Baayan Bakari: Accessing the Power of Cultural Identity

I imagine Baayan Bakari has many times been referred to as a renaissance man. The term surely applies, but more than just being someone who's been blessed with many varied gifts, I see Baayan as a brother who's about life and living. Baaya sums up his diverse personal and professional efforts by describing himself as a technology, education, film, and photography entrepreneur.

The product of a Bay Area upbringing, Baayan cites his geographic orientation as key to his identity formation, specifically as it connects to Blackness. In his words, his surroundings were a “hotbed” for activism and Africanism; he cites Marcus Book Store as his library, and is grateful to have thus been exposed to thinkers like John G. Jackson and Ivan Van Sertima, who have had great influence on his own thinking.  He credit this and other types of self education as granting him a higher level of freedom in his learning.

Having been raised here by a strong Black woman further informed his Black identity—particularly in relationship to Black women—and planted the early seed for his belief in the strength, vulnerabilities, and unique love of Black women. With a Black daughter of his own, he’s only further invested in supporting Black women to see their own value, despite the many obstacles to doing so in contemporary American culture. Thus, his connection to BlackFemaleProject!

Given the many professional spaces Baayan has traveled through, he has learned a good deal about navigation. While he has always been eager to fight oppression in the interest of justice and to increase space and opportunity for Black folks, the ways in which he approaches this work have evolved over time. As a young professional, Baayan was all in all the time; he fought and fought and gave and gave, but didn’t have a clear approach for how to best preserve and position himself in order to have sustained impact without burning out.

Through his varied professional experiences, Baayan has acquired the skills to tackle self-preservation and the diligence to apply them productively. This business sense has in turn afforded him a considerable degree of freedom in his career, which comes along with the ability to best position himself to be valued while doing the work that is closest to his heart. Baayan ultimately feels blessed that he has found ways to bring enough of himself into the workplace to not have to hide, but does acknowledge still leaving some of his more extreme perspectives outside of the professional setting. He speaks to the importance of perception as it connects to how we are valued as the most precious professional lesson he’s learned thus far; while we often think about presentation as personal expression, it’s also important to think about the impact that expression has on how we are then perceived and valued. He asked me to conjure up in my imagination a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. and then asked me how he’s dressed. I saw him in a suit. Baayan’s point? MLK clearly prioritized his appearance, making sure he always presented pristinely and professionally, so as to successfully flip on its head the dominant belief of his time that Black folks were unkept. And despite the time passed between MLK’s lifetime and ours, and despite change that we’ve seen since then, Baayan emphasizes that if our goal is progress within the context we live—as opposed to building something altogether different—then there has to continue to be compromise. Determining our own guidelines for that compromise is where our power lies.

On June 18, Baayan Bakari will lead a BlackFemaleProject workshop on The Power of Cultural Identity. Get your tickets here! Follow @baayanbakari.

Blog Contributor Dana Fitchett interviewed Baayan Bakari on a Saturday afternoon in Oakland and Emeryville, California where they both reside and contribute to the vibrant creative, social and political atmosphere.