London is bursting with creatives from BAME backgrounds; yet only 13% of those working in the creative industries in the UK, are from a BAME background.
Neelam Keshwala created the space for BAME creatives through ‘DON’T SLEEP ON US’, a networking and chill event. Neelam creates the space and representation for those underrepresented within the creative industries, industries which have previously neglected the importance of these spaces. I spoke to Neelam about her curation of this event, and why it’s so important.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, your passions and how you first got involved with the creative industry?
I’m Neelam, born and raised in Luton town. I recently moved into London and I work in international development. I wondered what I could bring to the London ‘creative’ community and realised I absolutely love bringing people together – it’s what I’ve been doing since I was at school.
Can you summarise the concept/thought process behind ‘DON’T SLEEP ON US’ in a few sentences?
London is bursting with people who are creating change in the community – I’m just in awe of that. I find they’re mostly people who feel compelled to do something, where not doing anything wouldn’t be an option. I came across them online and wanted to turn these really exciting online encounters into irl, high energy, inspiring events. At the same time I’d just been rejected from a job offer and was like but I swear it’s BME youth culture that these corporate companies are monetising off, and I took it really personally lol – not such a great idea. But that’s where the name comes from – a message to not underestimate ‘us’. I think there’s also a real sense of ‘togetherness’ and mutual understanding that comes with being a person of colour, and a woman in the creative space.
In your opinion, what separates ‘DON’T SLEEP ON US’ from other networking events (for creatives)?
Without sounding like a douche, I think the answer to this question is me. At first I used to think ah but there are SO many of these kinds of events and platforms – but I think if everyone who wanted to start something was tied down to this ‘people are already doing that’ attitude, there would be no momentum – I think there’s space for more of us creating a wave, all bringing our individual character. For DON’T SLEEP ON US, it’s my (at times) jarring personality that makes everyone sigh in unison when I put energiser activities in between the speakers, but I think they secretly love the organised fun.
I saw that you spoke at the Lisbon Web Summit – (huge congratulations!) – how was this for you, and what did you take from the experience?
I should say I’m blessed to be well-connected and I don’t take that for granted at any point. I was given this opportunity because one of my mentors put me forward to talk about web access in regards to girls and women around the world for an org called The NewNow – I got to cheekily plug ‘DON’T SLEEP ON US’, albeit to an off-brand crowd! We had a rehearsal in the arena earlier that day and I have never panicked like this in my life before, kept apologising at the atrocity of it. I think I panicked the team too. But I went back to my room, spoke to my mentors, and then had a quick pep talk with myself. I just needed to reassure myself that I have the have power in me, as cheesy as that sounds. I said out loud that I can speak to 15k + people because the future me is counting on it. Somehow I pulled it off and afterwards people came up to me to say they thought I was the most articulate one (wtf?) and Sir Tim Berners Lee said it was a pleasure to be on stage with me.
So this is the 2nd event so far, what’s the long term goal with DON’T SLEEP ON US? Would you like to take it further? If so, how far?
I can’t lie, people wish I would have a long term goal with it but there really isn’t. So far it’s I’m enjoying putting the events together so much I’m like, let me just focus on that. I hope to create a footprint in the London create community and the wider social impact warriors globally.
Not sure if you’ll keep this bit in but it’s people like you Ilayda, who came to my first event and tell me you’re excited for the next one – that’s what gets me hyped to design a new one that’s even more exciting.
The next DON’T SLEEP ON US is Wednesday 28th, and is due to be an inspiring night. GUAP’s very own Shanice Mears will be speaking, alongside Paula Akpan, Maiya Coutts and Kieran Yates. Tickets are only £3, and are a huge opportunity for creatives who have ever felt underrepresented.