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Episode 017: Zakiya Harris

Episode 017: Zakiya Harris

Learn to Shape-Shift Your Life

It is impossible to not want Zakiya Harris to be a member of your tribe. She is effervescent and empowered, bold and piercingly no-nonsense. As a cultural architect, artist, and educator working at the intersections of entrepreneurship, 21st-century education, and creative transformation, Zakiya’s presence and conviction in our conversation left a deep impression on my heart. 

Zakiya was born and raised in Oakland, California, and has spent the last many years of her life developing programs and organizations that impact education, entrepreneurship, and creativity. She is the co-founder of the nonprofit Hack the Hood, a technology program for low-income youth of color, as well as the co-founder of Impact Hub Oakland, a member-based coworking space and event venue for entrepreneurs creating positive impact. Additionally, Zakiya recently published her first book: Sh8peshift Your Life: The Creative Entrepreneur’s Guide to Self Love, Self Mastery and Fearless Self Expression. It goes without saying that she is a total badass and I felt ultimately privileged to get to speak with her. 

In the beginning of our conversation, Zakiya and I discuss the rapidly changing ecology of our education system. Her work with youth as well as being a mother to an 11-year-old daughter has shown her that we are currently empowering and training people for a system that is already dead, yet we don’t know what is next to come. Zakiya quotes a mentor of hers saying, “We are living in this in-between time. We are hospicing this old system and midwifing this new system, but the old system hasn’t completely died and the new system hasn’t been completely built. So we are in the space in-between.”

I ask Zakiya what her daughter has taught her about education. She has a rapid fire response: her daughter has taught her about fearlessness and how to show up in the world as the bravest version of herself. Another teacher that Zakiya mentions is the earth. As an eager student, Zakiya has aligned herself with the natural rhythms of nature as a way of making sense of herself and the world around her. In some of Zakiya’s darkest moments, nature has stood as an omnipresent reminder that after the darkness is always the light. She says: 

“We live in a society that is terrified of the darkness, terrified of quiet. We are inundated with more media and social media and messages … But when you look at nature you realize that nothing on this planet has started in the light. Everything started in a place of darkness. That is where the magic happens—that is where we really have the opportunity to seed our intentions for what we want to see grow up into the light and then therefore bring fruit that we want to nourish ourselves [with] and get to harvest.”

For the meat of our conversation, Zakiya shares a story of when she lost everything that she thought was important to her in her life. She had spent years creating the perfect black family, which included: a husband, a co-created nonprofit, a house, money in the bank, a daughter, a high profile in her social circles. However—living amidst the sparkle—she regularly found herself daydreaming of who she was meant to become while recognizing that her current life did not support the path that she felt called to walk on. Although it didn’t necessarily make sense or come with a set of guidelines, Zakiya left her life that looked perfect on the outside in order to “trust [herself] more than the world.” She says, “I had to bet on myself.”

When she shared this story, Zakiya is quick to gloss over all of the muck and sludge that came with letting go of all of her anchors. I ask her to share what she had to lose in order to get to the other side. She notes the loss of friendships, the loss of her marriage, and the loss of an ideal family unit for raising a small child. Additionally, her house went into foreclosure and she lost her financial security and her car. Using her bicycle as her mode of transportation during this time, she got into an accident that left a nasty wound on her face that she had to wear around town for many weeks. She lost her looks and all of her identifiers, yet she never lost the bright intuitive light inside of herself. Zakiya states, “Even while all that was going on, I still knew that I was going to be okay. It was the quietest part of me that knew it, but in there—that was still there.”

Zakiya shares with me the many practices that she implemented to help her get through this dark and transitional period of time in her life. I believe that all of these practices are of utmost importance to others experiencing similar life circumstances:

  1. Have a spiritual practice: Find ways to create ritual and intention at the start and end of each day.

  2. Live in alignment with nature.

  3. Meditate and practice yoga.

  4. Call in your tribe: Find a group of like-minded people that will always see you as your highest self. Zakiya says, “When you find the light and find where you are going, you are going to magnetize more people that are moving in that direction and other people start falling by the wayside.”

  5. Have a creative outlet: Everyone is creative and everyone is creating something. When we deny that creative aspect of ourselves, we are denying a part of our whole self.

At the end of our conversation, Zakiya and I discuss harmony and what it means to live in both the lightness and the darkness at the same time. As Zakiya calls herself a shape-shifter, she is regularly exploring how to flow between these two states in order to find balance in her life while empowering everyone around her to do the same. 


Zakiya Harris is a cultural architect, artist, and educator working at the intersections of entrepreneurship, 21st-century education, and creative transformation. Zakiya is a co-founder of the nationally recognized projects Impact Hub Oakland and Grind for the Green and a fellow of Green For All and Bold Food. Currently, she is the chief education officer at Hack the Hood, a technology program for low-income youth of color. Recently, Zakiya published her first book: Sh8peshift Your Life: The Creative Entrepreneur’s Guide to Self Love, Self Mastery and Fearless Self Expression. When she is "off the clock," you can find her singing her heart out onstage, reading Octavia Butler, or cooking with her 11-year-old daughter.

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Episode 018: Jay Standish

Episode 018: Jay Standish

Episode 016: Tatum Fjerstad

Episode 016: Tatum Fjerstad