Published in


Akilah S. Richards

After reading Akilah’s book Raising Free People, my view on unschooling changed radically. Unschooling is the learning approach that resonates most with me, but I always had seen it as a “rich people option”.

Never had I thought it could be practiced in other contexts. And even less as a liberating and healing force. A movement to break the one-size-fits-all approach imposed by an outdated education system. A movement that people can embrace together as a community; and free them to shape their own path.

Reading Akilah’s engaging words reframed my take on learning as a whole. We don’t agree on everything, but seeing things from a completely different angle is in itself a blessing.

But the impact was even stronger… After Raising Free People, I started to unlock memories from the past. It’s mindblowing how the lived experience of people with entirely different life journeys can touch you so much.

One of the things I like the most about Akilah’s discourse is the way she uses the “I” a lot but always relates it with the “we”. It uniquely conveys agency and respect.

For parents, among many other insights, reading Akilah’s thoughts on body autonomy and consent can be a game-changer. Her reflections will help parents respect their kids’ independence and teach them to navigate this fantastic world, full of light but also darkness.

Akilah recorded her answers to some questions, reframed others, and gave references to articles and even excerpts from her book.

Her interview is something to savor with time; it has many entry points and “portals” to different multitudes of the self. Start wherever you feel like, at your own pace, and give it time to breathe.

Bird’s Eye View

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am passionate about mindful partnerships and decolonizing intergenerational relationships. This includes parenting young people, re-parenting ourselves, and reclaiming imagination. I use audio and written mediums to amplify the ways that unschooling in particular, is serving as healing grounds and liberation work for Black, non-Black Indigenous, and People of Color communities earth-wide. I’m 44, and I live, learn, and thrive in partnership with Kris Richards (43), and the people who chose us to come through. We call them Marley (18) and Sage-Niambi (16).

Being a nomad, how do you adapt to different geographies while preserving your own identity

Listen to the recording

Is it possible to have personal freedom without collective liberation?

Listen to recording

Learning and Unschooling

What does learning mean for you? And how do you learn?

Listen to the recording

What are the main differences between “traditional schooling” and unschooling?

Listen to the recording

Your essay on Bodily Autonomy and Consent is so powerful that I would love if you could share its main ideas here. Is it possible?

In a world that constantly sends messages to women about connecting their value with their physicality and desirability, I need to help them operate with an awareness of their right to reject or accept physical touch or any act that affects their personal space or feeling of safety, from any adult or child.

And that means I have to be honest about the ways that I, myself, might infringe on their personal boundaries, and I have to facilitate these conversations with the adults around me. And I don’t just mean conversations about what we can do to protect children, but what we must do to help children understand their options for protecting their physical and emotional selves.

One way we can approach this goal is to explore some of the common mistakes we adults make when it comes to helping children practice bodily autonomy, which is at the root of consent culture for children.

Teaching Consent & Bodily Autonomy

Past and Future

Can you share some of the major lessons you’ve learned so far?

  • I don’t seek out equality in adult-child relationships, instead I look for ways to build equity, which can look a lot like a healthy friendship.
  • I practice discerning when to push and when to hold. Sometimes when my attempt to connect is met with unresponsiveness, I should back up not push.
  • Children will have a different lens and may not accept my views. This is okay, and I am learning how to give them the space for their own ideas to develop.
  • Sometimes the discussion calls for me to do nothing besides offer context, if I am asked.
  • In conversations with children/teens, I am mindful not to give verbal versions of long, persuasive essays. I always pause to gauge whether or not my communication is landing on listening ears or if I need to stop talking and start listening — or do something else.
  • I negotiate morning routines where feasible, but I don’t force children to act out roles in my morning ritual preferences.
  • I do not take a child’s attempt to ask me to respect them as them building life as a personal affront to me.
  • I am open and comfortable with being upfront and saying what I need to say.
  • I’m learning to be transparent about what I need and prefer. I don’t expect children to read my mind.
  • I ask, so that I’m not assuming, what respect means to each individual (adults and children).
  • I ask, so that I’m not assuming, what partnership means to each individual (adults and children).
  • I ask, so that I’m not assuming, what boundaries mean to each individual (adults and children).
  • When I am using my voice to prioritize partnership, I am trying to find shared meaning not to prove why I am right and a child is wrong, even when I know a child is wrong. This is because I trust healthy communication to create safe outcomes.
  • I respond with questions so I can learn more not so that I can bring the conversation back to my point of view.
  • I am becoming more attuned to the body language that comes before a blowup and to recognizing the role I play in a child not feeling heard or seen.
  • It’s comforting for the other person to witness vulner- ability — human emotion.
  • I trust that honesty is good for self-directedness.
  • I know that it is never too late to start building trust in a relationship with a child I love, and I am in it for the long haul.
  • I’m learning how to just listen, rather than trying to fix anything — to let children be heard, so they don’t have to defend their feelings. — Domari
  • If I trust myself, I can learn to trust my child. — Jillian
  • Note to self: don’t let mistrust misguide you. — Jillian
  • I don’t parent or teach past any child. I see and value who they are today, instead of focusing on who they might become in a future I cannot control.
  • My raising free people practice applies to babies and toddlers too, therefore I don’t say things like, “It’s just a toy,nothing to cry over!” I know and do better.
  • I am learning to listen with a Disruptor’s Ear, which means I am practicing listening beyond my own biases, so I can help foster trust and understanding.
  • I am equipped to operate with the wisdom that the boundaries a child sets with me may feel uncomfortable, but those boundaries still need to be respected.
  • I consistently practice giving my opinion to children in less confrontational ways, so that the children in my life aren’t on guard before they approach me to express themselves.
  • I do not underestimate children.
  • I help maintain brave space for children to express themselves.
  • I am always paying attention to whether or not children feel comfortable expressing themselves or are afraid of how I might react.
  • It’s so wonderful to realize that boundaries can change in different situations, and that trust allows for the flexibility that boundaries sometimes call for.
  • I am so very clear that rigidity of rules does not support confident autonomy.
  • It is important to know what’s present for both myself and the child at a given point in time.
  • I invite and appreciate the disruptors that are coming up as I continue my deschooling.
  • I am committed to better understanding and managing my emotions in ways that are healthy for me and the children around me.
  • I honor the truth that each child is a whole, full, feeling being.

Which big questions do you have on your mind currently?

Listen to the recording



A live experiment aimed at helping people reinvent themselves.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store