We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashleigh Akilah Rucker and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Ashleigh Akilah, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Work Life Balance has become a brand. Something to hashtag like, “work hard, play hard”. It’s morphed into an influencer’s mantra for the unobtainable. For some of us, balance isn’t an option. It’s a privilege for those who have the resource and access. Balance wasn’t even on my radar into much later in life when progressive groups began highlighting the importance of mental health. Even then, the complexities of intersectionality were not discussed or taken seriously in mainstream media. So where does that leave people like me? My work life, while rewarding and joyful, is still fraught with microaggressions, biases, prejudices and the weight of navigating systems that are set up for me to fail. In my personal life, I’ve cultivated an amazing village of creatives, activists, and downright amazing humans, while constantly attempting to protect my Black body from historic forces that seep into every aspect of life. Just getting through the day sometimes feels like an act of resistance. And this was all before this country’s dirty laundry was put on display by global health and racial pandemics. So, what is this pursuit of work life balance for the resilient dreamer trying to color outside the margins? First, it’s knowing that you matter, even when the world is too afraid to say it out loud. It’s loving all pieces of yourself and being surrounded by folks who celebrate your entire authenticity. It’s asking for help and advocating for yourself. It’s collecting moments of joy because you deserve it. I may never truly understand or embody societies definition of “work life balance.” That’s not my story. But I find steadiness in dedicated my adult life and work to fostering daily acts of Black Joy.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’ve learned how to use storytelling to disrupt systems of oppression and tell the vibrant and nuanced stories that have been pushed to the margins. Having grown up surrounded by art, I know firsthand why representation matters and I believe in pulling people up as I climb. While I have so much pride in my upbringing, subconsciously, I was simultaneously conditioned to believe that having a single black mother and living in a certain part of town with a certain amount of money made me lesser than. So, I worked hard to be the ‘exception to the rule’. I was a young black woman, a fluent non-native Spanish speaker who occupied mostly white spaces with ease relying heavily on my code switch. Up until a few years ago, I’d never questioned my accomplishments, as all of those choices brought me to this current space of complex simplicities. Then the pandemic hit and shed new light on this journey and lifted a new veil that revealed an unconscious bias within me. One that made me believe that I had to distance myself from the stereotypes of the construct of blackness while celebrating my brand of black identity. This melting pot of experiences helped craft my narrative and more importantly has shaped the type of work that brings me joy. Work that provokes and unearths truths. Work that recognizes individuality and intersectionality. And work the elicits some type of emotional response, whatever that may be. My tastes, evident in my music library, is wildly diverse or seemingly random, and at times it’s downright strange. But those weird pockets of contradictions are where I love to live.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Living in Los Feliz means our first stop would be a hike up to the Griffith Park Observatory just in time to watch the sunset, followed by an early morning drive to Matador Beach. It’s not summer time in LA without an outdoor movie screening on a rooftop or the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Similarly, we’d have to see who was playing at the Bowl or the Greek or discover new music and resurrect our two step at a KRCW Summer Nights. We would hit up an art walk or drum circle in Leimert Park while sipping on some HoneyQueen Lemonade. We’d eat at Janga by Derrick or get some BBQ at Bludso’s then find some ridiculously obscure pop up and complain that it’s not worth the hype. Then we would toast goodbye with a smooth bourbon and a game night with all of my favorite people.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I feel very privileged to have grown up surrounded by generations of strong and creative women of color. Encouraging and mentoring me to find my voice and lean into my passions. But I would be remiss not to use this opportunity to shout out one of the most talented, caring, and courageous humans that I know, my chosen sister, Courtney Ariel. She is a singer/songwriter and storyteller that continually creates spaces of resistance so we may all, one day, find a pathway to liberation. I am in awe of her heart and constantly inspired by her mind.

“Me and you, us never part. Makidada. Me and you, us have one heart. Makidada. Ain’t no ocean, ain’t no sea. Makidada. Keep my sister away from me.” – The Color Purple

Website: AshleighAkilah.com

Instagram: @AshleighAkilah

Image Credits
Yvette Marie Jones Samantha Louise Lopez Imani Thompson

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