We had the good fortune of connecting with Ajene Holmes, M.Ed and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ajene, is there something you can share with us that those outside of the industry might not be aware of?
When people hear the word “education” or “educator” they often associate its purpose with being grounded in student performance and knowledge that is limited to the confines of school walls. Education is more than the classroom performance that includes books and non-relevant activities for students. When I tell people that I’m an educator and that my business in is in the field of education, people think that I must be offering tutoring or working with some school to help students pass some course or state-mandated test. While I have offered tutoring and also work with in-class educators, I focus more on getting the knowledge to the community. The communities whose schools may not have enough funding to invest in learning resources that extend beyond content mandated by state learning standards. Culturally Relevant Education is a hot topic, especially now in the midst of the anti-racist movement of 2020. However, many neglect the fact that for something to be culturally relevant, it must also be accessible to multiple people from a variety of cultures – not just those privileged enough to attend great K-12 and higher-ed institutions. Being a culturally relevant educator means that you use your formal training for the purpose of transforming minds in many ways. It means using your formal training (I.E. degrees and certifications) to extend several opportunities to learn and grow to those who are not fortunate enough to attend Spelman College or Teachers College at Columbia University, as I have done and am still doing. Most of all – it means empowering the voices, thoughts, feelings, and lifestyles of many groups of people who have been traditionally ignored and marginalized in the system of education by providing them with several moments to see themselves in the work and the academy. When I use social media to give “lessons” or design apparel that highlights influential people, I am not only providing knowledge but am also sharing my privilege to teach. When individuals share posts from my education platform, they then become an educator – a person who actively engages in learning while also teaching. When people wear the apparel, they allow themselves to become a walking billboard that represents the experiences of many groups of people – the beautiful parts of those experiences. The privilege to educate that has taken me multiple degrees, much money, and endless certifications to obtain, becomes available to those who were not initially given it. That’s what education and being an educator is and should have always been about – reciprocity in the act of disseminating of knowledge from one to the other.
What should our readers know about your business?
Lov(Ed) x The Culture, formerly The Black Apple, was created during the summer of 2019. I launched this project simply as an opportunity to give educators the space to, on instagram, see what other educators were doing in their classrooms. I also created it to share my own experiences as an educator, as I was preparing for my abroad teaching opportunity in Amman, Jordan. My goal was to simple have a space for resources and the sharing of experiences among educators. Fast forward to March 2020 – I was still teaching (and hating it) then COVID-19 hit! While many were frustrated, I was so relieved. This meant that I could finish out my teaching commitment from the comfort of my home and not be forced to return to a building that had become a source of sadness for me. Without really knowing where it would lead, I began offering free tutoring services to students in my hometown of Coffee County who I knew would be adversely affected by virtual learning due largely to lack of resources. I also began putting more energy into The Black Apple. I shared books, teacher healing tips, and felt more comfortable expressing my views on Black students and education. As I continued, I began preparing for my 2nd annual charitable event. I decided to raise $3000 for teachers across the U.S. who would be either returning to in-person learning in the fall and needed supplies or those who needed supplies for their home-based classroom. When I saw the amount of support I was receiving for the fundraiser and the content I was sharing, I knew I could no longer continue playing small in my field. I had to step it up – not for myself but for the people, the community. As I sought out legal advice for The Black Apple, I ended up changing the name to Lov(Ed) x The Culture. This name change was not easy and I completed a 24-hr fast to solidify and acknowledge my commitment to the work for it in the spiritual. This name change was the beginning of a variety of thoughts and ideas that I would not only write about but speak and dream about as well. I knew I wanted people to feel the love that I have so often given freely to my students. I also wanted them to know that my vision and work is rooted in the education of all people – but primarily traditionally marginalized racial/ethic groups. I wanted there to be a love for the culture in education. Many educators and education institutions like to brag about teaching “ethnic history” but always teach from a traditional and deficit thinking position. I’m changing that. Lov(Ed) x The Culture shows love for the culture through the exchange of knowledge. As a formal educator, I create educational content and design educational apparel. Consumers then assume the position of educator when they share or purchase apparel. The wearing of apparel that has educational facts and figures on it is an example of extending Culturally Relevant Education. If I know students like to be fly, why not offer them the opportunity to learn, find pride in being represented in the education process, share the knowledge ALL WHILE BEING FLY. There is a deeply rooted connection to clothing and looking good. I give people the opportunity to participate in the passive exchange of knowledge while doing so. Many people love the look of being “For The Culture” but you can’t say you truly LOVE it until you’re willing to share knowledge that allows those within “The Culture” to advance themselves beyond society’s expectations of them. As a Black woman who thrives on transparency, I am aware of my privilege of having graduated from Spelman College, to have a Masters from the University of Illinois, and to currently attend Teachers College at Columbia University. At each of these institutions, I’ve had the opportunity to choose courses within my field that are reflective of my experiences as a Black woman. Lov(Ed) x The Culture seeks to share this privilege by providing access to unorthodox learning experiences that celebrate and represent multiple facets of The Culture. Getting to where we are now and continuing to do the work to get to where I know the organization can be has challenged me more spiritually than anything. During the first 2 months of my moving to New York for school, I lost 3 close relatives all within a month’s time. I came home, while still attending school virtually, dealt with the feelings of those events and continued in the work. The work that I do, in my opinion, is what kept me sane. It kept me from leaving school and ultimately leaving the vision that had been assigned to me by God. The personal is what also largely drives my work. I see what I’ve endured and overcome and think about the many people, children and adults, who don’t see the hope when they go to school or when they’re passing people by in their neighborhood. I want to give that to those people a collective hope through my work. There’s love in my work that views being educated as more than a degree but in the sense of knowing and being in the know. Lov(Ed) x The Culture gives anyone from any walk of life and any educational level the opportunity to know and be in the know. It is a reflection of love for The People, The Culture, and education.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
OMG! I love this question so much. Every time I come home to Atlanta, I always visit the same places because it’s pure nostalgia. My itinerary would be as follows: Sunday – BQE for Brunch (because how doesn’t love bottomless mimosas and loud music) Monday – Le Petit Marche for Breakfast Tuesday – La Fonda for tacos Wednesday – Picnic in the park and visit Spelman’s campus (I love returning to campus) Thursday – Tassili’s Raw Reality (Spicy Kale Wrap) Friday – Roc South Cuisine and Cocktails (during lunch hour unless you make a reservation) and The Spinning Pie for dinner with Drinks and Hookah Saturday – most likely my parents’ house for a BBQ because my dad loves to grill! I definitely listed all of the great eating places because that’s what the South means to me as a Southern woman – good food and the fun just follows!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
A note of thanks and gratitude: To my mom and dad for letting me truly march to the beat of my own drum while making sure that the beat was indeed a steady cadence to success. To my hometown of Coffee County – this is for us! To Tytianna, Desiree, Jazmin, Vic, and Sade. To my brothers, Don and PK. To my spiritual leaders Pastor Craig Johnson of Douglas, Ga and Pastor Jerry Young of Fayetteville, Ga. To my former students in Washington DC and Amman, Jordan – you all inspired me to really get into the work beyond the classroom. To my friends who support me endlessly. To my supporters on social media and in real life – without you Lov(Ed) x The Culture is nothing. Most of all to God for the vision and sustaining me through the most challenging times in life to fulfill it.