Taste of Instacart

Honoring Black History Month with Nightshades

Instacart

Instacart

Feb 24, 2022

Nightshade (noun)
night·shade | \ ˈnīt-ˌshād \
A family of flowering plants that ranges from annual and perennial herbs to vines, lianas, epiphytes, shrubs, and trees, and includes a number of agricultural crops, medicinal plants, spices, weeds, and ornamentals, including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell and chili peppers.

Nightshades co-leads Ayodele Akingbade, LaQuanta Mack, Diqwuan Thompson and Stephanie Harold

“There’s a lot of mystery around nightshades as a family of plants—ranging from misconceptions about whether they’re poisonous to debates about if they’re superfoods,” explains Ayodele Akingbade, an Instacart Market Manager and Nightshades co-lead. For example: Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable? Are potatoes good for you or not? 

“The reality is, Nightshades are rich in nutrients and staples in many many cultures,” explains Diqwuan Thompson, another Market Manager and Nightshades co-lead. “A lot of herbs and spices are derived from peppers and are used daily to make meals.” With a diverse range of flavors, colors, and uses, nightshades might be a topic of debate, but they’re undeniably versatile and bring tons of flavor.

“With the colors of nightshades ranging from deep purples to bright oranges and pale yellows, it’s a very diverse group with a ton of strength—that’s why the founding members of Instacart’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) dedicated to encouraging growth and community for Instacart’s Black employees called our group ‘Nightshades,” Ayodele explains. 

Nightshades was founded in 2018 to create a safe space and build an inclusive environment that reflects the communities we serve by increasing the ratio of Black employees at Instacart and supporting and developing those who are already here. Today, the ERG not only focuses on its original mission but also aims to support current Nightshades members in their current roles and career paths at Instacart.

Something that Nightshades do a lot—because of their strength and versatility—is change and adapt to the recipe they’re being cooked in. “One vegetable can become so many different things—a potato can be mashed, fried, or scalloped; a tomato can make pasta sauce or a salsa,” says LaQuanta Mack, an Area Manager and Nightshades co-lead. “That’s one way we encourage Nightshades members to be different from other vegetables—we want our members and community to stand out, not blend in. The Black community is so accustomed to codeswitching to succeed; at Instacart, we want to create an environment where every member can be themselves at work.”

“So often in the tech space, we are the exceptions, not the rule. We’re working to shift and progress that perception to ‘we are here, we are welcome here, and we don’t have to code switch to be successful here.’”

Ayodele

Nightshades at Instacart

Nightshades’ mission is to support belonging and inclusivity for the Black and Brown community at Instacart, which includes driving career development, supporting mental health needs, providing education, and acting as a community for its members through events at and outside of Instacart. 

The group has focused on three core themes: Belonging at work, having a voice, and mental health support. 

Belonging at work | “We wanted to build an organization where Instacart employees can come in and not change who they are, but instead become—and promote—their best selves,” says Diqwuan. “After all, as humans, we function at our highest potential when we can be our true selves.” So the group is an active part of Instacart’s diversity, equity and belonging efforts to make the workplace a safe and welcoming place. 

Having a voice | “We want people to know they have a voice and be a driving force of taking action so that members know that their voices are heard,” says LaQuanta. So Nightshades listens to and amplifies Black and Brown voices at Instacart and helps drive change—whether that’s at the leadership level or on the ground initiatives. 

Mental health support | “As a group, we provide a safe space for people across the company to come together and communicate their raw emotions during our monthly check-ins,” says Ayodele. During their time together, the group discusses topics like parenting, social justice, media, and current events. By providing a place rooted in psychological safety, members can open up, feel heard, and connect. Most conversations focus on sharing and then helping each other work towards solutions, improvements, or change. “We also hold each other accountable after our conversations by encouraging actions, self-care, and tactics to move towards better health,” says LaQuanta. “We face things together as a collective.”

“Black history is American history; people usually focus on one dimension—either on what happened in the past, what’s happening now, or what we’re concerned about in the future. I want to bring to the forefront that there’s beauty in the in-between. I’m speaking to you today because of all that’s come before me. The resiliency and obstacles that I have been overcome—and that process is beautiful.”

Diqwuan
Members of Nightshades and allies on Black Unity Day

The proof’s in the pudding: Nightshades’ success

“In 2020, we put together a month-long schedule of Black History Month programming for the first time,” explains Stephanie Harold, a Care Operations Team Lead and Nightshades co-lead. “We showed ourselves—and the community—that we could do something meaningful every week, and it laid the foundation for the work we’ve continued to do.” 

But right after that Black History Month, the entire Instacart team began working from home as the pandemic shut down offices across the country. Thanks to a solid foundation the group had laid since 2018, they were able to deliver programming on the same level, only virtually. They realized that it’s even more important than ever to offer support and community now that everyone is working from home—and they’ve continued to see great engagement from participants.

Even during tragic times and in the face of police brutality and systemic racism, the group has come together and had open conversations, made connections, and, ultimately, found community. At one point, Nightshades even reached out to Instacart’s CEO for support—and received it without reservations. “We were supported at every step of the way, which helped many of our members and members from other ERGs understand that we have support from leadership,” says Stephanie. “That’s so important to the work we do, and it feels good to be part of an organization committed to what matters to its employees.”

The group also has tirelessly worked to make the individuals at Instacart—and the company as a whole—stronger. As Co-Leads of Nightshades, Ayodele, Diqwuan, LaQuanta, and Stephanie all take on the responsibility of acting as mentors, role models, and sponsors to others. “The empowerment our ERG provides us with helps us all achieve more creativity and collaborate better, which contributes to our personal development and the growth of Instacart,” says Diqwuan. “We’re leaders of this group and take responsibility for helping lift others up or highlighting them,” he adds. 

And their work is paying off: Nightshades has seen a ton of progress in the past few years as an ERG. “We’re growing as a group and as a company because we have these communities and this type of support in place,” Stephanie says. 

Honoring Black History Month in 2022

This month, Nightshades will honor and celebrate Black History Month with a focus on “The Movement” of Black people in various spaces which include social justice, prison reform, access to healthy food options, cultural foods/diet, career progression in the Tech industry. With “The Movement,” they hope to highlight the progress that has been made and the movement of Black history from the past to the present, and also into the future. Some may believe that “a lot of us aren’t ‘supposed’ to be here given what we’ve endured,” explains Diqwuan. “There’s a process that made us like this which involved resiliency and obstacles to overcome, and that process is beautiful and should be celebrated. Our movement should be celebrated.”

To celebrate, Nightshades will start by providing visibility—into the presence of the Black community, the diversity of the diaspora, the history and community-shaping moments, and the rich and flavorful culture. They’ll also focus on Black excellence by sharing stories and showing up with excellence. “After all, when you continuously do excellent things, it’s more than an act, it’s a habit, it’s part of who you are, it’s a quality you embody,” says LaQuanta. By celebrating Black excellence, Nightshades hopes to encourage folks to bring excellence to everything they do—whether they’re making a cup of tea, inputting data, or ordering groceries on the app.

During February, Nightshades will host several events, including:

  • A Unity Day happy hour with the Asians @ Instacart CRG to celebrate Lunar New Year and Black History Month together and highlight the intersectionality of cultures
  • A dedicated Conversation Corner focused on self-care and journaling
  • A discussion with Topeka K. Sam, Founder and Executive Director of The Ladies of Hope Ministries on women’s incarceration and the criminal justice system
  • A diaspora celebration happy hour and virtual island tour from Caribbean members of Nightshades
  • A virtual ‘cookout’ for Instacart employees to share their favorite recipes and uses of nightshades in their cooking
  • A Black History Month playlist for everyone to listen and dance along to all month long.

Nightshades also partnered with the Instacart Social Impact team to raise donations for several nonprofits working to address systemic racism and inequities in our criminal justice system, food system, health system, and education system. One of those nonprofits is the Ladies of Hope Ministries, which works to end the cycle of poverty and the incarceration of women of color by advocating for new approaches to address behaviors that may arise as responses to trauma and violence. We encourage you to learn more and show your support here.

Hopes for the community—this month and beyond

Maya Angelou, a Black author, poet, and civil rights activist, once said that “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s exactly what Nightshades is focusing on this month and all year: how they make members of their community feel. 

“I hope that people feel their excellence and understand that they’re valued,” says Stephanie

“I hope people feel inspired to find movement in their own lives, whether that’s in their finances, mental health, side hustle, or physical health,” says Ayodele

“I hope our community feels a sense of belonging, growth, reverence, love, and visibility—and that they feel the progress of the movement,” says Diqwuan

“I hope they feel the love we’ve put into our programming and the efforts we’ve made to support each other,” says LaQuanta. 

Nightshades’ mission is to encourage growth, and community amongst Instacart’s Black employees. We are dedicated to building an inclusive environment that reflects the communities we serve by increasing the ratio of Black employees at Instacart and supporting and developing those who are already here. If you’re interested in joining us, check out opportunities on our team

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