Paula Akpan is co-founder of The “I’m Tired” Project, which aims to highlight the lasting impact of everyday micro-aggressions, assumptions and stereotypes. She also co-founded last weekend’s enormously successful Black Girl Festival.
Paula will be speaking on NME’s How To Effect Positive Change panel at our #Lifehacks event on November 23. Ahead of the big day, we gave her a call to find out about her activism journey so far.
What does “effecting positive change” mean to you?
“I think it’s about realising that not everything’s going to be done for you. If you’re thinking, ‘I wish there was more of this type of event out there,’ it’s about realising that actually you can do it yourself. For example, we started the Black Girl Festival because there was nothing out there celebrating Black British women and girls. We tried to make the festival as accessible as possible – by making it free, making sure it was at a wheelchair-accessible venue, and avoiding jargon in our communications. We made sure we got to the point of what the festival is all about.”
What made you realise, ‘Hang on – I actually can do this myself’?
“I think it was after complaining about how things were being done, quite regularly! I was getting frustrated with diversity panels that didn’t really have any effect because they were bringing people in to speak, but not then changing the structure of the organisation or business. So I just realised, ‘Maybe I can do this instead.’ And then I found out how receptive people can be. When we started the I’m Tired Project, it was just meant to be a summer project for us and our friends, but pretty soon we realised there was media interest in what we were doing, so we kept going and making it bigger.”
So is being flexible and adaptable an important skill to develop?
“I think so. We’re always thinking, ‘How can we bring more people in? How can we open up and collaborate with more people?’ For example, with the “I’m Tired” Project, we’re going to Kenya next week because we got Arts Council funding to do an international trip. So we’ll be working with photographers and galleries there. Obviously it’s not London, so we’ve been thinking about how we’re going to adapt our workshops and the different issues we want to explore. It’s important to ensure you don’t have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach because people have so many different experiences – and what different people can bring to the table is so nuanced. In order to be as intersectional and inclusive as possible, you need to be open to working with other people. You also need be accepting of criticism and suggestions from others that might help you make your work better.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to do something similar to you?
“I would definitely say: Don’t wait for anyone else to do it for you. If you’ve identified a gap for something you think people would benefit from seeing or hearing, then do it – give it a go! It often feels quite formidable – I remember thinking, ‘How are we going to put together a whole festival?’ But if you’re passionate about it, you can start breaking it down into pieces so you can find a way forward. I’d also recommend collaborating with friends. When you’re working with someone else and bouncing ideas off one another, it’s really encouraging and reaffirming. It’s amazing what you can actually build from having conversations with people and working out together how to take things forward.”
Later this month, Paula will be speaking on an NME #Lifehacks panel discussing How To Effect Positive Change.
The panel forms part of a full afternoon of talks and activities designed to help you kick-start your career in the creative industries. NME has teamed up with University of Salford and youth initiative Create Jobs to lay on the #Lifehacks event in London on November 23.
Also speaking on the How To Effect Positive Change panel will be Josie Naughton from aid organisation Help Refugees, and writer, presenter and campaigner Paris Lees, who regularly appears on TV’s Newsnight and Channel 4 News. The panel will be chaired by social media guru and podcast host Alex Manzi.
One the day, you’ll also be able to connect with the NME team and our partners at the dedicated Hack-Space. Plus, there will be free food and drink, and the event will culminate in an exclusive secret evening gig. At last year’s #Lifehacks launch event, Tinie Tempah wowed the crowds.