When the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago, Yuki Burton wanted to find something productive and freeing to do, since she, like so many others, spent so much time indoors quarantining. After sifting through various baking tutorials on TikTok and YouTube, Burton said she was inspired to challenge her own culinary abilities.
She began to bake cakes.
“As someone who enjoys being in the kitchen, cooking and sharing meals with others — as a form of fellowship and community — baking has been such a stress reliever for me during these uncertain times,” said Burton, assistant director at UC Berkeley’s Educational Opportunity Program. “It’s also given me a creative outlet to use my imagination and try new things.”
From gold buttercream bitcoin birthday cakes to custom pink “Boy Bye” breakup cakes to celebrate the end of toxic relationships, Burton’s intricate desserts cover a vast array of themes, making them popular among her friends, family and social circles at Berkeley.
And when she began posting photos of her creative cake concoctions on social media, people wanted to buy them. She now makes and sells over 15 cakes a month, all from the confines of her Oakland home.
But for Burton, profit was never the purpose of her newly found hobby. Rather, she wanted to find a way to support her community.
“During this pandemic, I’ve had job security at Berkeley, and I’ve been able to work remotely,” she said. “I felt really called to use my position of privilege to be a blessing to other folks and to leverage the attention I was getting from my cake journey to help others.”
Burton has held a weeklong cake raffle every month since last spring where participants can buy $5 tickets to be in the running to win a free, customized “Barika Bakes” original cake. Proceeds from each raffle go to specific organizations and causes that often have connections to Berkeley and the community Burton has fostered on campus the past 14 years as an EOP staffer and Cal alumna.
Anna Lee graduated from Berkeley in 2018 and met Burton working as a student in the EOP office. Lee said Burton was always supportive and had an open-door policy for students on campus.
Last summer, with the rise in anti-Asian violence around the country, Lee began raising funds through her photography for Asian elders in Oakland who had been attacked. When Burton found out, she offered to increase Lee’s funds through a raffle that raised over $2,000.
“We were able to achieve our goal of supporting the folks who are on the ground doing the work to stop AAPI hate,” said Lee. “To know Yuki is to know grace and love. I am so blessed to have someone like her in my life who is constantly willing and able to build community with.”
Dominique Donette met Burton in 2008, when they were both students and residents of Berkeley’s African American Theme Program. Donette said Burton’s “jubilant and giving spirit” shone through from the beginning of their friendship.
When Donette began raising legal funds for her brother, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison as a first-time offender, Burton was there to raise more than $4,000 for the cause.
Moreover, Donette said the gesture was more than about the money, as Burton also hosted an event that promoted a rich and engaging conversation about the justice system and alternatives to incarceration.
“In every space Yuki enters, she is completely present and ready to give her all,” said Donette. “She is generous and kind, always ensuring those around her are cared for and nurtured. She is a wonderful friend, and I’m so grateful for the love and care she has extended to me and my family.”
This year, Burton’s raffle will be held on a quarterly basis. Last week she raised over $2,000 for a school project led by Melissa Charles, assistant director of African American Student Development at Berkeley.
The Shakur Center for Health and Wellness is a Sacramento-based project that Charles is working to launch with other educators and activists in the area. The center will not only serve as a K-8 school — the Malcolm X Academy — for students in the community, but also as a health and legal clinic and a performing arts center.
Charles said the center is based on, and inspired by, the community-based work of the Black Panther Party.
“We have an amazing team of educators and leaders involved and a curriculum that really focuses on delving into nuanced aspects of Black liberation through a sense of fostering community,” said Charles. “I love to do things in community, so to have Yuki involved, as another Black woman, really makes this partnership more personal for me, because I rock with Yuki.”
In all, Burton’s cake raffles have raised over $12,000 for more than five different causes and have quickly gained a substantial social media following. Burton said she is sometimes overwhelmed with the response she has gotten, but credits her Berkeley family for supporting her business and giving back to her community through the raffles.
“It really feels like this is the natural flow of reciprocity that is not coming from a place of expectation,” Burton said. “And I’m doing my best to give it back to the community and to the people.”
To support Yuki’s quarterly “Cakes for a Cause” raffle, community members can purchase $5 raffle tickets via venmo (@yukiburton). Follow Yuki’s cake journey on Instagram to stay up to date for future raffles and community efforts.