fix it. And so, but that, is exhausting. And then looking at, like, my mom, who to this day is technically retired, but still working. What does it mean for immigrant communities. I know you’re also connected to the immigrant community. There are these pockets of community members, people that work 9-5, then 6 -12, so they don’t have a full, full-time job, so they don’t get the breaks and the benefits.
But what does it look like for them to have a sabbatical? Like, when do they get a break? And so…yeah, like I am on this… shout out to the folks like Tricia Hersey with The Nap Ministry. Like, there’s a lot of folks that we didn’t know each other, but there’s this, like, there was just concert around like A rest is our birthright, even our Creator rested.
And what does it mean for us then to normalize it as not a luxury. And so that is really at the end, at the baseline. It’s about how do we create that sabbatical is not for the tenured professor only or for the person that works in an elite firm, but that sabbatical is seen as a normal way of A extending life, but then also making sure that while you’re living, you’re not hurting and that we’re mitigating illness while we do the work.
Paula Edgar: All righty. Well, I’m so glad that I asked you about that because, people need to hear it. And, and the blessing that I have, the privilege that I have is that I have a vast listenership that, may not walk into a diversity training, or may not walk into, but, will trust me that I’m bringing conversations to them that I think are important for them to hear and that have shifted, who I am, what I do and who I do it with. And so, that includes having this conversation. I’m so glad that we were able to do so. Now, before we close, I need to ask you two questions that I ask everybody, which is this. So it’s your Stand By Your Brand moment, right? What is the authentic aspect of your person, your professional brand that you will never compromise on?
Ifeoma Ike: I will never compromise on the importance of truth. I think that we are in an interesting moment where truth is negated or debated. I think you can debate opinions. I don’t know that you can debate truth. And so, I know that truth at times is uncomfortable for folks. But the reason why I don’t move from truth is that, as has been learned from the South African and to an extent, even what the post, Rwandan genocide has taught us that truth and reconciliation is a really powerful starting point towards change.
And the fact that we don’t have a shared understanding of truth means that we need truth tellers to at least preserve the possibility of change. So I will not negotiate truth.
Paula Edgar: Okay. And the final is Branding Room Only is a play on the standing room only when you go into a concert venue and the people want to see whatever’s happening so bad they are willing to stand.
What is that for you? What is the magic? What is the skill? What is the thing about you that people are going to be standing in a room to see, experience, do?
Ifeoma Ike: I’m gonna be honest. Again, I’m gonna take it back to my one slogan. She may be Ify, but she’s not confused. I can tell from people that there is a power when they recognize that like, A, I am normal, I’m regular, but I really believe in this thing, but I also believe in their part in this thing. And I get it when that woman last night was like, I’ve been waiting for this. And I was like, I don’t know what she knows. I did connect with her afterwards and, she kind of filled in… Like, I was kind of like, did I meet your expectations? But, there was one woman who stood up, she had to leave early, but when she left, she kind of just did one of those like Blue Ivy… She happens to be a chancellor at a university, but she just like she was like stoic when we first came in and then she just got up and she just did one of those hearts and she left. And she also left me a note to connect with her but I say all that to say that like, ultimately, I do think that people who really care about this, even if they don’t know what to do, it should draw, it shouldn’t repel.
And I have had to believe in my flawed bravery, that it’s enough to bring in enough people. So I think people want to be connected with people that are trying to be brave, and they’re trying to figure it out. So I think that’s yeah, I may be Ify, but I’m not confused.
Paula Edgar: I love that. Thank you so much for taking the time to spend a little moment with me in the Branding Room. How can people stay in touch with you and connect with your work?
Ifeoma Ike: People should feel free to go to PinkCornrows.com.
That’s P I N K C O R N R O W S dot com. I also have a standalone website. It’s kind of weird to be like, now it’s like, am I a brand? But it is my full name, which is ifeomasinachi.com, and so, yeah, if you Google The Equity Mindset, you’ll see how to spell it, and just put dot com at the end, or you can go to i f e o m a s i n a c h i. com, and yeah, you could probably also stalk me on Twitter, so, yeah, not Twitter, on LinkedIn.
Yeah. I’ve been off Twitter for a long time, but you can find me on LinkedIn. I’m really passionate about how people just maneuver some of these difficult stuff so yeah, that’s how they can find me.
Paula Edgar: Awesome. We will be putting all of the links, all the things that we mentioned into the show notes, which, which are on my website, as you all know. Thank you for being in the Branding Room and everybody listen, I tell you this every week, but I’m telling you this right now.
And I mean it. I mean it. I mean it. Share this with somebody who needs to hear it. And even if they don’t know it, share with them anyway, because they need to hear, and have the catalyst for the conversations that we need to continue to have, because we’re in a world where we know equity does not exist, but that means that we have an assignment and there’s things that we can do.
And so I look forward to joining with you, on that equity pathway and getting the equity mindset to do so by reading Ify’s book and engaging with her. Bye everyone. I will talk to you soon.