My name is Saada Ahmed, I’m 27 and was born in Nairobi, Kenya. I moved to New York in June 2009 right after College, where I studied economics. Back then I was either working at Sixth Sense Perfumes as a Project Manager or interning at Syrup (ad agency). I actually got my internship in a weird way… I went to a PS1 party and this guy recognized me from an event the night before. He was asking me what I want to do and I said “advertising”, because that’s what I thought I wanted to do at the time, he worked in advertising and was like “this is really cheesy but I’ll give you my card” and that’s how I started working with Syrup! It’s funny because people don’t really do that anymore, we’re so connected on social media that you just follow someone on Instagram or you’re already following a company and you don’t really give out a card and follow up. Or maybe that’s just because I’m getting older. Now I like to stay at home or if I do go out – it’s like “Is it in Brooklyn? Is it close to my house?” As much as I’m a homebody now, I actually did meet a lot of connections and coworkers from my going out days. So it’s still beneficial to network, you just have to pick and choose where and when.
So now I do the Everyday People brunch, but that shuts down during the winter months so I’m also working on some new events and workshops with a friend of mine. I also have my company, Sokoni Worldwide. Sokoni started as a blog; I went back to Kenya and wanted to capture the country to get people interested in what goes on there. It really bothers me that people still have this narrow-minded image of Africa that’s like ‘National Geographic’ and wildlife, when in reality it’s so much more diverse, with many countries. Most people just don’t get to see individuals and understand the sub-cultures that exist there, so I wanted to highlight that. Then Sokoni transformed into a creative agency, as I wanted to start working with black brands. I started to get involved with this accountability group that a friend of mine started where we meet weekly and discuss our goals – let it be personal or professional – and we help each other reach those goals by setting smaller short-term goals. But I don’t get to spend as much time on that as I used to because the events thing has really taken over.
I guess I’m kind of an entrepreneur. In New York people have numerous things that they’re constantly working on; not necessarily one job. Unless you’re like a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley, that’s a particular role, but for me
I have an ultimate goal in my career, which is to bring people together
let that be a party, let that be an event or a workshop - that’s my passion - And also bringing awareness to people of color. I think eventually I would like to be a cultural attaché, either for Kenya, Ethiopia or Somalia to highlight cultural things there like Arts and Literature. All of the things I’m doing now are sort of leading me toward that path. When you’re younger you think things will be more linear. Like ‘oh I’m going to go to college and then I’m going to get this certain job, then I do the next job’.
You have a list you think you can check off, but life is not like that. Everything that I’ve done and everything that I do now is building towards something.
I felt like I was making a lot of lateral moves. I didn’t really understand what I wanted to do or how to move on, it was just a really confusing time, and it’s still confusing. But I think I accepted at some point that it’s okay not to know exactly how things should go. I mean you know eventually what path you’re moving towards but I don’t need to have a singular labeled job to get there. I feel like I made that next level move when I started Everyday People and I was able to quit my job and do that full-time.
That’s when I realized that if you do something for the love of it, the money will come. If you go into something focusing on the money, there’s not going to be any soul behind it – and people can tell when something is lacking in soul.
And Everyday People wasn’t just me, it took a group effort. I contacted a bunch of DJs and Moma was actually the only one who responded with a space that we could use for the party and my friend Roble (Chef Roble) we used as a guest host to secure the menu. Then Roble joined us as a partner. So it’s a collaboration and a mix of all of our friends attending. That was an opportunity that really helped me believe in myself. Another opportunity was when I worked for Saint Heron. I learned a lot! In the beginning, I didn’t think that I had the credentials to do the work that I was doing. Then I realized, you just gotta get in there, you know what I mean? You’re your own worst enemy.
It’s scary when you don’t feel that inspiration, but that happens from time to time. Like recently I wanted to do some events and I was thinking ‘why am I not really feeling passionate? Why am I not feeling excited?’ and I just had to stop over-thinking it. Read books, read magazines, go to exhibitions, talk to people, listen to music, and then those things spark your inspiration. Recently I did a proposal for a brand and I was having such difficulty coming up with a good idea and eventually it fell through. But the fact that I put so much pressure on myself to try to think of this creative idea was inorganic to my process.
When you force something, it’s not going to happen, you just have to let nature take its course.
And I do understand that people have deadlines, and there does need to be structure, and that’s something that I continue to work on, and sometimes you just have to do it, but don’t put pressure on yourself. I’m learning how to just roll with the punches.
FF - Do you consider yourself a freshman, sophomore or senior in your field?
SA - I’m home-schooled! I set my own pace. I don’t want to say I’m a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior in my field because you can’t compare yourself. Who knows how people got there. You can’t tell me that just because someone is 27 and moved to the city at the same time I did, that they have more of a leg up than you just because they worked harder. You don’t know what connections they had, what their background is, how they got there. There are so many factors, so it’s incomparable.
FF - What is your dream creative project?
I can’t narrow it down to one particular thing, but I think the idea of creating a positive image in the media for people of color – especially in light of everything that’s going on in the news right now. That is a really huge thing that I am constantly aware of. And then, I also think a sense of community is very important. A lot of people who move to New York are transplants, they’re not from here, not in the place they grew up with their family getting that sense of community. New York is a big city and there’s so many people that feel really lonely or feel like they have no one to talk to, like just to get advice, and it’s dog-eat-dog. So I would love to create an environment, let it be a space or a run of events that create that sense of community. That’s what is starting to happen with Everyday People. The ultimate goal is to have a space, like a Milk Studios or a Red Bull Studios, a combination of that but also a restaurant, like the Soho House and more of a creative space. The idea is to give people opportunities. When I came here I didn’t know anyone, so it was very difficult for me to even get an internship, and yet now I hear of so many people that are looking for help, that are looking for interns, but they can’t find anyone because it’s not on their radar, so again just bringing people together is my dream. I just remember wanting to travel and to have experiences, to go to different countries and be around all types of people.