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What Activist Dr. Akilah Cadet Can’t Live Without

Photo: Emily Scott; Illustration: Joe McKendry

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair but the hair spray and the electric toothbrush. We asked Dr. Akilah Cadet — the founder and CEO of Change Cadet and chief creative officer of Represent Collaborative — about the tea, T-shirt, and shower cap she can’t live without.

Nike React Element 55 Sneaker

When I was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, my life changed. I get shortness of breath; I tire easily. Then, I started having mobility issues on my left side, and I had to wear a brace on my left ankle for the longest time. There was no point in me wearing a heel or an uncomfortable shoe. So I started buying more sneakers. This was the only shoe that allowed me to have fashion and comfort, and it fit over my brace because it’s a very thin, lightweight shoe. I could have a fabulous skirt on and sweater and wear the reddish-gold ones and look cute. I’m obsessed with them.

Shhhowercap The Baldwin

I interviewed Jacquelyn De Jesu, the founder of Shhhowercap on my podcast last season. I love the Shhhowercap so much because my hair fits in it, and it’s big. I have a lot of hair, so with the traditional, plasticky, disposable shower cap, it’s like a whole chore to get it in there. When I wear braids or twists, they’re very long and blonde and they’ll fit in the Shhhowercap, too. It travels well. I have one shower cap that I’ve had for like three years. My favorite is the Baldwin, the new print of last season, because I have a matching robe — it’s a look. It’s my Black Is King vibe. I love that it’s made by a woman who is scrappy in the best way. We don’t hear a lot about innovators anymore, and she’s an inventor. She’s changed the game of an everyday type of product, similar to Spanx.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah
Very Good Deal

A couple of years after apartheid, I was a student ambassador for the United States of America and spent a month in South Africa. That’s the first time I experienced hard-core racism. I think it’s probably one of the reasons why I’m in the work that I’m doing. I love this book because he does such a beautiful job of finding ways to talk about difficult things, inserting humor and sarcasm, and holding people accountable for the how and why. I highly recommend the audiobook because he narrates it. There are times when he’s speaking Xhosa, and you can just hear his voice, sarcasm, and tone, which I just love. I’m not gonna ruin it for you, but he shares a lot of great stories about his upbringing and how it ties back to him being Black and white, and how he came to America, how people view him, his friends. He has depression, and he still finds joy and talks about it publicly, like I do. Sometimes, I put on the audiobook just to hear him in the background to affirm the work that I’m doing. I don’t think he’s single, but if this makes the list, let him know I’m available.

Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey Tea

This tea reminds me of my grandmother, who passed away. She’d make her Earl Grey tea and put Carnation condensed milk in it, so it was just super-sweet and delicious. I learned a lot from my grandmother. She taught me how to be fearless.

Change Cadet Keep Being Amazing T-Shirt

When I went full-time with my company, I started signing emails, “Keep being amazing,” because I didn’t want to say “Thank you, have a great day.” I just wanted to send a message to people to either remember that they were amazing and be validated in that, or just reflect on it. A year or so later, my heart stuff started. So now it’s my daily mantra to “keep being amazing.” The message is about intersectionality: I’m Black. I’m a woman. I’m a Black woman. I have a disability. I have my mental-health stuff. I do this type of work, and I keep being amazing. And if I forget to, I just look down and it’s there. It’s pretty exciting have this shirt out there and see how people are celebrating themselves.

Mini Enku Leather Backpack

I have both the regular and mini-size of this backpack. Pre-COVID, I would be on a plane every two weeks, and a lot of those trips were overnight. So I could just put a change of clothes in the backpack, my laptop, and whatever else I needed. But I hate big bags for BART [my local rail and subway system], so I use the mini and it’s stylish and cute. There are different colors. It’s adjustable. There’s a drawstring and a zipper in the front. And then there’s the hidden zipper in the back, which is great for public transportation and traveling, so you can put your wallet on the inside part and feel confident. It’s made of really great leather and sourced from Ethiopia, and I love that it’s helping a wonderful community of vendors there. It’s a Black- and Black woman–owned business, started by a dad and daughter, which I think is adorable.

Rhum Barbancourt 8 Year 5 Star Rum

I’m Haitian, so it’s like a hidden rule as a Haitian person that you always have this rum in your house. Barbancourt Rhum is Haitian rum, direct from Haiti. I prefer the eight year. Sometimes I’ll have it on the rocks to celebrate me and have a little moment, or mix it with something else. I’m Haitian on my father’s side. My dad was one of ten children, so you can imagine what our family gatherings are like. So this rum has a sense of pride and family and celebration. Prior to my heart condition, I was into Japanese whiskeys and just about to get into scotch. Then my cardiologist was like, “Nope.” So I had to go a whole year without drinking until I was fully diagnosed. Now I can have one drink a day.

Fruit By The Foot

These are a fond childhood memory. I was born and raised a vegetarian, so this was a fun snack to have that wasn’t like a nut or something that was trying to be a cookie. It was just sugar. It reminds me of lunches my mom made. When the pandemic hit, I was very lonely. Since I live with my heart thing, I can’t do much. I can’t see people in the same way that other people can. So I would start to buy these, and I just felt good. I had those happy memories again. So that’s why I always have them around. I can throw them in my backpack. Not healthy at all, but it gives me a little joy.

Yoga Tune Up Therapy Ball Pair

I fell in love with these last year because I go to acupuncture on a regular basis, but I hadn’t been able to since the pandemic. You can roll on the balls or just lean on them and they act like acupressure, which helps because I live in chronic pain. I can’t travel with a whole foam roller, but I can bring these. If I really need to get into something, I can lean on one side and just roll on the floor and I will literally hear pops and stuff. It’s good for massage, too. If you roll the ball on your skin slowly, it’s essentially myofascial release, loosening up the layer of the tissue that can get all gnarly and tightened, and relaxing tension that may be in the muscle.

Garnier SkinActive Clearly Brighter Anti-Puff Eye Roller

I’m very low-maintenance. Like, I barely wear makeup. I did a master’s program that was supposed to be seven years in two, so I was always tired. I started adding this into my routine. Even if I don’t have time to do makeup, I wear it just to look alive on Zoom. It’s also the first product that I got that made me feel like I was an adult. I went on one trip, forgot it, and that’s when I realized it was a necessity. Now if I forget it, I’m going to CVS or Walgreens and to pick one up.


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