My conversation is with my guest Kemmy Raji on the Agile for Humanity Social Justice and Impact Series. Kemmy and I recently connected to collaborate on the 5 Saturdays STEAM (https://5Saturdays.org) program that provides 21st century skills to high school students.

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Dr. Dave and Kemmy Raji

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Transcript of the Conversation

Dr. Dave:          Hey, Kemmy, thank you for spending some time with us today. I want to learn more about you. We’re doing the Agile for Humanity Social Justice Series, and thank you for agreeing.

Kemmy Raji:     Thank you for having me, doc. It’s great to be here. It’s just a pleasure.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah, and I hear rumors that potentially, or maybe a reality, that you’re going to be joining the board for the Agile Alliance. I voted for you, just to let you know.

Kemmy Raji:     Oh, thank you so much for voting for me. Yes, I guess we can say it’s a rumor, but I was nominated and I’m hoping that come next year it will become a reality.

Dr. Dave:          Okay. Cheering you on. I’m going to be a big cheerleader for that.

Kemmy Raji:     Thank you.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah. So, here’s the thing. Let’s jump in and let me ask you a few questions, and we’re going to talk about an elevator pitch. I want an elevator pitch about you. I know about you a little bit, but I think you know more about yourself, so why don’t you go ahead and give us an elevator pitch about who you are and what do you do?

Kemmy Raji:     Oh, wow. I hope I can turn that into an elevator pitch. I’m still trying to learn how to do that.

Dr. Dave:          30 seconds.

Kemmy Raji:     My name is Kemmy. I go by Kemmy, but my official name is Oluwakemi and it’s an urban name in Nigeria and it means God has been good to me. And I’m currently based in Canada, although I see myself as a global citizen. So, wherever I find myself is where I belong. So, right now I’m a Canadian. I am an adjunct coach. I coach our enterprise team organizations. And equally, I’m a professional coach, which means that I am not just an Agile coach, but I coach individuals around their career, life and all as well. I am involved in my community in Canada and I have been in the US as well, volunteering for Scrum Alliance or speaking webinars and conferences as well. So, I have got three boys, actually, ranging from 18 to three year old. And when I’m not doing Agile, that’s what keeps me busy.

Dr. Dave:          Good. You forgot one very important thing that you’re involved with. You just started, what is that?

Kemmy Raji:     Ah, that’s right. I missed it all because it’s still new to me, and that is the 5 Saturdays. It’s very close to my heart. I love the fact that Dr. Dave is doing this because I’ve always believed that there is a need to start teaching Agile from school level. Not just workers or professionals, but people, students, young people who need to get into it right before they’re finishing high school. Yeah.

Dr. Dave:          I agree. And it’s not just me, it’s going to be us. We’re doing this together.

Kemmy Raji:     Absolutely.

Dr. Dave:          Yay. So, I know what social justice look like and feel like in the United States. Is social justice different for you, being that you’re from Nigeria, Africa and now living in Canada? So, what is that like for you?

Kemmy Raji:     I must say it’s a different ball game when I moved out of Nigeria some years ago, but that’s not to say there is no social injustice in Nigeria. It’s just a different look and feel of it. So, you’ll still have the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. You have the tribal wars going on. So, the tribals are the Yorubas and the Igbos and the Hausas and those classed at ethnic minority. So, we would often clash. In Nigeria, you don’t see one Nigeria, you see states, you see tribe. So, for instance, if something was going on, they would say, “Oh, that’s a Yoruba side.” If something was going on, it’s an Igbo side. So, it’s never he’s a Nigerian or she’s a Nigerian. And you often have the corruption going on as well, so embezzlement going on and that’s social injustice to me.

Kemmy Raji:     All the rich kids getting the job and the poor kid or the poor that has a poor parent doesn’t get the job. Again, social injustice is everywhere, but when I moved to the UK the first time is when I realized is that I’m not only fighting those gaps, like the age, like the tribe or the poverty. I’m equally fighting for the fact that I am a black woman and I am a Muslim. So, those things actually count against me in addition to what I have or was bringing onto the UK. Yeah.

Dr. Dave:          Oh, interesting. I’m glad to… Really important for us to get a different voice and a different context than what we’re used to in the United States, so thanks for sharing that. You and I were talking the other day, and you said to me the label BIPOC, which is Black, Indigenous, People Of Color, makes you feel even more marginalized. Can you share why being labeled as BIPOC make you feel more marginalized?

Kemmy Raji:     Absolutely. I think the first time I heard the word people of color was three years ago. Call me a novice but I don’t believe in political correctness, so I tend to stay away from it. But that said, in the UK, you would add the black. I think it was something to… But they will call it now Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) or something like that, but I never get involved because they use it and when you are connected or you have involvement with the social department, you would often find people being put in buckets just for numbers. So, my first time after hearing people of color was when I went to the States for a conference, and the person said people of color and I thought, “Okay, that couldn’t have been me.” So, I said, “What does that mean?” “And so, well, it means nonwhite.” I thought, huh. Wow, okay. I wouldn’t say myself as nonwhite, but all right.

Kemmy Raji:     And then, I was having a conversation with other people and the person went POC. I said, “Oh, what’s that?” And he said, “Well, it’s people of color.” It was okay a little bit saying people of color, but for you to have said POC, you just put me in a very narrow bucket and I can’t even wiggle myself out. Because I don’t always believe that it should be black and white, and if you’re not white that means you’re nonwhite. It’s just labeling people. You pigeonhole them, and then they will still

Kemmy Raji:     So go ahead and now lump everyone who is not white together. Why don’t we referred to people as what they want to be referred to as? I want to be referred to as a black person, a black woman. Don’t label me what I’m not, right?

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     They just want to wipe all of my recognition of all of me by imagining some other, I don’t know, color?

Dr. Dave:          Yeah. They kind of lump us all together

Kemmy Raji:     You have the BIPOC. Is it BIPOC?

Dr. Dave:          BIPOC, yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     BIPOC and it’s just getting weird and weird. I noticed that even the non-white make it a lot easier to refer to themselves as BIPOCAL or POC and I’ve seen women of color shouting to WOC. I have seen men of-color

Dr. Dave:          WOC.

Kemmy Raji:     Yes. It just gets a lot more interesting every day and every day, yeah. I’m a black woman and I wish to remain black woman.

Dr. Dave:          I just want everyone to call me Dr. Dave, right? It ain’t always that simple. Just call me Dr. Dave. That’s who I am, and you’re Kemmy.

Kemmy Raji:     Exactly.

Dr. Dave:          You don’t have to put us in a little bucket or grouping.

Kemmy Raji:     Exactly, yeah.

Dr. Dave:          I understand. So tell me what have you found challenging to navigate in Agile community as a black woman?

Kemmy Raji:     Ah, well that’s a very good question and when I saw the question I kind of have been thinking about it and I’m thinking of how do I say this in a nice way?

Dr. Dave:          In a nice way? All right, okay, I got you. I’m with you.

Kemmy Raji:     I look at how long I’ve been doing this Agile thing for. Sometimes I remind myself it’s not our problem or our work but then I look at the people that has gone on to take the director level role, to take the VP and you know all of those enterprise level or executive level and I don’t know. I honestly don’t know and I keep thinking what I have I done or not done properly to be qualified for that role. I don’t even get a call, but there are other things as well, right, like I’ve gone to an interview even though my resume says I’ve been working with teams and all, the person still say, “What is a sprint? How does a sprint work?” I’m thinking oh okay. It’s okay. Then they’ll ask me to bring my certificate or tell you all the teams I’ve worked with.

Kemmy Raji:     So those are the kind of things I have encountered within the Agile space, but I still feel I’m lucky because the people I work with are people I have been in contact with within the community are fantastic. But you still get the old ones who are not so great but I look at the bright side, yeah.

Dr. Dave:          I understand. I completely concur. So, I have observed and experienced that collaborating and partnering with other black people and people of color to be a challenge. I find that we have a gap in our trust experience but, you know, before I ask my question I want to just say thank you for collaborating in the 5 Saturdays STEAM program because that’s important.

Kemmy Raji:     It is that.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah, I think it’s important for black people to come together, work together, build things together. I think it’s important for us to do that and so I just wanted to say thank you for that. So, here’s my question, what has been your experience with collaborating with black people and people of color in the Agile community?

Kemmy Raji:     See this is another question that-

Dr. Dave:          Sorry.

Kemmy Raji:     It’s hard.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     I’ve felt a lot of times black people will be, “Well there’s some black people in the … Why don’t you call them?” I said, “Yeah, but I don’t want to be called.” Right? They don’t want to have anything to do with you, with another black person, and I’ve heard some people say, “Well I don’t get along with black people because they never, they never…” and it’s all about the never, the never, the never. Sometimes I understand where they’re coming from, right? Maybe they’ve been burned in the past or some experience in the past but you don’t paint people with the same brush. I’ve had my own share of … Oh, I’m sorry. I have my people that I collaborate with and a person has gone to collaborate with … Did I take it personally? No.

Kemmy Raji:     I just feel that we could do more together as black people or people of color, to use your word Dr. Dave.

Dr. Dave:          My word?

Kemmy Raji:     We can do more together.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     We don’t need to do new things. We already have people who are doing. Why don’t we join forces together and build a community for black Agilists, right? I’m not saying that makes us segregating ourselves but we should be able to work together and build this community. Not creating new ones, not trying to base our thoughts on past experience that we might have gone through. I know a lot of people are wanting to do great things for the black Agilists but we do we encourage those people? My answer is no, we don’t. We don’t do enough. I have seen situations where the platform is free for black people but they show up maybe once or twice and they stop showing up. That’s a discouraging situation.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     I don’t know Dr. Dave, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that.

Dr. Dave:          I don’t have an answer either, but I know the media has painted us in a certain light at which means often times other people would see us in a context that the media paints us in, so-

Kemmy Raji:     Yeah, that’s another thing. Yes. Stereotyping. I did some social policy back at the university and it says when you label someone or you label a group of people they want to live up to that name.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah it’s tough when all you see on TV is black men or women either people poor or being in jail, being basketball players or being entertainers. You hardly ever see them being celebrated as entrepreneurs and scientists and so on and so forth. It’s problematic and I understand, but we can fix that. We can fix that. We change that. We have an opportunity to do that right now.

Kemmy Raji:     I think that too. I hope so. I hope that whatever is going on right now in the world would kind of be a wake-up call for the black people and say hey, we’ve got to come together as one and do something great, something much greater than we’re currently doing. Lift one another up, yes.

Dr. Dave:          Yep. I agree. As a mother of future black men what has made you hopeful about the social justice? I’m not even going to call it a movement because, what was his name? Lebron

Dr. Dave:          James said, this is no damn movement. I don’t see us moving anywhere. So I’m not going to call it a movement because… Not because it sets it all, but just because. So, just the activity, the initiative, the things that people are out there protesting and the conversations that are taking place. I mean, are you hopeful about that as a mother of three future black men? Cause they’re young men now, but eventually they’re going to grow up and have to deal with society.

Kemmy Raji:     Ah, hope is a very dangerous thing. I can only be hopeful. Sometimes I’m worried.

Dr. Dave:          Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kemmy Raji:     Sometimes I am concerned about what the world is going to be in a few years’ time. I do say to my kids that there are a couple of things that are stacking against you, and you probably have to work 10 times more than your white counterpart, right?

Dr. Dave:          Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kemmy Raji:     You are black, you are a boy. You have a single parent and you are all those things. But I don’t want him to tie their life around that and say, “Hey, because I’ve got this full stack against me, I am not going to make it anymore”. I still want them to go into the world and be hopeful.

Dr. Dave:          Right.

Kemmy Raji:     And know they have all the opportunities that some other folks don’t have and build up on that. In terms of the movement currently going, I don’t know what that means. I am going to be truthful. Maybe because I have not live  the American experience. So on my becoming…

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     … Perspective of, is this movement actually working? Is it getting us towards where they want to be? Right? Or, we are just doing it because we’re doing it.

Dr. Dave:          I think a little bit more than just doing it because we’re doing it. There was lots of conversation… Because I live in United States, I get to witness and experience that it’s… There’s lots of movement in terms of people having conversations. People are trying to change policies. And so I see that there is opportunities, especially in our upcoming election to see what will be changed. And how will we get better as people? I mean, it’s just, yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     That would be great. Cause I’ve seen some other things that has happened, and you see that, “Oh yeah, this is all great. This is all good. We can move things forward”, but then it dies down for one reason or the other. And then it’s back to square one again. So I’m hoping what’s going on in the state will be a huge catalyst for that change to come.

Dr. Dave:          Well, it has, right? Because basically before we had people kneeling and talking about Black Lives Matter, now we have it throughout the world, right?

Kemmy Raji:     Yep, that’s right.

Dr. Dave:          We have a lot more people who are responding. So, that’s where I’m hopeful that people are still energized around it. And there’s an opportunity for us to change policies and not just policies from a political perspective, and I’m preaching. It’s more from the context that we could get better as human beings, period. We should get better as human beings! Right? We should make that attempt to do that.

Kemmy Raji:     I’m beginning to see a difference in the Agile world too, right?

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     The Agile Team is beginning to… Look, I love what Agile Alliance is doing towards the…

Dr. Dave:          Yep.

Kemmy Raji:     … Gathering data.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     That is a good step in the right direction. I think they’ve done the third or the fourth one now.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     And it’s just great to see the data coming up. And it’s great to see a lot of engagement from the black people and all the people of color. So shows.

Dr. Dave:          Yep.

Kemmy Raji:     They are determined to see through, which is fantastic.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah. And this podcast is also an initiative that started with the Agile Alliance, right? And so it gives different avenues and channels for us to have dialogue. And this is more of an intimate one-on-one, going a little deeper learning about individuals as opposed to a broad-brush collecting data, but both things are really important.

Kemmy Raji:     Absolutely.

Dr. Dave:          … Activities, right?

Kemmy Raji:     We have got to own it a black person though and they are people of color who got to own it.

Dr. Dave:          Yep.

Kemmy Raji:     I was saying to someone that we… If we are… Or some of it… I mean, Agile Alliance is doing something. We cannot just be bystanders.

Dr. Dave:          Yep.

Kemmy Raji:     We’ve got to be involved.

Dr. Dave:          Yes.

Kemmy Raji:     We ask you to change that. We’ll see… If they want to see around the world, that’s what they always say, right? It’s about us. Let’s be in it together, right?

Dr. Dave:          Yes. Yep. So let’s move on and talk about… What change would you like to see, that would build economic trust experiences for BIPOC? I know I’m being politically correct.

Kemmy Raji:     That’s okay. You only saying that… I think you want to get my reaction.

Dr. Dave:          True. True.

Kemmy Raji:     If we choose where our horses are at, as they say, I think others will ride to.

Dr. Dave:          Yep.

Kemmy Raji:     If everything, if someone wants to give me a magic wand and say, “Hey, what would you like it to wish for?” It will be to our equality.

Dr. Dave:          Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kemmy Raji:     … It will be that, whatever everyone is financed to be, regardless of whether they’re black, white, green, yellow, brown, they can get it.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     They only have to dream about it. And they do it with the support. Sometimes I’ve walked into organizations and I look around, or conferences and I look around, and I find out that I’m the only black person in the room. It breaks my heart. See? People that looks like me, or close to me, or share the same ideology or whatever, be where they should be. And I’m not saying that they’re not where they should be, but people, sometimes… I have spoken to some black people and because it hasn’t happened for them once or twice, they feel rejected. They don’t want to try again.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     And it’s… I don’t want to try again because, well, they rejected me twice and I have all the qualifications they would say.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     So how can we encourage that? So I’m looking for a world that equality comes first. I’m looking for a…

Dr. Dave:          Okay.

Kemmy Raji:     … World where people are hired based on what they know and not what they look like. So that …

Dr. Dave:          I agree. I am totally in alignment with that. So that would really help to build economic and trust experiences for us as black people and people of color.

Kemmy Raji:     Absolutely.

Dr. Dave:          … Anyone who’s disenfranchised by another people’s behavior. We have a conference coming up.

Kemmy Raji:     Yes, we do!

Dr. Dave:          … talking about building economic and trust experiences.

Kemmy Raji:     Yes!

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     Yes!

Dr. Dave:          Tell more, tell more.

Kemmy Raji:     That is some conference I’m looking forward to. I have even said it by sharing it on LinkedIn and that’s because it just… So, like I said earlier, I’ve been to conferences whereby it’s just one black person or two black people. There was even a conference… I saw… I met April and I went, “Oh, wow. Okay. I think we’re increasing in number here”. And we just smiled at each other.

Dr. Dave:          April Jefferson, right?

Kemmy Raji:     That’s right.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     And it was fun. This particular Agile for Humanity, it’s about black people, organized by black people and for black people. And I know that the allies are welcome

Dr. Dave:          Yes.

Kemmy Raji:     … as well. But it would just be nice to have a firm close up. To be able to disclose matters that matters to us, right? To be able to just connect on the same level, in terms of the ideas we share, the problems we’re facing through, we’re going through all of the pain points and just have a conversation without feeling any sense of, “Well, I better not say that”. So create a nice psychological safety, that’s why I am looking forward to that conference and it’s going good.

Dr. Dave:          Yes. I am totally stoked about that conference and I’m stoked that we get to participate. As leaders, we get to participate in bringing this forward. It’s one of the things I think we have to do, right? Is to lead and step forward in things and not wait for other peoples to do for us, because we can do for ourselves. We are very smart people, very capable.

Kemmy Raji:     We don’t need an invitation. Right? We don’t need to be fighting for where they don’t want us to be. Why don’t we create our own? Right? I don’t know why.

Dr. Dave:          Yeah. I look forward to Agile for Humanity will come to Canada maybe one year.

Kemmy Raji:     Absolutely. You remember when we used to be able to travel to go to conferences? I’m looking forward to that.

Dr. Dave:          Yes, me too. I look forward to that so much, to be able to travel again. So any final words of inspiration that you would like to share? I’m sure there’s lots of wisdom right there. So if you have any wisdom that you have to share with us today?

Kemmy Raji:     Again, it will be a wish that…

Dr. Dave:          A wish?

Kemmy Raji:     Yes, that black people, women, men lift the other black woman, man, up.

Kemmy Raji:     Maybe people of color, to use your word again, I’m struggling, to use “the people of color”, you can tell.

Dr. Dave:          It’s not my word, trust me. I just learned BIPOC about a month ago.

Kemmy Raji:     Well, I would love for that to happen. I believe in creating a container and saying whoever is ready, let’s lift that person together. Right? And that’s how we can bridge the gap. Even if there is a gap there.

Dr. Dave:          And that’s okay. Everyone needs to start somewhere and if we work together, we could make progress and that’s the way I feel about it.

Dr. Dave:          I’ve been in the agile space for quite some time and I remain, and I continue, in spite of whatever experiences I have. It’s important for me to be present.

Kemmy Raji:     I think that’s because you’re passionate about this. So the passion is what’s driving you, not distractions or interruptions or whatever you might be experiencing, right?

Dr. Dave:          Yeah, and it’s important that… So it was very interesting. I’ll tell you the story really quickly.

Dr. Dave:          I go to a predominantly white church and I was living in an area where the church that I went to, they had like a handful of people of color, but I became an usher and the reason I became an usher and an usher is someone who stands at the front door and welcome people in.

Dr. Dave:          I wanted to let people know that people, a black person could actually be in that work, in that capacity and speak confident enough to welcome people in, right?

Dr. Dave:          For that moment of time, if they come there to worship, if they have a problem, whatever challenges. And to me, it’s the same thing as in the agile community is that I want to welcome people in.

Kemmy Raji:     Absolutely. And that’s what we should be and that’s what we should aspire to be, right?

Dr. Dave:          Yeah. We’re going to welcome people into what we’re doing and it’s going to be amazing.

Kemmy Raji:     The people who show up is The right people as they say in Open Space.

Dr. Dave:          That’s right. Do you know that the origins of open space started out in a village in West Africa?

Kemmy Raji:     I heard that.

Dr. Dave:          Yes. I put it on my website, just to let you know.

Kemmy Raji:     Yeah. And that the Harrison? Owen Harrison?

Dr. Dave:          Yeah. Harrison Owen, yeah.

Kemmy Raji:     So it’s about time, we’ll give credit to Africa too, right?

Dr. Dave:          Yeah. He was in the Peace Corps and he observed how they really shared information, solved problems and it came together in this circle of where people brought. That’s where he got the idea of open space technology.

Dr. Dave:          And then he just sort of blend with other groups, like people who are Indians and things like that. And East Indian practices. It’s good stuff, right?

Kemmy Raji:     It is. Yeah.

Dr. Dave:          Kemmy, again. Thank you so much. I am grateful for your time. I’m grateful that you and I are becoming friends. I am just so excited about that. I really am.

Kemmy Raji:     Thank you, Dr. Dave. I think it’s paid off chasing after you.

Dr. Dave:          Chasing after 5 Saturdays.

Kemmy Raji:     Two years or so, yes? And I think we’ve connected it and at a time where we need to spread the message.

Dr. Dave:          Yes. I’m eternally grateful for your spirit and for the energy that you bring. And I just look forward to seeing what’s possible as we partner and work together on a different initiative of activities. I’m very excited about that.

Kemmy Raji:     Same here and the possibilities are endless. We just need to keep tap into it.

Dr. Dave:          That’s right. Keep it going.

Kemmy Raji:     Thanks for having me, I have enjoyed talking to you too. Thank you.

Dr. Dave:          Of course. I have to have you as part of my conversation, of our conversation, I should say.

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