Saada is a young female entrepreneur originally hailing from Kenya. She is the founder of Everyday People, a collaboration that brings together young black people in New York City. What once began as a safe place for a group of friends, has now flourished into a symbol of unity and a rite of passage within the community. Saada’s work is a reminder to New Yorkers that beneath our diverse exteriors, we are all just everyday people.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Kenya and came to the states when I was 2 years old. My family is Somali and Ethiopian.
What brought your family from Kenya to America?
Opportunity. I think that my mom wanted me to have better opportunities than she had when she was growing up.
What brought you to New York?
Straight out of college I packed two of my bags and moved to New York to live with my aunt in the Bronx. It was a spur of the moment decision. I have been living here for 7 years. At first, I was looking for internships but it was really difficult because I didn’t have any connections. I went to school in Boston and studied economics but then I moved here and I didn’t know what to do. I realized that I actually hated economics but I felt pressured to do it because of family.
Most first-generation Americans feel pressure from their parents to pursue higher education and specific vocational pathways. Why do you think that is?
Our parents want us to have stability, safety, and security. Feast or famine is not something our parents want us to deal with.
Tell us about what you do in New York.
I am the founder of Everyday People. I started it in 2012 but we have been a full-fledged company for two years.
How did you transition into becoming an entrepreneur?
When I first moved to New York I got an internship in advertising. The first job they gave us was to do a casting for Calvin Klein men’s underwear. And I thought, this is what New York is like!? Back then I thought all my jobs were unrelated. Even a couple of years ago I would say that I did dead-end jobs and lateral moves. In hindsight, all of those jobs gave me something to get me to where I am today. You have to deal with a lot of setbacks to grow from situations. How can you be successful if you don’t know failure?
What were some of the challenges of getting to where you are today?
Those years were fun. I had a lot of fun, I went out a lot, and today that helps me because I know a lot of people. But there was a lot of self-doubt and a lot of pressure from my mom. I was out there working paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have savings. It was a lot of pressure.
Tell us more about Everyday People.
I created Everyday People to bring my friends, and friends of friends together. I saw that we were all going out in New York but we weren’t really getting to know anyone. It was a dark place. I wanted to create a place where we can have conversations and meet new people. It’s also about creating networks.
Everyday People is a huge success. What makes it so unique that it keeps attracting people to come back every time?
Everyday People is comprised of different types of people from different worlds. It’s good for us to get to know each other and possibly help each other. The events are also in the daytime so you’re not going to be too crazy. You can see people and it allows people to express their personal style a lot more so than nightlife. It’s also more casual. It’s a place where people can be themselves. No one is going to judge you.
Is judgement something you experience often since moving to New York?
Sometimes you can go out and feel uncomfortable, especially as a black women. Sometimes you can feel unwanted. I always want to create safe spaces for people where every community is celebrated. I don’t want to alienate anyone or make them feel unwelcome.
How did Everyday People get started?
I started it with two friends, DJ Moma and Chef Roble. Moma had a venue and he told me to invite whomever I wanted and Roble created a menu.
How many people showed up to the first event?
About two hundred people. I didn’t expect anyone to show up and I didn’t think that it would be something that I would create.
Fast-forward 4 years and Everyday People is insanely popular. What size are the events today?
We had one at La Morena recently with about 2,500 people.
Can you tell us where the name “Everyday People” came from?
It’s from a rap song from the 90’s. My roommate suggested that we should call it that one day while we were listening to the music.
Where do all of the people in attendance come from in New York?
They’re from all over. I feel like it’s a rite of passage as a young black person to go to Everyday People. If you’re young, and you’re black, and you’re in Brooklyn, and you’ve never heard of it, you are rare at this point.
You mentioned that people are able to express themselves at Everyday People when it comes to fashion. When you first moved to New York, did your personal style evolve?
I got to be more creative. I was inspired by other people. New York City has a lot of fashionable people. When you see something interesting, you can’t help but think, I want to try that next time.
What’s it like living in Brooklyn?
I’ve lived in Bed Stuy for four years. All of my friends live here and there is a lot of culture.
Have you witnessed a lot of changes in the neighborhood in the last couple of years?
I’ve seen gentrification. I think I’m apart of it, kind of. You see places pop up that don’t know what the community is like. I think you should try to get to know your neighbors. I live in the Hasidic Jewish area and it’s difficult to get to know their community. But I think it’s important to speak to your neighbors. Be friendly. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia; it’s a different culture. They say “hi” to everyone on the street and smile at you.
Brooklyn is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the nation. This exposes us to a different world that most Americans don’t know. As a young black women, what are your thoughts on the current racial issues coming to light throughout the country.
This has been going on for generations. The effects of slavery have affected society today.
What do you think you could personally do to help combat racism in America?
Education. I think that’s the only way to move forward. I think the reason why so many people are so hateful is because they lack understanding of the plight of black people. The history of this country was built on the backs of black people. They refuse to see that and understand the consequences of the slave trade. Families were ripped apart, men were forced to rape women to produce children, and they were treated as cattle. America was treating people like property not that long ago. That’s psychological damage.
Do you think that this is a main factor in the rise of police brutality?
That system, and that world where black people were not valued as being human has maintained in the psyche in America. I think that when there is an unarmed black person, he is alway seem as a threat. We’re not seen as humans and that’s why Black Lives Matter is so important.
What does Black Lives Matter mean to you?
We’re all diverse. We’re not monolithic. There are different types of black people. We’re human. We’re not a skin color. I don’t understand how people cannot grasp that. That’s mind boggling to me.
Going back to education, the textbooks were written purposefully to deflect. They do not represent a true history. I went on a walking tour of Wall Street called Black Gotham and my mind was blown that even I didn’t know some of this history. We created an Everyday People Tour, where we collaborated with them and they talked about the black slave trade and how slaves built Wall Street. How am I making a change? Trying to educate people and get them out of their comfort zones.
As a Kenya native with roots from several countries, how do you identify yourself to people who might not recognize the differences between East Africa, West Africa, and the 54 countries that comprise the entire continent?
I am Somali and Ethiopian but I was born in Kenya so I’m from the whole region. It’s important to specify for me that I am East African because there is diversity within those countries. In Ethiopia alone there are thirty plus languages. People have to realize that there is diversity within every country in the continent. You can’t say just East Africa. That’s like saying you visited the South West of America. What would that mean? Where did you go? What did you see?
Do you identify with any religion?
I am Muslim. I hold my religion to my heart and I have faith but I would say I am more spiritual.
What are your thoughts on the negative anti-muslim rhetoric in our nation’s current political environment?
We’ve been discriminated against since 9/11. Donald Trump is not the start of Islamophobia. I have been dealing with this since I was a kid. My mom wears a hijab, so if you go to the airport you get detained.
Do you dress modest?
No. I dress more modestly when I’m with my family or my mom out of respect. I think that the most important thing is to live my life as a good human being.
Tell us about what you’re wearing.
I’m wearing these pants that I got made in Kenya. This is a traditional fabric. I showed a tailor a picture and he made them for me. It’s great because it’s so cheap. It’s hard to find stuff that you want so you have to make it yourself. My roommate gave me this necklace; it’s for anxiety.
Let’s talk about New York City. What are some of your favorite things to do here. If you’re not at Everyday People on a Sunday afternoon, where can we find you?
Probably going to get brunch. I like Marietta; it’s a southern style restaurant. I also like to go to Brooklyn Flea.
When you’re missing Kenyan roots, where do you go in New York City for a taste of home?
There’s an old Somali restaurant in Harlem called Safari and it’s the only one in New York. They have really good lamb and rice. For Ethiopian food I like Bunna which is vegan.
How often you go back to Africa?
Every two years.
Where do you see Everyday People, in let’s say five years?
I want to continue to create safe spaces. That could mean different events, activities, or workshops.
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