Nuola Akinde didn’t set out to homeschool, but her experiences as a Black mother in Washtenaw led her to restructure her life and work around her children’s education.
“Two years ago my son was the only Black child in his class, with the only Black teacher in the school,” recalls Akinde of the private school where they’d gotten a scholarship.”The school was great in a lot of ways, teaching the children to be outside and learn in their own ways. They even read Langston Hughes.”
But, says Akinde, she grew tired and angry as she received call after call from the school “for things like ‘your son jumped in a puddle and got other kids wet.’” “They were always very ‘nice’, but it was clear that the only way they could see my Black son was as a problem.”
Today, Akinde is the founder of Kekere Freedom School, a homeschool cooperative in Ypsilanti, which she facilitates with Kristen DeLeon-Hamilton. In September, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kekere will reopen in Akinde’s backyard as Julie QuirozWashtenaw’s only outdoor school, with a “pay what you can” approach and a waiting list.
Kekere’s mission to “decolonize childhood” extends far beyond its students -- out to families all across the county and the country who are ordering Kekere’s powerful liberatory curricula online.
Kekere began its online curricula in the Spring when COVID-19 forced them to close their site at Riverside Arts Center. They put together a home-based curriculum for the end of the school year and made it available publicly for a donation.
They called the curriculum “Elements” (earth, water, fire, air) because “we thought everyone has a connection to some water outside or in their faucet, and to fire even it’s birthday candles. We wanted “Elements” to be an easy access point that let parents know they don’t need to be educational experts, that just invited them to join their children in learning.” Akinde and DeLeon-Hamilton knew they’d filled a need when the head of a school in California asked if they could use the curriculum for their students.
Kekere’s newest offering is called “Inheritance” and seeks to “give people a learning experience that centers Black and Indigenous knowledge,” explains Akinde. “‘Inheritance’ isn’t just about what Black and Indigenous communities know, but about the ways, we learn.” Inheritance centers “liberation through play”, explains Akinde, recognizing that “children are learning all the time and that learning is about laughing and creating.”
Akinde hopes Inheritance is healing for adults too, because “we need to rekindle our own ability to play.” Days after Inheritance was released Kekere had already received orders from New York and New Mexico, with parents posting on FB hoping to create virtual learning pods. As part of the Inheritance curriculum, Kekere will offer monthly zoom calls so families can share their experiences and ideas and, in Akinde’s words, “know that there are people all over who are doing this alongside you.”
Akinde rejects the idea that homeschooling is only an option for families with money. “I’m a single Black mom!” she asserts. “I’m juggling four jobs, working 60-70 hours a week, squeezing it in before the kids wake up and after they go to bed.”
Asked why she does this, Akinde is firm. “Black kids are being killed,” she says. Moving to homeschooling was “scary,” she admits, “but it wasn’t a choice. I wasn’t going to put my son in a school designed for his destruction.” “How can we not afford to do something different?,” Akinde continues. “How are we not all incensed?”
Akinde believes her approach to learning and life reflects her upbringing. Born in Miami to a mother from the Bahamas and a father from Nigeria, Akinde is grateful that “our Caribbean/African-ness was centered” and that she grew up within the Yoruba spiritual tradition “that instilled in me a huge sense of possibility.”
While Kekere’s online curriculum was born in the pandemic, Akinde feels excited to see so many families seeking alternative ways to educate their children.
“My biggest hope in COVID is that people feel their power and make a commitment to raising our children together in community.” “One hundred years from now,” says Akinde, “I hope that people will be unable to imagine that in 2020 we were putting kids aged 3 or 6 with strangers so their parents could work to barely make ends meet.”
“How powerful would it be if we divested from our current forms of public schooling and reinvested in each other?” asks Akinde. “Recognizing that there’s no ‘one size fits all’, that we’re all nuanced, complex, interconnected beings,” she believes, “would shift the course of this planet.”
Julie Quiroz lives on the east side of Ann Arbor and recently launched New Moon Collaborations. She is the editor of the anthology Untold Stories of Liberation & Love, a book of poetry by Ypsilanti-based women of color. Stay tuned for her next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.