Dallas-based Founder Leigh Higginbotham Butler announced today that on Nov. 11 she would be launching Akina, a social hub and online community for Black mothers, aunties, and other caregivers to connect.
The first-of-its-kind social experience aims to cultivate an environment for Black women that nurtures, educates, and inspires, both through the app and in-person.
Akina—Swahili for “strong family bond”—says its launch will represent one of the largest platforms to date that’s solely dedicated to Black mothers. There is currently more than 20,000 women on the waitlist.
But the story of how Akina came to be isn’t as paved with positivity.
A founder’s rock bottom
Ten years after the birth of her third son, Leigh Butler began to experience the worst period of her life. She was unemployed and her husband was stuck working small jobs for hourly wages to make ends meet. They found themselves struggling to feed their boys and keeping a roof over the family’s heads.
But a decade prior, the Butlers’ lives told a (very) different story. In Birmingham, her husband was VP of Business Banking for a well-known bank, while she was a communications director for a local politician. They decided to relocate to Dallas, where Leigh is from, so the children could have access to the school districts in Frisco.
It was there that Leigh said she hit her rock bottom.
“We sustained with a small amount of savings, the small paycheck my husband brought in, and help from some family. But then it happened. There was no more money,” she says. “We were officially in crisis mode.”
Eventually, her husband began interviewing with a large financial institution and she was hired on a part-time basis at a nonprofit. It wasn’t enough.
That snowballed into what Leigh calls the most humbling experience of her life.
She was connected with a case worker, who couldn’t fathom how to college-educated individuals previously bringing in a collective six-figures could end up in their position, hunting for sustainable jobs.
The Butlers were approved for rent assistance and given approval to access a local food pantry. She visited the pantry—her godsend, she says—for diapers, wipes, formula, toiletries, snacks, toothpaste, water, vegetables, and more for around four months.
And then, she says, “light began at the end of the tunnel.”
Leigh’s husband ended up earning the finance position he spent months interviewing for; she was brought-on full-time at the nonprofit.
And as life as she knew it slowly began to return, Leigh’s entrepreneurial instincts took hold.
During her struggle as a mother—a struggle that Leigh says she suffered in silence, for fear of being judged or pitied—she yearned for a safe space of like-minded individuals who could offer advice, solace, inspiration, and help.
“Going through what we had gone through and not having anyone to lean on or talk to was a terribly lonely experience,” she says. “To know that I wasn’t alone, to have someone speak some positivity and encouragement into my spirit would have gone a long way.”
The concept of Akina began to take shape: An all-in-one platform for other Black mothers to gather for support and essential resources, something she desperately needed when faced with her own familial challenges.
“As moms of Black children, we navigate a special set of circumstances,” Leigh says. “From doctors, to caregivers, to teachers, to principals, police, and other parents—we have to advocate for our children in a unique way. The truth is that it takes a village to raise a child—and every woman deserves that village.
“This is where Akinawas born.”
An online ‘village’
Now fully realized, Akina offers a curated, interactive space curated for Black moms to tackle issues affecting motherhood and day-to-day life.
The app, which will be available for download on Apple and Google Play, will host on-demand chat rooms, meetings, live streams, educational content, events, networking opportunities, and more.
The team calls it a blend of Match, Clubhouse, Instagram Live, and Google Meet—all rolled into one.
Leigh says it was vital to focus on Black women, as they often face disparities in maternal health.
Studies show that Black women experience death during pregnancy or childbirth, fibroids, or other complications at a higher rate than white women.
“Motherhood is already tough. But add to that the lack of resources and the challenges Black moms face everyday raising Black children in this unforgiving, unfair, and inequitable world where their lives—our lives—are not valued is even harder,” Leigh says. “We are often looked at as ‘strong and ‘tough,’ but I submit that many of us put on that exterior and suffer in silence.”
The founder hopes to put Akina at the helm of this community. She plans to offer content for big-name experts in the maternal health industry, such as doulas, doctors, mompreneurs, and educators.
Currently, Akina is supported by Milk Space, Black Moms Connection, the Dem Black Mamas podcast, and American pro tennis star Taylor Townsend, who recently signed an official partnership to amplify the platform.
Leigh intends to celebrate the milestone by donating to the National Black Child Development Institute, The Allignment Chapter, and Black Moms Connection. More philanthropic efforts will be announced in the future.
Leigh wants users to feel confident their “village” has them covered.
“A lot of us suffer in silence because we don’t know who to trust, who we can turn to, what resources are out there, fear of being judged or looked down upon,” she says. “We need a place to be our authentic true selves. We need to be able to lean on each other in good times and bad, lift each other up during hard times and not be afraid of being judged.
“It takes a village, so let’s be that village.”
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