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Black Bakers for Black Lives serves up delicious desserts

Morgan C. Mullings
Black Bakers for Black Lives serves up delicious desserts
(left to right) Sarah Rutherford, Nicole Johnson, and Tolani Akinola of Black Bakers for Black Lives. PHOTO: Morgan C. Mullings

Two Harvard graduates and a Harvard law student have started an ongoing baking fundraiser that benefits nonprofits and Black Lives Matter-related organizations nationwide during this time of racial unrest and grief for Black people killed by police officers. Sarah Rutherford, Nicole Johnson, and Tolani Akinola live together in Cambridge and were trying to find a productive way to help the community as racial unrest became the topic of conversation at their kitchen table. Now, their Instagram account @BlackBakersforBlackLives has over 800 followers and customers all over the Boston area.

“We have a lot of conversations about stuff that is happening in this country. And we wondered how frequently that was happening in other households,” said Johnson. “To us, one of the best ways to have conversations is over food.”

Not only do their baked goods generate conversation, they also generate money for organizations like Families for Justice as Healing and the UndocuBlack Network. They choose organizations based on their personal beliefs and timeliness of the donations.

Carrot cake from Black Bakers for Black Lives. COURTESY PHOTO

Carrot cake from Black Bakers for Black Lives. COURTESY PHOTO

When they heard of the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake, Bake Sale #5 proceeds went to the Milwaukee Freedom Fund. After the link to order went live on Instagram, all items sold out in about 36 hours. Last week, at Bake sale #8, they sold carrot cake, pumpkin cinnamon rolls and blondies to benefit Sister Song, a national reproductive justice collective for women of color. They started with around $300 in donations, but weeks later earned $648.13 for Families for Justice as Healing, bringing them to about $3,000 in total donations.

In addition to making a purchase, Rutherford said, “We always encourage people to go to these organizations’ websites and donate directly.”

She calls herself sous-chef to Akinola, who grew her love for baking as a child. Johnson focuses on quality control, and they all spend about 30 hours each weekend baking.

From when they wake up until they sleep, they are preparing their now-famous cinnamon rolls, cakes, brownies and cookies.

“This operation takes up an entire weekend, from shopping on Friday, all the way to delivery on Sunday,” Johnson said.

Rutherford is in her final year at Harvard Law School, Johnson graduated from Harvard with a master’s degree in 2019 and is now a Ph.D. student at Howard University studying education, and Akinola just graduated from Harvard with a master’s degree in public health.

The Harvard community has taken notice of their efforts, the bakers said, becoming their number one customers and supporters. A Black admissions officer who worked there for over 50 years, they said, wrote them a note in support of their business. “[He] wrote a very sweet note about how we are pressing forward and making change, and how proud he was of us. And I received other notes like that from similarly positioned people,” Akinola said.

Before and beyond this collaborative baking effort, the three have worked to form a supportive community of Black students and professionals, even as they attended predominantly white institutions. Akinola, who went to University of Chicago for her undergraduate degree, said, “I was able to carve out community for myself. I had friend groups with other Black women, and I think that really helped me get through all of these different circumstances.”

“I definitely feel like I have a privilege in being a Black person at Harvard Law School, and I don’t take it lightly,” Rutherford said. “There’s something that happens to students of color when they enter predominantly white spaces, where they may feel a need to shrink themselves, or they might not want to engage their classmates by explaining every trauma that happens to Black people,” she added.

This is why she now feels an obligation to share her opinions in class and lift up her fellow Black classmates. In 2021, she will graduate with over 60 other Black Harvard law students, one of the largest classes of Black J.D. candidates in its history.

Black Bakers for Black Lives will continue their initiative as long as they are able, but even if they can’t, they plan to continue supporting organizations fighting for racial justice through their Instagram account and their careers.

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