Community Profile: Lila Igram
The Activist Tree & Her Rapping Apples
A mother and her sons open up about women’s rights and rap. It’s hardly what you’d expect.
by Sofia Sokolove
Photograph by Tyeschea West
LILA IGRAM HAS ALWAYS BEEN interested in empowering women and girls. She remembers feeling frustrated growing up in Iowa as a Muslim woman, seeing so much of the conversation about women’s issues being discussed by men. “It’s very frustrating,” explains Igram. “You kind of get a chip on your shoulder.” It’s ultimately what drove her to launch ConnectHer. Through a grassroots, bootstrapping effort, and with the support of her husband, Tarik, Igram put together a team that donated over $50,000 of in-kind services to start the Austin-based nonprofit. Now in its fifth year, the female empowerment initiative and crowd-funding platform includes an annual international film festival called Girls Impact the World.
“At a certain point, you have to choose…do you want to sit back and be a listener, or do you want to enter the conversation?” says Igram. “I think the way I wanted to enter that conversation was through ConnectHer.”
Her two young adult sons, Noah and Zak Aossey, are navigating their own ways of joining that conversation—fueled by their feminist upbringing—in an unlikely setting: the rap world. The brothers are partners in NorTH, a rap group and lifestyle brand led by Noah and managed by Zak. Zak, a former Harvard football player, was always interested in rap and hip hop as a hobby. On one track he was recording, Noah jumped on for fun and so began his somewhat rapid ascent into popularity as the leading man of NorTH. (He’s since assumed NorTH as his last name). Their first release, GOAT, released in late June, has already amassed three million-plus YouTube views. New music coming out soon doubles down on their talents. These two, like their mom, are ones to watch.
We had the pleasure of visiting with the three of them about their family’s drive, values and how they all navigate the juxtapositions of their roles.
TRIBEZA: Let’s start by talking about ConnectHer. Where did that vision come from?
LILA: Authentic representation is what we really focus on. The vision of ConnectHer is to elevate the status of women and girls all over the world. One of the things we do is invest in local women leaders in the developing world. Then, of course, there’s the film festival. The whole purpose is to provide a platform to showcase voices of marginalized women.
TRIBEZA: You must have been so conscious about raising boys, and passionate about how they would enter into this conversation of women’s rights. How did that play out in your parenting?
LILA: You know, I think it’s just the normal things parents always do. Like if you hear your boy say “She’s crying like a girl,” you say “Oh, come on …”
NOAH: [Interrupts, laughing] I think that’s just you, Mom.
LILA: [Laughing] No! I think everybody does this!
TRIBEZA: Zak and Noah, does your mom’s passion for equality feel ingrained in you, too?
LILA: Zak went to Harvard and joined the Men Against Rape club.
ZAK: We were raised by a very strong, independent feminist woman. I don’t like the word feminism, but that’s the way we grew up and that’s what we saw, and that’s what she’s always strived towards—gaining equality for women.
LILA: I ask Noah all the time, “Does the work I do impact him to not have misogynistic lyrics?”
TRIBEZA: I’m so curious about that! And now to have them both involved in the rap world, which isn’t always the friendliest world for women…
LILA: I feel like I have two personalities when it comes to this. I have the responsible parent personality where, you know, I worry about those environments. Especially the entertainment environment. There’s so much misogyny…
NOAH: And then you have the fan girl personality!
LILA: One thing I always tell Noah is you have your music identity which is your passion, your love, but that’s not your identity. Your identity is your character.
NOAH: That’s why when I made my first music video it was like “Okay, we need girls in the video,” and then it was like, “Why do we need that?” As a rapper in 2016, why do I need girls [dancing] in [my] videos? You don’t. Growing up with a woman who is so outspoken, it makes us that way as young men.
LILA: Oh yeah, I don’t let things fly. I correct things. I think women have to be more confident and more willing to voice their opinions.
TRIBEZA: So, do you guys correct things now among other men?
NOAH: I think about it, and I’m always aware of it.
ZAK: Yes. To a great extent. We’re 100 percent aware of all situations, and more prone to speak out about it. A lot of guys that I know and grew up with, if they see something happening that might not look right between a guy and a girl, they’ll just walk. Or someone will say something derogatory; something will happen in a workplace…they just don’t have that respect. That’s something that’s in us.
LILA: The other thing is, I have a partner. My daughter, their sister, Mena, is 15 years old and she’s a badass. You just don’t mess around with her.
TRIBEZA: Because you were armed with such a strong education on feminist values, does it feel like pressure to share that knowledge?
ZAK: I feel upset. I wish I could do more. I want to understand why other people think that way, or even perform those types of actions. There’s a huge change to be made. How do you make that change? Do you do it through music? Do you do it through nonprofits?
NOAH: Well right now a perfect example is my mom’s new Stand Up Men Prize. I’m doing a film on it with my friends.
LILA: It’s called Stand Up Men, and students are supposed to submit films on men who are standing up against the assault of women. Hopefully, they can at least get the conversation started. The focus is on males of influence—male artists, male actors, but you can profile anyone who you think can do a good job standing up for women’s rights.
TRIBEZA: We’ve talked a lot about how you’ve inspired your sons. Lila, in what ways do you feel like your sons drive you?
LILA: This is a perfect example—The Stand Up Men Prize is inspired by them. They are voices for change and they feel compelled to stand up for women and women’s rights. Zak being involved in Men Against Rape and Noah saying “I’m not going to objectify women in my videos.” Now, I mean, I hope that doesn’t change…
NOAH: I’m not going to objectify women! I could never release a video with girls in a hot tub dancing around me. I just couldn’t do that. I don’t think that looks cool, even.
LILA: [Laughing] Well, hopefully you can show some strong intelligent women.
Read more from the People Issue | December 2016