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    5 Questions with: KOJO Institute Principal Consultant Kike Ojo-Thompson

    A new chapter has begun at The Drake. We are committed to making a meaningful impact in our communities and bringing about real change in our industry, as we believe racism in any form is unacceptable. We all need to work together to create a better future for all. One of our key partners moving forward is Kike Ojo-Thompson, who was selected as our trusted diversity and inclusion consultant to guide our team through developing and maintaining a robust and long-term equity and anti-racism program specifically tailored for The Drake. 

    We reached out to Kike to get to know more about her as we begin this journey together. 

    Tell us about yourself! What brought you to this line of work?

    My name is Kike Ojo-Thompson, and I’m the founder and principal consultant of KOJO Institute, a consultancy firm specializing in equity, diversity, inclusion, anti-oppression, and organizational change. Officially, I’ve been working in equity since my mid-20s, but I discovered my passion for this work in high school before I even technically knew what it was. In my adolescence, I lived in a suburb where the population was only 3% racialized. It was the first time I realized how pervasive of a problem racism was. There were swastikas on the bathroom stalls; I saw my Black peers unfairly suspended. So, I led clubs and activities that created space for other racialized students and advocated for my peers when I saw incidents of discrimination from school faculty.

    After graduating high school, I had set my sights on becoming a civil rights lawyer because it was the only field that I knew of that would let me turn my passion for equity into a career. It was while I was completing my undergraduate degree that I met Dr. George Dei who taught in the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), and I knew I’d finally found my path. For the past 20 years, I’ve been guiding organizations, institutions, and individuals across North America in a broad range of industries to identify inequities and create meaningful change.

    What are you excited about at this moment of hopefully great cultural change in Canada?

    Equity-seeking groups have been fighting and advocating for themselves for decades in this country. That fight has often been downplayed and ignored. But the situation has reached a boiling point that has created an awareness and attentiveness from the Canadian public that we haven’t seen before. There has been a long overdue recognition of the need for change. More people are listening and learning about the experiences and perspectives of equity-seeking groups. More people are realizing that inequity isn’t just ‘the way things are.’ But what I am excited about is seeing that attention to the voices of equity-seeking groups turned into intentional action. Because understanding what equity is and what it looks like is only step one. That understanding has to be followed by strategic action. There can be no meaningful change without the frameworks and processes that create the conditions needed for equity to exist. I’m excited to see more organizations and individuals move beyond buzzwords and virtue signalling and genuinely commit to that action.

    What’s your favourite part about your line of work?

    Being an equity consultant is deeply rewarding work because the impact of creating more equitable outcomes reaches far beyond the client we work with. When we provide an organization with the frameworks and tools to address inequity for their staff and clients/community, it changes the lives of every one of those individuals.

    For example, KOJO Institute works a lot in the education space addressing issues of racial inequity. Studies and statistics show that Black students are disproportionately suspended, expelled, and streamed into lower level academic programming. As consultants, we identify for educators and school administrators how the anti-Blackness in their school policies and curriculum causes that disproportionality. Then we provide frameworks and resources to address those problems. The result isn’t just that schools are more equitable. We also see higher rates of academic participation and success for Black students which can change the entire trajectory of their lives. The value of that change cannot be understated.

    People often think of equity work as something that creates change in a space and moment, but inequity has long-reaching consequences and equity has equally long-reaching benefits, and that’s why this work means so much to me.

    What’s one thing that each individual can be doing every day to help move change forward?

    One of the things I often encourage people to do is hold themselves in healthy distrust by frequently challenging their own ideas, perspectives, and privilege. People often think that operating with and for equity is something you can perfect, that there is some ultimate end point where the work stops being necessary. But equity work is not about perfection. It’s a continuous practice. We are unlearning centuries of ideas and norms about race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, and age. When we embark on equity work, in any capacity, we are challenging a status quo that is maintained and supported by many of the systems and spaces we expect to be equitable (e.g. education and criminal justice).

    So, it is not realistic to expect that you will never behave in ways that contribute to inequity. That does not make you a bad person, and it’s really important that we move away from the good/bad binary way of thinking when we talk about equity, because it makes accountability feel like a judgment rather than an opportunity for growth. But if we’re going to make change, accountability has to be a part of the process. The best way to ensure change moves forward is to be constantly examining and challenging the way you see and experience the world and how those views and experiences contribute to or detract from equitable outcomes. And when you realize that something you think or do is negatively impacting equitable outcomes, you cannot prioritize how that accountability makes you feel. Instead, you have to actively work to change those views and behaviours because there is far more at stake than your feelings.

    What books/art/music/film are you enjoying right now?

    I’ve been watching I May Destroy You, the British comedy-drama by Michaela Coel. It’s brilliantly unapologetic in its representation of the Black diaspora in a place like contemporary London. So much of Black representation on TV comes from the US, and that representation is meaningful, but as a Black person in Canada, it doesn’t always feel reflective of my experience, where the nuances of Caribbean and African interactions, linguistic patterns, and culture are so specific. I May Destroy You made me feel seen. I also appreciate how the show centers sexual assault in a way that’s missing from the conversation, moving away from heteronormative views of sexual assault and being so honest about things like power relations and delayed trauma.

    In terms of music, I found Beyoncé’s Black is King powerful for the way it exposes her Black fanbase to cultural imagery that isn’t commonly provided to them. I suspect that Black is King will cause many viewers to research the references Beyoncé makes, giving Black Americans and Canadians a meaningful opportunity to discuss often-overlooked parts of their heritage. I’m also very much here for how she’s centering Black artists and creators in her work. That’s a form of activism, and it’s worth recognizing.

    Like many others, I’ve been thinking a lot about Robyn Maynard’s book, Policing Black Lives, as it is so relevant in today’s context. I think it’s impossible and, frankly, irresponsible, to approach anti-racism and anti-oppression work in the current climate, without examining the ways that anti-Black racism is entrenched in the systems that claim to protect us.

    And finally, I think of fashion as art, and I’ve been taking every opportunity to bring African prints into the most professional and formal spaces. There’s a sense of power, connection, and grounding I feel in wearing traditional prints and patterns in places where they are unexpected.

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