On Discerning What We Need to Experience Joy, Healing, and Wellbeing: An Interview with Aiko Bethea

Our BlackHer Shero of the Week is Aiko Bethea, principal of RARE Coaching & Consulting and a senior director for Frontline Solutions, a Black-owned consulting firm. Bethea has been recognized by Forbes as one of the Top 7 Anti-Racism Educators. She’s also a practicing attorney.

Aiko, it’s SO great to meet you. I love following you on Linkedin. You have keen insight into how white supremacy works and share great advice for helping us thrive. Why did you become an executive coach?

I grew up in an all-Black low-income community where I felt deeply loved and seen. Everyone lived in a single-parent household and received free lunch. It was wonderful and our normal.

The most disruptive part of my upbringing was when I had to be bussed once a week to a gifted program. That was when I realized that we were poor, that I was Black (in relation to whiteness),  and was perceived as less than, and didn’t belong in some spaces. 

This taught me that there is power in all-Black spaces that provide us with pride, love, and confidence in who we are. 

In addition to your work as an executive coach, you consult and write and speak about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). In fact, Brené Brown has profiled you twice on her podcast!  DEI training is everywhere these days and I’m clear that white people need it, but do Black women need it?

DEI has become so white-centered and I agree with you that that is problematic. But learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion is also important for Black women because it gives us a filter to see “the toxicity in the water”.

In the same way that a fish can’t see the water in which it swims, as Black women, we often struggle to see and name the toxicity in our environments. DEI gives us a lens and language to talk about the racism, misogyny, and classism that we may feel but have been unable to express.

We’ve all had an experience where we’re like, “this shit doesn’t feel right”. But then we may go to that inner critic that says, “maybe it’s all in my head,” especially if people are gaslighting you. 

Having a language around DEI helps to interrupt that mindset. For example, once I have a lens for inclusion, I can say, “That is why I don’t feel included. It’s because no one has invited me in.” Or, oh equity. “They are exercising power over me. That’s why I don’t feel that I have power here.” 

DEI training can also give us a lens to see the harm that is happening to other people who are being marginalized. For example, Black trans women are dealing with something that is similar and different from us. It’s important for us to understand and work to interrupt that. 

Thank you. That is helpful. We do need a lens to see how we harm each other.

Yes. Equity is about sharing power with others vs. having power over another person. In our community, we use colorism and classism as weapons against each other. DEI can help us to understand and address this.

Tell me more about your coaching practice.

Seventy percent of my practice centers on equity. My analysis is always about power – power over or power with. A lot of the workshops I do are only for Black women or people of color because, as I mentioned above, I think we need spaces where we can build alliances with one another and see where our experiences are similar and different.

But it’s important to note that healing for Black women is less about our relationship with DEI or any of these social constructs, like race, and class, and gender, and more about our relationships with ourselves. As Black women, we need the space to imagine.  We have to be able to imagine what love and liberation look and feel like because we are often restricted from even being able to imagine this.   We need rest, space, and healthy connection in order to do this. Afrofuturism and the skill Octavia Butler had to look beyond the here and now is what we need. 

And many of us are getting clearer on our dreams. That’s one of the reasons why Black women are the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs in the country. 

We’re less interested in “bringing our own chairs to the table”. We’re building our own tables and empires.  We’re done comparing ourselves to others. We’re interested in figuring out what we need and want as individuals

That is powerful. I hear you saying that part of what you do as a coach is to help us put ourselves in the center of our own lives!

That’s right. My goal is to help folks ask and answer these questions. What do I need for my own joy, healing, and well-being? If I’m a plant, I’m thinking about the environment I need to help me grow. I’m not thinking about how to navigate the venus fly traps everywhere. 

Liberation and freedom mean that we have to see things without the constructs. 

About 30% of my practice is with white leadership and corporations. This work focuses on education, support, operationalizing equity, and also shepherding others through their own journey towards embracing equity. 

How can folks get involved with you and your work?

  • Check out my piece in an upcoming anthology edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown, called You Are Your Own Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience. It comes out on April 27, 2021. It includes writing from Laverne Cox, Jason Reynolds, and more.
  • Follow me on Instagram.
  • Check out my coaching services and workshops just for Black women and people of color. 
  • I also offer keynotes and strategic work within organizations and with senior leadership teams. 

Speaking of visioning and dreaming, let me ask you the miracle question. You go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow and it’s March 2022 and a miracle has occurred for Black women. What happened?

We’re no longer judging ourselves in relationship to masculinity, whiteness, wealth, etc. – all the things that we are not. We are who we are and we’re just living in that. 




P.S. To keep LEARNING from Aiko, follow her on Linkedin and listen to her podcasts with Brené Brown.



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