National Youth Pride Services is proud to announce it’s Third Annual list of 50 Winners Who Are Helping Others Win on our national magazine RizeUp! We used our national membership of youth and young adults across the U.S. to come up with the list and we are excited to see who they are not only watching, but learning from.
Yolo Akili is an accomplished writer, counselor, astrologer and yoga teacher. He is the author of the spoken word album “Purple Galaxy”, the chapbook “Poems In The Key Of Green” and the inspirational book: “Dear Universe: Letters of Affirmation & Empowerment For All of Us.”
Yolo Akili Robinson, was Born Micheal Todd Robinson Jr, in Fort Lauderdale Florida to Micheal Robinson, a soldier in the military and Patricia Robinson, a department store manager. Because his father served in the military, he lived in many places as a child, however most of his early life was spent in Weierhof, Germany, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Augusta, Georgia. He attended George P. Butler High school in Augusta GA and graduated in 2000. He says he never had to “come out” to his family, as they “kind of always knew.”
Following High School, he enrolled at Georgia State University where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree, Cum Laude, in African American and Women’s studies and was awarded the W.E.B Dubois and Anna Julia Cooper Award for his academic and on campus activism. After graduate school he was accepted into a Ph.D program in Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland at College Park, but declined, so that he could pursue “spiritual endeavors.”
Upon turning down UMD in 2005, Yolo Akili took on the surname Yolo, after reading about a character with that name in Alice Walker’s novel “Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart.” Yolo, which is a Pawtin Native American name, roughly translates to “ a peaceful place in a river abounding with rushes.” Akili, means “Wisdom” in Swahili, and was a part of the name given to him by Dr. Akineyele Umoja and the African American Studies Department at Georgia State University.
Yolo then attended Yoga of India School in Sandy Springs, Georgia, where he was awarded a scholarship by the institution as well as by ZAMI, an organization that supports LGBTQ scholar activists of color. He finished his program and became a licensed 200 Level Iyengar Yoga Teacher in 2009. He is currently a Graduate student at the University of Southern California, Master’s of Social Work program, focusing on mental health.
Yolo Akili first gained recognition as a Spoken Word artist in Atlanta, and later as a community organizer. His poetry led him to be invited to perform at the National HIV Prevention Conference, The SouthEastern Students Against Sweat Shops Conference, and at Morehouse College among other venues. He has delivered keynotes at Vanderbilt University, Northern Illinois University, and presented at Columbia University, University Of Illinois, Fordham, and many others.
Yolo Akili served as a community organizer for AID Atlanta’s HIV Prevention program the “Deeper Love Project”, and as a Life Support Counselor at National AIDS & Education Services to Minorities (NAESM). At NAESM he was apart of the team that organized and opened “Da C.R.I.B.B” a community center in Atlanta for Black LGBTQ Youth. Yolo was also part of the founding body of United 4 Safety, an organization that provides services and resources to victims of domestic violence in the LGBTQ community in Atlanta. Yolo served as a board member of the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival.
Along with Professor and activist Charles Stephens, (who I profiled on August 15th) Yolo helped to gather the men of “Sweet Tea: Southern Queer Men’s Collective”, a pro-feminist queer men’s group that produced the “Sweet Tea: Southern Queer Men’s Proclamation,” a document on queer men and anti-sexism work. He served as the Regional Training Coordinator of Men Stopping Violence, a national training institution dedicated to ending violence against women by working with men. While there, he co-facilitated “Men’s Education Classes” which are commonly referred to as batterer’s intervention programs, where he worked with largely middle aged heterosexual African American men. At Men Stopping Violence he also led the design and creation of “Mercury” an online multi-media training course that educates men on sexism, violence against women, and feminism. For his work in the Atlanta community, Yolo was awarded the Creative Leadership Award by the Feminist Women’s Health Center in 2009, and a “Unity in Community” Award by Unity Fellowship Church in 2009.
As a writer, Yolo Akili’s work has appeared on The Huffington Post, V-Day, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Good Men Project and Everyday Feminisms. His work has been featured on BET.com, The Feminist Wire and The Daily Princetonian. His best known essays are “Gay Men’s Sexism & Women’s Bodies” and “The Immediate Need for Emotional Justice.”
His docu-poem, “Are We The Kind of Boys We Want?”, based on the poem from “Purple Galaxy” was widely circulated through the LGBTQ community and has been used at numerous public health conferences and screenings, including the Black Alphabet Film Festival in Chicago. His book “Dear Universe: Letters Of Affirmation & Empowerment For All Of Us” lead to him being named a “Health Hero” by BET.Com. You can learn more about his work here: http://www.YoloAkili.com/
Yolo is especially proud of his advocacy and prevention work around HIV/AIDS because he sees and experiences the impact it has on the community and peoples sense of self-worth and wellness. Working as an HIV/AIDS advocate is an important part of how he reminds others, regardless of status, that they have immanent value and are loved.
Yolo Akili enjoys helping others see how valuable, brilliant and beautiful they are. “I like supporting people in the self-learning process” he says. “That feeling I get when I know I’ve helped someone learn to trust themselves, or see that they possess what they need, that feeling is why I feel like I was put here.”
Yolo Akili is the product of much love and nurturing, and is inspired by many whom he views as fearless. He credits Layli Maparyan, and Erykah Badu, “because they both are not afraid to be all the things they are—even though some of those things aren’t understood to work together”. He says “I look up to them because I get the same thing a lot—people don’t know how to name me or understand the breadth of my work.”
Yolo Akili lives in Los Angeles California, where he enjoys gourmet cupcakes, reading super hero comics, watching cartoons and cooking breakfast and brunch for people he loves. He is especially proud of his recipe for grits, and is rumored to make the best spaghetti in all of Los Angeles.