On The Road With Kojo & Yaya

PHOTO COURTESY KOJO

 

INTERVIEW BY FADUMO ALI

In the third of four essays, Atmos collaborates with interdisciplinary art and archival research studio The Bureau on “A Drop of Sun,” a series asking Black artists and writers to imagine Black futurity through rigorous exploration of abolition, radicalized environmentalism, and robust artistic expression. Here, couple Kojo and Yaya speak with Fadumo Ali on what freedom looks like on the road—when home is where the heart is and sustainability is more than just a life hack.

INTERVIEW BY FADUMO ALI

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Twenty-five years ago, in a conversation with John Perry Barlow, author bell hooks mused, “when we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.”

 

At a time when climate change, a global pandemic, state sanctioned police violence, and a tumultuous presidential election all compete for center stage in the American psyche, fear seems inescapable. This feels especially true in Minneapolis, the city whose response to George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police triggered a nationwide uprising and 100+ consecutive days of protest.

 

In the midst of the chaos, one queer, Black couple decided to take hooks’ advice literally and embark on an RV, living with and traveling through the land, as a way to embrace a lifestyle divorced from capitalist greed and endless consumerism—their version of a life of freedom.

 

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A post shared by Kojo + Yaya (@kojoandyaya)

Fadumo Ali

It’s been a while since we’ve really spoken. Give us some background information on who you are, how you identify, and what you do.

Yaya

I go by Yaya (she/her). I identify as an artist: theater artist, actor, director, and writer—and also a creative community holder all around.

Kojo

I’m Kojo (my pronoun is my name). I’m a filmmaker, photographer, and educator based in the Twin Cities. I’ve been trying to work on my mental health after being in toxic organizing spaces and realize that my power and my strength is within storytelling and media.

Fadumo

Where are you from?

Yaya

I’m from South Minneapolis, born and raised. I’m Nigerian-American.

Kojo

I was born in California and my family moved to Minnesota when I was in the seventh grade.

Fadumo

What made you decide to live in an RV?

Kojo

I’ve been manifesting this for three to four years. I would be watching YouTube videos—Yaya knows—every single day about different people’s journeys; mostly white, heteronormative people and couples doing it or solo white women. [But with] the few Black people I could find, I would always be really inspired. They just seemed like they were being free. Some were traveling and going to see different places, like the Grand Canyon, national parks—or going to cities, being inside the city and exploring the city. And some were artists, like filmmakers who were editing, and I knew it seemed doable. They were thriving instead of just trying to survive.

Fadumo

How did you go about minimizing your lifestyle?

Kojo

I had to challenge the internalization that I needed material things to make me happy. I’m realizing that I really value experiences.

Yaya

I first wanted to ask, What does it mean to really only take the things that I need? I wanted to embody what it means to not have so much stuff—physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc. Downsizing allowed me to literally sit with all my stuff. Physically and metaphorically I was able to be reflective on the “stuff” I was carrying internally + externally. I now want to work on gaining intangible things with this lifestyle; experiences in nature, with people, with ancestors, and generally being at peace in my body.

Fadumo

Why was it important for you to minimize the physical products and possessions?

Yaya

It’s important to minimize physical products and possessions because you actually don’t need a lot of things all the time! In this capitalist-individualistic society, we get conditioned to think that we are always in need of products and things that do the thing. I’ve learned to look around me and see what resources I actually need. There are multiple uses for products: For example, a basin or tub can be used for storage, to catch water, etc. For possessions, I try to figure out why I need to feel possessive over something. Is it because of sentimental value? Is it because I like the look of it? Have I used it in the last six months? If not, I probably don’t need it as much as I thought I did.

Fadumo

What kind of environmental footprint do you have now?

Kojo + Yaya

We are conserving water and being aware of how much electricity we are using. We have to be hyper aware of the amount of energy we use (down to the kilowatts) and waste that we generate. The RV only holds so much and we have monitors that break down how much of everything we use.

Fadumo

What role did environmentalism play in your decision?

Kojo + Yaya

We feel that environmentalism naturally goes hand-in-hand with our decision to live nomadically. We see beauty and power in our environment; we want to share in that beauty and not be extractive. We want to visit natural spaces and leave them in their powerful essence—exactly what that space was already doing. We are responding to the environmental crisis with a lot of intuitive knowledge and we are aware that it takes intelligence to be tapped into the environment that is around you. Our people and ancestors have always had that knowledge, and will continue to have it. Asè!

Fadumo

You both live, work, and organize in Minneapolis so talk a little about George Floyd’s murder and the uprising that followed. How did that impact your decision and how you decided to move forward?

Kojo

We were already in the works of it when that happened. Then seeing the way we’re always in the spotlight and have a lot of resources here, but the way that people move here, it just made me tired. I don’t like the way that Blackness is performative here. I don’t like the way that people move in terms of how resources are allocated. I don’t like how colorism shows up here a lot. There’s some community here that I truly do love, and I have family here that I’m very connected to—but I don’t feel a community in a way that makes me feel like I can lean on them fully and with trust. Not that I’m going back into organizing, but there’s a moment where I found myself there but chose the road back as a documenter, taking pictures and capturing people’s stories.

 

But just because we’re not physically here doesn’t mean we’re not connected to our city. We’re going to find different ways within our boundaries of what that can look like. But being physically here doesn’t feel right when we’ve already anchored ourselves into something that we’ve dreamt of.

Yaya

I think I was ready for a new exhale or just something else, that was—I just knew that this wasn’t all it and I was ready to see other things.

 

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A post shared by Kojo + Yaya (@kojoandyaya)

Fadumo

What is the ultimate dream you’re striving for?

Yaya

We have a lot of goals and visions of what community can look like. What does it look like when everybody’s healthy and actually gets to do what they want that’s in their dreams? We hope that more people will be able to see this lifestyle as that or find whatever lifestyle fits them the most. I have dreams of teaching and doing more workshops on movement and theater and body wisdom and being able to lead a workshop that is intergenerational, where we’re moving our bodies and doing different dances and things like that in the community. And we’ve always loved food service and thinking about what it means to share a meal with people and to have people fed and well. We have dreams of creating a food truck and having our own menus fused with our different cuisines from our cultures and things like that. Just always keeping community in mind is what this lifestyle is, holistically.

Kojo

I would love for other Black people to know that everybody doesn’t have to do this lifestyle, but I would love to see other Black people seeing this reality for themselves and supporting that. My dream for the future is that we will have acres of land where I can have a building workshop there where people can learn how to build. It’s kind of my dream to invest in this type of work and this vision for, not just us, but for our larger Black community.

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