If you’d like to listen or watch our interview with Paff, the episode is available on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.
- Paff discusses the intersectionality of being Black and neurodivergent, addressing the challenges of multiple marginalized identities.
- Through Take Up Space, Paff aims to build an inclusive platform for diverse voices within the neurodivergent community.
- A significant find for Paff was the unexpected neurodivergent community within the Web3 space, which attracts those challenging traditional systems.
- Paff emphasizes the importance of deeper, off-platform connections, suggesting a proactive approach to form genuine bonds and friendships.
- In Take Up Space's second season, the community is co-creating a zine themed "technology of togetherness", exploring the role of tech in human relationships.
- Paff's vision revolves around inclusivity, collaboration, and co-creation, making spaces where everyone can fully express themselves.
Beaux: Welcome to the Changemakers Series! Today I have with me Paff Evara. Paff is a marketing director turned creator, speaker and Web3 founder. In 2022, Paff and their wife Han founded Take Up Space, a media company, and network for a diverse changemakers and creators. Welcome Paff, we are so happy to have you!
Paff: Yay, I'm so stoked to be here. I mean, well, thank you for the lovely succinct intro. Always good to write those things down because when you ask me, I'll definitely do the slightly longer version.
But yeah, my name is Paff. I am a Papua New Guinean Australian, now based in Edinburgh, Scotland. My wife is Scottish, hence the move from somewhere very sunny to somewhere very cold. But it is beautiful.
As you kind of mentioned, in a previous life, what feels like longer and longer ago, but was actually a year ago, I was climbing the corporate ladder in the agency world and I was running a digital marketing agency. But really I found my purpose during lockdown when many of us joined TikTok for fun to pass the time. And for me, that quickly turned into finding a community and people that I had never seen before, specifically queer people of color, and then quickly turned into an opportunity for me to tell, find and share my story, which then kind of took me on a completely different journey.
I grew a following and an audience there of around 90,000 people, but really I found my purpose of how stories and representation and connection and community can really help and empower other people to take up more space. So that's kind of been my mantra ever since, it’s something that I've been doing personally as I grow as a creator and now a public speaker, really telling my story and helping both individuals and also corporations create more inclusive spaces for underrepresented people.
And then, yeah, more recently, or again, it's been a couple of years now myself and my wife Han founded Take Up Space. Really this is something that has evolved over the last 18 months. It started as a community. It's now evolved into more of a media company and collective for diverse creators and changemakers. Really we want to use Take Up Space to help empower other people to tell their stories.
Because I've just seen the power of telling a story and finding your people and maybe going down a more unconventional path rather than the path that's often set in stone for a lot of us. And I think that's important as neurodivergent people as well. So yeah, that's a bit about me and the stuff I like to do.
Beaux: Incredible. Yeah, I love your work at Take Up Space, I've followed it kind of since its inception, so it's really cool to also hear you talk about your journey with that. Could you talk a bit more about what the spark was kind for founding this community that, you know, then turned into a collective!
Paff: Oh, I love this question. So it's really interesting. It really started as an online course that was like the first kind of starting point of Take Up Space. I was really deep into the LinkedIn game and building my personal brand and everyone and their uncle and their nan were talking about how you need to create an online course. I was starting to think like, okay, what's unique and interesting about my journey, the things that I've overcome, the things that I've learned and how could that translate to an online course? I came up with this idea of unlocking your inner changemaker.
Looking at my journey, if I had to distill my life or more recently, my personal growth journey into three phases, it kind of looked like healing, building skills and network, and then leading. So heal, build, lead. That was the first inception of Take Up Space and it was going to be an online course. It had nothing to do with emerging technology. It wasn't even really going to be a community or a media company.
Then really Han is where this shifts into gear. Han had been in the tech space more on the crypto side of things for several years. She taught herself how to daytrade, which I find very nerdy, and I have no idea how she does it. But she started to see something interesting in the form of NFTs. I had heard a little about them, but I was confused. I'd seen these images being sold for millions and it seemed very alien. But Han started to dive deeper and found that NFTs were a tool that social impact groups and charities were using to crowdfund and create impact. It was fascinating because I had never heard of this technology being used in a social impact or philanthropic way. Over a few weeks, she kept sending me podcasts and articles, introducing me to the concept. I was hesitant initially, it seemed alien and gave off a "white crypto bro" vibe which wasn't my scene.
But as I learned more about the impact and ethos behind blockchain, I was drawn in. At its core, it's about removing the middlemen which can empower underrepresented groups. Given that middlemen and systems are often entrenched in bias, removing them, whether in media, art, or finance, appealed to me. We shifted gears, launching a community. Our interaction with the technology was through NFTs which served as lifetime membership passes. They allowed access to our resources, events, and also served as a fundraising tool. Since then, we've dabbled in the technology, but we like to think of our platform as powered by Web3, not dominated by it. It's the engine, not the focus. For us, it's about using the technology to promote a more equitable creator economy, a more intersectional media, and community healing. It's our vehicle, not the destination. It's great how we discovered this tech through its use in change work.
Beaux: Could you share who else have you seen actually, like using this technology for good and not just for finance bro reasons?
Paff: Yes. One of my favorite examples is Geena Dunn. She's a fellow Australian, which we love. She's an incredible philanthropist and the founder of the Cova Project, which fights period poverty in Africa. She's been actively involved on the ground through the Clover Project. Additionally, she founded the Honey Badges, an NFT collection and community, partnering with a Māori artist in New Zealand to create these fun characters. With the Honey Badges, she was able to raise funds and every month the community votes to fund a changemaker. They primarily support activists, mostly in Africa and sometimes other parts of the world.
Geena likes to refer to this as "democratizing philanthropy." Having worked in the nonprofit sector, she's aware of the challenges, especially in getting funds to remote places. The beauty of blockchain technology and crypto wallets is the immediacy with which funds can be accessed, which is a game-changer for some remote areas in Africa. It's a prime example of leveraging this technology for a genuine good cause. Incredible, indeed.
Beaux: And do you have a resource to share for those curious about this technology but who don't have someone like Han guiding them?
Paff: Everyone needs a Han, don’t they? Well, in a way, Han has made something that everyone can benefit from. Last year, we introduced "The Beginner's Web3 Playbook," a free online self-paced course. If you Google "Web3 Playbook Take Up Space," you'll find it. The course is interactive, featuring podcasts, videos, and ebooks to help users understand the space. I should mention, given the rapid changes in this field, that while Han created this over a year ago, some parts might feel outdated. However, it offers deep insights into the ethos and foundational aspects of the domain, which are essential for anyone new. So, that's one way to experience Han's ingenuity.
Beaux: Incredible. Thank you. Yeah, and speaking of Han, I'm wondering what founding a company with your wife has been like. And you know how you navigate working together, especially as neurodivergent person who may have a support need or two?
Paff: We’re actually both neurodivergent. So that even adds more complexity, which is really fun. I think when we first met, we always knew we were going to do something together. We didn't know exactly what that was. And if I'm being honest, I think we're still working out the best ways that we can leverage our strengths and weaknesses.
Starting out, building a company is tough, and doing it with your spouse adds both benefits and challenges. On one hand, you're in it together, experiencing the same hurdles and victories, giving each other a sounding board. But on the other, it's hard to separate personal from professional, to discern when you're acting as a spouse versus when you're acting as a business partner.
One particular challenge I faced was rejection sensitivity dysphoria, a facet of my neurodivergence. In our personal life, Han and I generally see eye-to-eye. Yet, with Take Up Space, we sometimes had differing viewpoints. What would typically be a minor disagreement felt, to me, like outright rejection—especially coming from someone I've always felt so aligned with.
What has proved valuable over the past eighteen months is refining our roles. Initially, as co-founders, we both felt responsible for every facet of the operation. This lack of delineation occasionally led to us stepping on each other's toes. Now, we've set clearer boundaries. I take charge of daily operations, especially community engagement. Han, with her knack for media production, organization, strategy, and vision, operates more behind the scenes. In a way, I'm the "face" of our venture.
We've structured Take Up Space to operate on a seasonal basis. Each season, our community democratically decides what we will build together. I've been at the forefront of spearheading what we create each season, while Han focuses on the broader media, strategy, and tasks outside of our seasonal projects.
In summary, it's imperative to define roles early on, recognize potential triggers, and understand each other's unique needs, especially if both partners are neurodivergent. It's been a journey, but I feel we've found a balance that perhaps eluded us in the beginning.
Beaux: So happy that you found that. Yeah. I'm wondering, especially as you connect with your community, how you decide kind of what parts of yourself in your life to share with folks and what parts to like keep to yourself and keep private.
Paff: This is such a great question, Beaux, and this has probably been one of the biggest challenges. I think, because originally Take Up Space really felt like such an organic extension of the work that I was doing as a creator. It was very personal, almost too personal, like the brand and me, we're like intertwined.
Because of the community aspect, especially at the start, we were very cognizant of wanting to create a safe space for underrepresented people, with a focus on LGBTQ+ and BIPOC individuals. But that is a huge spectrum of people. I could be sitting in a room with 20 other LGBTQ BIPOC individuals, and we could have completely different backgrounds and other intersections. Realizing that you can't be everything for everyone was key. We quickly had to make decisions, for instance, about whether the platform was solely for those individuals or if allies would also be included.
Furthermore, defining what we'd provide to our community and how frequently was challenging. Initially, influenced by the Web3 ecosystem's rapid pace, we felt the pressure to consistently engage on platforms like Discord, host events, and produce content. Balancing this with our full-time jobs, we were working 70 or 80 hours a week. It was unsustainable and quite unhealthy.
We fell victim to these pressures and overextended ourselves. The community was incredibly dear to us, and as a wife and wife team, it was deeply personal. We forged genuine friendships, which sometimes led to blurring professional and personal boundaries. At times, I felt I was giving away too much of myself, sacrificing personal boundaries in the name of constant engagement.
To address this, at the end of last year, we adopted a seasonal approach. We'd intensely focus on an initiative for 8 to 12 weeks, and after completing the season, we'd take a two-month break. This model fosters intentional community engagement without demanding 24/7 presence. It promotes sustainability and protects personal boundaries.
Moreover, early last year, I was zealous about networking, especially since I had recently moved to the UK. But managing 10 to 12 networking calls a week, alongside other commitments, was draining, especially with my propensity for Zoom fatigue. This year, I've established clear boundaries. It ensures that when I engage, I'm genuinely present, authentic, and at my best. This approach not only benefits me but also the people with whom I interact.
In summary, this journey has been a massive learning curve. I've discovered the importance and empowerment of saying "no." It's truly valuable.
Beaux: No, it's so important to find those boundaries, especially when you're so passionate about your work and it really feels like, yeah, you're like intertwined with it. You've touched a bit on, you know, having your work be intersectional. And I'm wondering if you could just tell us what that means and looks like for you.
Paff: Intersectionality, I think, is something that is so important. One of the lessons I've taken to heart is that we all have our blind spots. We have areas of ignorance, and that's why it's so vital for us to interact with, and learn from, a wide variety of people. This helps us gain understanding from those with different lived experiences than our own.
To begin with, I think it's crucial to credit Kimberlé Crenshaw, an outstanding critical race theorist who introduced the concept of intersectionality back in the seventies. In essence, intersectionality highlights how our multifaceted identities shape the lens through which we perceive and experience the world. And vice versa, it dictates how the world perceives us.
Speaking from personal experience, as a Papua New Guinean Australian, I identify as a person of color, queer, lesbian, and neurodivergent. These varied identities interact in complex ways. Notably, I only recognized my neurodivergence in the past two years. Understanding these identities allows me to reflect on events in my life and analyze how these identities might have influenced those events or how they affected my perception of them.
For instance, realizing I was neurodivergent was a profound revelation. It allowed me to review my life through a fresh lens. It was like connecting the dots, understanding how my neurodivergence influenced various life events or changed my interpretation of them. I also pondered how my queerness played a role. Such reflections are essential for personal growth. It's about self-awareness; one can't evolve without comprehending one's present self. Intersectionality provides that framework.
Broadening the lens, it's evident that intersectionality underscores our individuality. Like I mentioned earlier, a group of 20 LGBTQ+ BIPOC individuals will have vastly different experiences, perspectives, and needs. Recognizing the intersections of our identities, while also understanding the uniqueness of every individual, is crucial.
A common misperception is the idea that by addressing all visible checkboxes, everyone will be satisfied. But no two individuals, even if they share similar descriptors like "neurodivergent, Queer, Black", are identical. For me, the key lies in meeting new people and absorbing their stories.
One illuminating instance is my friendship with Sabian Muhammad, a Black British Deaf man. He's a remarkable public speaker, activist, and even debated with Boris Johnson in Parliament. Sabian, whom I met through Twitter, was my introduction to the Deaf community. Our interactions shed light on the inaccessibility issues he faced daily, things I hadn't considered. For instance, hosting events on Zoom without captions or on Discord, which lacks captioning features, meant Sabian couldn't participate. We were deprived of his insights due to these oversights. This highlights the importance of intersectionality.
The analogy I like is that of a horse with blinkers. By listening, understanding, and implementing, we're gradually expanding our vision. While we might never see the complete picture, our aim is to create products, communities, services, and applications that cater to a broader audience by being more accessible and inclusive.
In my role, connecting with our community is paramount. While I understand my neurodivergence, learning from others' perspectives and needs is invaluable. The goal is to nurture an inclusive community since we all have unique needs and come from diverse backgrounds. Thus, the emphasis is on active listening and forging connections with those different from oneself.
Beaux: I’m wondering as a Black and queer neurodivergent person, how you actually discovered that you're neurodivergent, and you know how that reflects kind of the broader experience of neurodivergent folks of color.
Paff: You know, you just mentioned that it's not a monolith, and I'm curious if you could delve a little deeper into that.
Absolutely. First off, a huge shout-out to TikTok – it was a game-changer for me. Through TikTok, I met my wife, relocated to Scotland, transitioned into content creation and public speaking. Moreover, it was TikTok that introduced me to the possibility of me having ADHD. It wasn't by mindlessly scrolling and absorbing videos, as many fearmongers suggest. Instead, I posted a TikTok discussing my peculiar 'relationship' with time, using air quotes here. In that video, I unknowingly described symptoms of executive dysfunction.
My whole life, I've grappled with inexplicable challenges that eluded my understanding. For instance, there were instances when I felt energetic throughout the week but would plummet into inexplicable depression over the weekend. I remember frantically googling "weekend depression," trying to figure out why my mental state varied so dramatically based on the day.
After posting that TikTok, I returned to find it had gained significant traction. Numerous comments suggested ADHD as the culprit. Initially, I was defensive. Having been diagnosed with anxiety and depression in my twenties, I was resistant to yet another label. Plus, the audacity of strangers trying to diagnose me via a short video clip felt intrusive. However, after the initial defensiveness subsided, curiosity prevailed. I delved into ADHD symptoms and was astonished. It felt as if someone had penned my life's struggles verbatim, from executive dysfunction to rejection sensitivity dysphoria. Even minor quirks that I thought were uniquely mine fit the profile.
Embarking on this journey of self-discovery was simultaneously illuminating and overwhelming. I felt a deep sense of loss for the years gone by without this crucial self-awareness. Recollecting instances where I was ridiculed for locking myself out or misplacing items, contrasted sharply with moments of professional triumphs and accolades in powerlifting. Unraveling the threads of ADHD in my life was emancipating. It offered the solace that I wasn't broken or flawed, just neurodivergent.
However, this newfound knowledge also unearthed sadness. I reminisced about my childhood, where neurodivergent traits, unbeknownst to anyone, were sources of constant reprimand. I mourned for the younger version of myself who was chastised for forgetting or losing things – classic ADHD traits. Conversely, my ability to hyper-focus and devour books or solve intricate math problems was probably also attributable to ADHD.
The realization that it took 27 years and a social media platform to uncover such a pivotal aspect of my identity was both a revelation and a source of frustration. It underscores the gatekeeping surrounding ADHD and its resources. Platforms like TikTok have democratized access to such invaluable information, making it more accessible to individuals like us. The sense of community and understanding that emerges from it is indeed remarkable.
Beaux: So shout out to TikTok, yes. I'm also I'm wondering what you think other neurodivergent activists can do to make their activism more inclusive and intersectional.
Paff: Yes, that is a really great question. When considering intersectionality, many of my experiences blur the lines. I often ponder whether my feelings of being an outsider were due to being the only Black kid in a predominantly white small town or if it was amplified by the ways I expressed myself, like my undeniable obsession with Harry Potter at that time. Interestingly, it's amusing how Harry Potter now seems to have materialized out of thin air, with no known author to speak of.
But addressing the neurodivergent community, I've observed it leans predominantly white. I've attended events and spoken in various settings where most neurodivergent individuals were white, specifically middle-aged or older men. Their experiences with neurodivergence can differ substantially from mine. While some might see their ADHD as a superpower, aiding them in hyper-focusing and achieving great feats, I believe there's a disparity in how Black women, or even women in general, are perceived and treated in their neurodivergence. Just like assertiveness in women is often misconstrued as bossiness, while in men it's championed, there seems to be a parallel when looking at neurodivergence through the lens of intersectionality.
In curating panels or fostering communities, it's essential to ensure diversity beyond just the neurodivergent tag. Are there queer individuals, people of color, Black individuals, other disabled folks? Or is the group homogeneous in its diversity? The point is, individuals with multiple marginalized identities cannot detach from one identity while championing another. Our experiences are shaped by all the identities we hold simultaneously.
Intentionality doesn't require an exorbitant effort. I've had the privilege of curating panels for conferences, like the one with Take Up Space focusing on the creator economy. Deliberately selecting diverse participants wasn't a strenuous task. And the resultant discussion, in my perhaps biased opinion, was one of the most insightful and impactful I've witnessed. Diversity in representation directly translated to the richness of the dialogue.
In conclusion, while I would feel welcomed in a purely neurodivergent environment, I'd feel profoundly more comfortable in a space with queer, people of color, who are also neurodivergent. Only then can I truly bring my complete self to the table.
Beaux: Yes, absolutely. I’m also wondering if you have any piece of advice for neurodivergent folks of color that are maybe looking for that community? You know, maybe they just got a TikTok or something. And the hashtag shows like a sea of white neurodivergent folks, and they're just looking for folks, you know, who have similar experiences to them. Where have you found that community and where can folks maybe find that themselves?
Paff: Honestly, I found so many neurodivergent people of color through the Web3 space, which I wasn't expecting. I actually think though now in hindsight, the space in general really pulls in people who are sick of the status quo. They want to create change. It might look very different for different people. Some people might be very motivated by creating financial change and generational wealth, which is also dope and, you know, completely big ups to them. But I think the space really pulls in people who think differently and also a lot of self-employed people or people who want to work for themselves, which is very aligned with a lot of neurodivergent people.
So naturally I found such an amazing community of neurodivergent people through that. Whether it be actually through Take Up Space and our community, we used to hold a lot of Twitter spaces and that kind of pulled in a lot of people. But also on our Discord, I think the space at large really naturally pulls those people in.
More recently, though, things have kind of changed, especially because we were really culminating around, you know, the international town square that was Twitter. And now that that platform has just, you know, really disintegrated and a lot of people are leaving that platform. So I unfortunately, I feel like that time has kind of passed. But luckily for me, I've still been able to find other neurodivergent folks through LinkedIn, through TikTok as well.
But I do think that with those platforms, it's important to kind of make those deeper connections and take them off those platforms because ultimately those platforms just want you to stay on there and consume as much content as possible. And I don't think it really can equal meaningful, reciprocal community if you're just on the platform. So yeah, what I would say is like if that's someone that, you know, you've seen on these apps that resonates with or inspires you, shoot them a DM. You might not get anything back. And obviously no one's entitled to respond and hang out with you. But I've been able to make some real friends through doing just that, just finding people who kind of think similar to me or resonate with me and just, you know, trying to either just chat in the DMS or send voice notes back and forth or even just like, you know, popping up on their socials here and there or meeting them in person, obviously, ideally, which is cool.
So yeah, I would just say try and find those people if you can. I know it's really nerve racking to reach out to people, especially in person. Like I think that's a whole other kettle of fish is networking when you're neurodivergent; it's quite terrifying. But sometimes you got to shoot your shot, you know, and that's how you can form real friendships and connections. We have, like I have now, a couple of group chats with neurodivergent people and it's just like a really great space to be able to jump in and vent about something that happened and have a bunch of people be like, "Oh my gosh, I know exactly what you mean." It's really good.
Beaux: That's great advice. Thank you. Yeah. I'm also, you know, as we close off, I'm wondering what is next for you and for Take Up Space? I know you talked about the season I know you're in or season two is coming up. So what's next?
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