Stand Up

Partying with Purpose: Saada Ahmed

In our quest to Stand Up, we've been gleaning wisdom from those out there fighting the good fight in their own inspiring ways. NYC's Saada Ahmed is one of those people. She's found a way to combine her passion for social advocacy with a good time for all.

Her full-time gig is Everyday People, a monthly, roving party that provides people with a carefree time in a safe space free of judgment. From Everyday People came Brothers & Sisters, a new monthly get-together that encourages dialogue to effect social and political change. 

Right before her Brothers & Sisters event at narcbar where discussions were had about DACA, Ring Your Rep, and our "shithole"…ahem…"president," we caught up with Ahmed to learn more about the person behind the party and how we can all be more politically active. 
Saada Ahmed calling her representatives at the new Ring Your Rep phone booth at The Standard, East Village.

How did you end up in New York?
SAADA AHMED: I was born in Kenya and moved when I was two. I'm first-generation American. I grew up in Atlanta and then went to school in Boston. I've been living in New York for nine years in June.

What did you come to New York to pursue?
I just came here on a whim. I felt like New York was the only place I could see myself living, and then from there I've had so many jobs and finally fell into doing Everyday People. It initially started as something I just wanted to do  for friends, then it grew into something bigger. Then a few years later, I was able to pursue it full-time. From that I created Brothers & Sisters, which was for me important to start a dialogue within the community about various topics. 

What's the goal of Everyday People?
I like bringing people together, and I think creating a space where people can enjoy themselves and feel free and connect with people they normally wouldn't have is important to me. 

How does Brothers & Sisters differ?
It's a remix to the Harlem Renaissance salons. It's an open forum discussion, so it's not like a panel or people talking at you. It's a space where we encourage people to have dialogue. 
The fact that this is your full-time job sounds like a dream. 
It takes some struggle. It's not as easy or glamorous as it seems. 

What isn't glamorous about it? 
It's feast or famine sometimes, you know? In the beginning especially. You just push through. As much as it's so great to work from home, at the same time you can drive yourself crazy and feel like, "Oh, I'm not getting anything done," so you put a lot more pressure on yourself. 

How is getting these people and these events together a political act for you?
It's my form of activism to get people to think outside the box and have dialogue, because you can't think global unless you try and stretch your way of thinking. And I think strategy. Trying to bring people together. Brothers & Sisters is not only about discussing ideas, it's about implementing them and figuring out solutions to the problems that keep arising for us. 

How do these kinds of social and community-building events address social issues in a way that overtly political events do not?
We're in an age of social media and the internet and to have a space in real life is important. And to challenge each other. I don't think it should be a room full of circle jerks. I think you should question things and find solutions and I think being in person allows people to build outside of online.
What's been a big takeaway from throwing these events in this current political climate?
Access to information. I've realized that a lot of people really want to be active and they want to see changes and be involved but it's really hard to find the information. They make it that way so that you don't know what to do next. So that's part of why I wanted to create this, because I knew people who were in those worlds and those spheres and they're trying to connect with younger people and they feel "Oh, younger people aren't involved." It's because they don't know, they don't have access to the information and they have to talk their language. 
I read you deal with social anxiety. How do your events play into what you do?
I didn't realize I had such bad social anxiety until I started doing the events. And I know it's irrational. I've definitely proven to myself on numerous occasions that I can fill a room. We've had 2,000 people attend Everyday People, but it's always that little voice in your head that's a little doubtful, like, "Oh, no one's going to be interested." Especially with Brothers & Sisters—it's not always easy to get people to come out to have these conversations because we're bombarded by Trump and all the negativity all the time, so people are always looking for an escape outside of that, but at the same time I think it's important to rally together and create some change. Just have to push through my social anxiety. 

I feel like those go hand in hand. You're forcing yourself out of your comfort zone.
And everyone has it a little bit. The more I talk about it, the more I realize that a lot of people have social anxiety. It's a common thing. 

This event today at The Standard, East Village coincides with the one-year marker since Trump enacted the travel ban. How has it affected you and those around you this year?
I'm ethnically Somali, and Somalia was on the travel ban, so that hit close home. Also one of my good friends who's from Sudan had to change her wedding to Toronto because her family couldn't come. I think that was the first time I directly felt the effect of it. My mom was telling me that some people in our community were deported. It's just something that resonates with me. This country was based on immigrants, so it's outrageous it's even a topic. 
Have you seen any responses to it that resonated with you?
I saw Spotify did their I'm With the Banned concert series. Remember when people protested at the airports? [The situation] is awful, but you're starting to see people more awake to the issues at hand. It's probably always been an issue, but now that Trump is overtly prejudiced people are like, "Oh, shit! This is happening in America." Like, yeah, this has been happening, you just don't see it. 

How can people get involved with everything you're working on?
You can follow me on Instagram (@saada__). Follow Everyday People on Instagram (@everdayppl). We tend to just post on those platforms. We do these events probably once a month. 

What advice do you have for those that want to be more politically active?
Learn about your local officials. Learn about local politics. Starting in your own community, attending your community board meetings, those are important, because then you can figure out what you can vote for, how you can get involved. 

How do you want to grow this year?
I'm trying to learn to trust myself, and that takes a lot of effort. And also to be kind to myself. I want to continue to be consistent and focused. 


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