Benjy Kusi, 26, from south London has built a following of over 200,000 on TikTok for his educational videos on diversity and inclusion
When most people think of TikTok, they may think of viral dances or funny trends - but Benjy Kusi does things differently.
Better known by @benjy_lookbook, the 26-year-old content creator from south London has gained a following of over 200,000 people and received 4.3 million likes in just one year on the app for his educational videos advocating for diversity and inclusion.
The consultant and creator was named one of TikTok’s UK’s ‘voices for change’ of 2021, a LGBTQIA+ trailblazer for Pride Month and was a part of their ‘this is Black’ campaign for Black History Month, and it’s not hard to see why.
Benjy uses his warm, positive approach and growing platform to create a safe and inclusive space for important conversations about racism, homophobia, sexism and more for his followers, to help them in becoming a better ally to marginalised communities.
When did you first create your TikTok account and what inspired you to start posting?
I started TikTok one year ago and at the time, I had a career in media which I loved. While working there, my friends and I created a diversity network as being someone who is Black and queer and working with others with intersectional identities, there wasn't a place that we could go and discuss these issues. So, I was very active in that network and it was super important to me.
Then, COVID happened and that summer, it was the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Suddenly, the work we were doing was really pushed to the forefront and during that moment, I realised where my passion lies. I really liked my job, but I wanted to have an impact on the lives of marginalised people that I was working with. The pandemic showed us that nothing is ever promised and I thought ‘you need to do something you truly want to be doing and actually matters to you’.
So, I quit my job to do a masters in HR in hopes of creating future policy changes in my agency and others. I was learning a lot and I started talking about things on my Instagram stories. But, Instagram is a bit of an echo chamber and discovery is hard. So when you post a story, you're just posting it to your friends and the impact is minimal. My sister is a content creator and I saw the wide reach she was getting so I decided to make a TikTok to share the conversations I was already having. I was really passionate about these issues and I wanted to keep talking about them, so I decided ‘OK, I’m going to do this’.
Have you always been passionate about social issues?
Always. I think, unfortunately, when you grow up with a quite visibly marginalised identity, in regards to being Black and “feminine” for myself, I haven't ever had the privilege of fitting in and my identity has been thrust in my face wherever I turn. So, I've had to develop resilience and fortitude.
When I joined the workplace, my passion extended to others as I realised the people around me were having similar experiences but no one was talking about it. I'm not going to say that I have always wanted to be an inclusion consultant or an educator, but if you speak to any kind of marginalised person, these issues are something that have always been top of mind.
I think that's something that people need to realise now. It’s really great that a lot of the world has woken up to issues like racism, inequality and oppression, but there's a community that have been having these conversations for a long time but haven't had the privilege to think things are fine, 2020 happens then say ‘oh my gosh, like racism exists?’
It’s not a bad thing to be ignorant, ignorance is just like an indicator that you don't know something. I have empathy with people who are ignorant and it’s important to understand where we're all coming from.
Answer to @molly_wardx When it’s offensive to identify a POC by their race 🤎 #learnontiktok #fyp #inclusion #inclusionmatters #ally #allyship
When did you first start seeing people engaging and resonating with your content?
Pretty much straight away, It happened quite fast. I think the reason why my content resonated so quickly with people is because there's a lot of discourse around the topics that I talk about, such as racism, ableism, homophobia, and while I’m not the first to talk about these things, my approach is different.
I don’t assume knowledge, at all. Unfortunately, a lot of the discussions are being had with the assumption of prior knowledge, but, ignorance is fine. A lot of us are ignorant about something, right? So, that’s how I try and approach my content as if you want people to understand, it's important communicate in an accessible and compassionate way. I think that's why I grew really quickly and I hit 100,000 followers in two or three months.
You hold space for important, yet often touchy conversations, how do you go about doing so in such a sensitive way?
It’s a hard one and sometimes, it can be uncomfortable. But, if we want to achieve progress, we need to be willing to embrace discomfort. I call my approach ‘kind but firm’ - I will discuss these issues in a kind way, especially because they are sensitive, but I will be firm about the principles. In having that approach, it means I’m able to communicate with others in a way that best suits them.
Also, I have an understanding that if we do ultimately disagree, that’s OK. While I’m not going to necessarily agree with a harmful belief, people will always have differences and we don’t move forward if we denigrate people for having opinions that aren't ours. We need to reach a point of shared understanding and if you have that approach, there will always be some sort of positive outcome.
Does your platform come with pressure or responsibility, and if so, how do you deal with that?
It definitely does. As a Black creator, we are so underrepresented and that comes with an extra responsibility of being expected to speak for your community. I sometimes feel pressure that people see me not just as Benjy, but as Benjy who represents the Black community or the LGBTQIA+ community.
The way I stop that overwhelming me is to realise that I am just one person. While these characteristics inform my personality and worldview, they don’t make me who I am. I am Benjy, first and foremost. When I centre myself in that, it takes the pressure off because I make mistakes, as we all do.
How to cope with receiving hate🤎 #learnontiktok #hate #haters #hatersgonnahate #selflove #selfcare #fyp
Why do you think TikTok is the best place to have the conversations you’re having?
I think TikTok is awesome because of the reach. You can put a video out, go to get a coffee then come back to millions of views. For anybody who is making content, TikTok is one of the best platform out there right now.
For the content I make, I want it to have an impact and go beyond my circles so TikTok is really great for that. Also, I love the short form aspect of it because it forces me to make sure I'm breaking down everything into accessible chunks so you don't have to sit there for ten minutes watching me ramble - cause I can do that, too!
I really see my platform as a starting point for you to then go on and do your own research, if that's what you want to do. It’s a place where you can get little tidbits to help you further your understanding of certain issues. I'm a consultant in my day-to-day so I’ve found it useful when people ask me questions and I can say ‘well, let me send you this link to a video I made about that’.
You were one of TikTok’s ‘voices for change' of 2021, what was it like receiving that title?
So wild, especially because there were so many people I look up to on that list. I never imagined to get to this point so it's humbling to have been named alongside these amazing people. To know that my work is being recognised, helping people and driving positive change is really cool.
People have come up to me in the street and told me stories about how my content has helped them educate others or realise their experiences are not just happening in their head. It really does make it worthwhile to know the content I'm making my bedroom is actually having a real, potent impact on people who I may never meet.
Also, you were a part of TikTok’s ‘This is Black’ campaign for Black History Month and named an LGBTQIA+ trailblazer for Pride Month, what were those achievements like?
Definitely a career highlight and a ‘pinch me’ moment! The Black History month campaign was huge for so many reasons as I’m an active part of the community on TikTok and the Black community contributes so much to the platform, so it was really humbling and inspiring. It’s great to see TikTok invest in literal billboards with our faces on them and amplify the voices of Black creators on the platform.
I’m part of the @tiktok_uk #ThisIsBlack campaign for Black History Month🤎 #learnontiktok #blackhistorymonth #blackcreators #blackvoices
For Pride month, it was very early on in my career on the platform, and again, there was so much effort put into it which showed me that TikTok is an amazing place to be if you are from an underrepresented community because they really do care about marginalised people on the platform, and crucially, what they contribute to the platform. Let’s face it, we are the creators of most of the trends - the dances, comedy, fashion, it's coming from us. So, give credit where credit is due and TikTok is doing that.
What are your next goals for your platform on TikTok and beyond?
I definitely want to keep putting out content that is helping people be kinder to themselves and other people. That's my principle. So, I really want to keep the TikTok videos coming and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. I want to keep working as a consultant and inspiring people to make their organisations more inclusive for marginalised people as that's a huge passion of mine.
Also, this is gonna sound really corny but I want to live a life that is fulfilled by purpose. This is my purpose for the foreseeable future, but I also have other passions and this whole experience has showed me that there is so much power in following your purpose and what is meant for you. There’s a saying that I love that goes ‘what is for you won't pass you by’, and this was always here for me. I just overlooked it for so long. Then, life had to shake me so whatever fuels me, I want to do that.
But, for now at least, I see what I'm doing now as my passion and my direction and I want to give it my all.