If you never stop to converse with Nayyir Shareef, you would miss the story of another extremely talented and well rounded expat in Beijing.
Raised in West Palm Beach, Florida Nayyir, like many creative minds migrated to New York City after high school while in pursuit of a degree in Business & Marketing.
Entering the workforce upon graduating, Nayyir was able to work his way up to the stereotypical “cool and cushy” marketing job. “…I had a cool job. Not just a job that I have experience in, it’s a cool job. It’s a marketing job. It’s a very creative environment. Monday to Friday; weekends off; my own schedule as long as I complete what I have to do for my projects.” – Shareef.
What would surprise most people about Nayyir’s story is that he gave up that good job back home to teach English in China.
Working back home on a political assignment related to education, his research on the topic began prompting ads about teaching overseas. “… I always wanted to do it, just to do it you know. I never had the experience. So I responded to one of those advertisements and didn’t think anything about it to be very honest…” That is until he heard back almost immediately. Before he knew it he was interviewed and had the position if he wanted it. While Nayyir had some previous experience teaching through former positions such as The Site Director for various summer camps including PAL (Police Athletic League) and YMCA programs, his decision to come was more about having the experience and broadening his perspective. “I think that the more that you can broaden your vision, the more opportunities that exist for me, not only in my personal life but for me to contribute to others lives…” – Shareef.
Nayyir’s decision was also heavily influenced by his mentor, a well respected family friend of over 20 years. When he pitched the idea to his family, his mentor’s advice was “when you get the opportunity to do something like that on someone else’s dime, you take it. You can always get back to what you’re doing here in the states. It isn’t going anywhere; neither are your experience and your work.” Very profound advice for all of us to remember especially on the days when Beijing is trying!
October will be Nayyir’s one year anniversary in Beijing and he does not regret the move at all.
“It’s not America. There are a lot of conditions here that are just different from what I’m used to and I like that. It forces me to see things differently, it forces me to deal with things differently, it forces me to accept things differently.” – Shareef.
That’s not the only thing that Nayyir praises Beijing for. Besides the wealth of knowledge that comes from such a diverse community; the ease of accessibility here is something that particularly stands out to him. “I think many things are easily accessible here. You can open a business, for example the business that I operate here… now there are limits, but there is a lot of access and accessibility that you can do with legit establishments …depending on how you structure your business, or your idea, or your project with these businesses. It’s just so much accessibility. You can get right on the phone and talk to owners. You can get right on the phone and talk to founders you know, and you can set up meetings with these people. The ease of accessibility is nearly in any and everything you can think of here in Beijing, China from my experience. Great deal of accessibility to nearly do and be what you want to be here”. – Shareef.
The business that Nayyir is referring to in the quote above is BLK GEN, a brand that he co-founded with his business partner Leroy Adams.
At its core BLK GEN was founded on the idea of providing a space for exchange and an opportunity for understanding both within the diverse black community here and also for people outside of the community who have little understanding of the displaced. “…it was easy to see on Wechat all the displacement, all the different groups… not a problem but we wanted to create a group, a space where it’s possible for everyone to be a part of the conversation when they want to be.” – Nayyir
Another important aspect of BLK GEN was to support the community in learning about our diverse histories and perspectives which come from the Caribbean, Africa, North America etc. “…so that exchange is being created through BLK GEN for those opportunities to network, to enterprise to learn about one and other, to communicate with one and other…” – Shareef.
The kick off of BLK GEN initially came in the form of a spoken word event named “Sankofa” which took place on February 25th, 2017 at the Bookworm in Sanlitun. Nayyir and Leroy’s goal at the time was to just throw one event to test the waters, to see the response from the community. The event sold out and the momentum never stopped. To date BLK GEN has successfully organized 6 more events, the last being ARTx.
BLK GEN has seen a lot of success in the short time they have been running. When asked to share some advice for others looking to establish their own thing Nayyir said “… if this is just a quick shot of advice yeah, just try something. Just try something. See what the response is like…”
Nayyir certainly isn’t the only one thriving in Beijing but his story is a good reminder of what our time here can offer us if we take advantage of the opportunities at hand.