"They would say I traded in my cleats for a paintbrush. They would make fun of me, although they always respected me because I did whatever I wanted to do. But then again I was better than most of them at the sport.” 

What do you want to be when you grow up? Do you consider emulating the great renaissance man of Leonardo da Vinci as the ultimate goal? It’s common to look towards the past to locate the steps needed to move forward into the future with ease. Da Vinci was an innovator, and that's actually what inspires Hakeem Nieght at Red Model Management so much. Hakeem considers himself a visionary, as it won't suffice to just be one thing for the rest of his life. In the end, that’s just the time of day we’re in. He is the painter and the muse, the producer and consumer and the writer and reader.

Photographer Astrid De Nevel's lens brings out Hakeem’s vision, allowing us access to his emotional hideout where no soul is normally granted entrance. This is where he tends to let his emotional creativity roam free. If he sees red, this is where he’ll be. His paintbrush leads the way as he splatters vibrant sprits of colour onto the blank canvas showcasing that he is a storyteller at heart. When adolescence deemed uncertain and his next destination seemed foreign, it was the stories that kept him company. That held him securely at night - affecting his past and present, and without a doubt deciding his future as we speak. 

Hakeem compares creatively to his fellow Generation Z peers - he is a jack-of-all-trades, which isn’t exactly surprising. In our exploration of this generation, we’ve discovered that young people aren’t as likely to choose traditional lines of work, but rather discovering different paths from that of their parents’ generation. At the same time, they’re more likely to dip their toes in all waters. Not just the Atlantic Ocean, but also the Pacific, the Indian, the Arctic and the Southern as well. They are no longer limited to one ocean.

Where did you grow up?
My mum moved around a lot, but I was born around the Washington D.C area. I’ve lived in Philly, Delaware and Boston. My mum moved whenever she felt like it, so I was quite often the new kid. I did spend most of my high school years in the Washington D.C area, so I think that’s the place I developed into who I am today.

How would you describe your generation?
I feel sometimes that we have too much information thanks to technology, so sometimes we are very stoic and we don’t know how to react to certain events. Now that we have the Internet our generation can be a bit oversensitive and then sometimes we’re not sensitive enough to certain situations. Whereas with social media, I feel like a lot of the times tragedies aren’t as important, well, they don’t hit as hard as they used to, because there is a new one every week somewhere in the world. So for instance when 9/11 happened it was kind of different, but now I feel like we feel things for a week and then there is a new tragedy somewhere else in the world and then we feel bad about that for a week. It’s kind of different. And also with love too. As far as romance, I feel like back in the day, there were more young couples - serious couples. Now there is no names to anything anymore. I feel like this generation is freer as well. There are no strings. Now we can date someone for basically two years, but there will be no title. It’s kind of weird in the US. We call it ‘talking’ now. This generation; we don’t commit to anything. We’ll do everything of what a boyfriend and a girlfriend do, but we’ll never have the title. If something does happen, we never really actually went out. It’s weird and it happens to everyone. My friends they're models too and we all go through the same thing. You’re like at a loss of word. I feel like I said something nuts.

Well, you should say it as it is, and especially in New York it’s a bit difficult with relationships. How do you feel about the non-committal kind of living?
I don’t know, I feel that I’m affected by it, because I am a product of the environment. I said it like I am not a part of it, but I do definitely have those sort of myth romances. I’m messin’ with a girl, but I never really commit. I am a part of it I guess, but I feel that in the long run it’s going to affect us when people need to start settling, you know, make a family and stuff. We aren't really commit to growing up and that’s going to hurt the next generation.

When you're for instance ‘messin’ with a girl’ and you’re not really committing, is there a part of you that’s kind of not agreeing with yourself on that matter?
We’re good friends, we’re having fun, but it’s like we’re more in the moment. If I feel like doing something, I would do it, but it is not like a straight commitment.

Do you wish you could be more committed?
Yeah, but I feel like I am going to mature into it, because I wouldn’t want to get a girlfriend while I’m still too immature. I rather want a serious girlfriend, so I think I’ll just wait until I am ready.

What do you think are the good things about this generation?
The good things… I feel like we are more open to each other. We're not as judgmental and I think actually being judgemental is more frowned upon in this generation, so I think that's cool. People aren’t really afraid to call someone out for being judgmental. I like that about this generation. I also feel that we have a lot of opportunities thanks to the Internet. We have a so much information at our hands, so it’s like we’re kind of fluttered. Sometimes that is both a good and a bad thing that we’re fluttered with information. I can search something up in like five seconds on Google and it's kind of cool to be able to have that information at our fingertips.

Do you think it's too much information sometimes?
Yes, it can become a bit overwhelming and then it brings stress. Sometimes when I am sick and I have a cough, in that moment I’ll probably Google my cough. Then I'll probably get to WebMD, and it will give me way more information than I thought, and I’ll think I have like cancer or something. I’ll just think the worst possible scenario.

What about for instance news and politics - all this information that is being thrown at you by the media?
That is anther big factor, and the fact that you are sort of guided to who you should watch depending on the type of news that you take in. There is always more than one side to every story. And I feel like each news channel - they tell their own narrative. It's also weird, because in this generation, well, I don’t know if this has been going on forever, but when I do watch the news and when I do watch the case on two different sites, I realize that no one is really debating. They are just politely waiting for each other to speak. No one is actually listening. Nothing is really going to get done, which is another problem. A lot of things won’t get done, because people aren’t really listening to the other side. If people were to listen to the other side, then things would get done and we might get to a conclusion or a compromise.

People are mostly just yelling at each other.
Yes, exactly. You can see it in their faces - they are not talking, they’re just like; ‘Are you done yet?’ They’re not taking in any of the information.

Going back to where you grew up. You grew up a little bit all over the place, but you said that Washington D.C was kind of the place where you feel you matured.
Exactly, that’s were I went to high cchool, so it's where I became myself. When I was younger I was always the new kid. I wasn’t that talkative and I didn’t really have a big group of friends. I had friends, because I did painting and sports when I was younger. Washington D.C is where I really found myself, where I became more independent. 

Why do you think that was the place that you kind of found yourself?
I feel it’s also, because my mum settled there, so it’s like we settled there together. I saw that she wasn’t just looking for a new start over, because she always started over when she moved to a new place. When I realized she was not looking to start over, because it got to a point were I moved so much that I wouldn’t make friends on purpose, because I was like ‘I am going to leave anyways, so why make friends with someone I’m never going to see again?’ When I realized she settled I became more settled and I started making friends and became more outgoing. 

That must have been quite difficult - always moving around and not being able to settle.
Yes it was, you know, always having to introduce yourself and people always wanting to know everything about you, because you are the new kid. You always have to find out what’s normal and what’s not as far as like what people are into, because it is a whole different place. Like what do kids do in this certain place?

How do you think that has affected you in general in terms of now? The person you are now?
I think it has, because before I became a model, I was a drifter. I got scouted, so before I did that, I just moved from place to place. I think it’s something I got from my mum. I paint, so I just used to move around, painting. I lived in a lot of the states in the east coast. I was actually going to Seattle when I got scouted and I decided to give it a try. It has affected me basically.

What were you going to do in Seattle?
I have no idea. I just thought the place looked interesting to me, because it was sort of gloomy. There is one thing that I really liked; I forgot the name of it, t’s like a landmark. It is a huge building in Seattle that I wanted to see it. 

You wanted to see that and you were like ‘I’m going to move to Seattle’.
Yes, that’s just basically how I lived. I wanted to see the world and just meet new people and share new experiences, but then I’ve been in New York now for a while - for modelling. 

How long have you been in New York?
A few months. Well, actually, it’s funny, because I always stumble into weird experiences, so like a year or two ago I was on a show called ‘The Get Down’. It’s a show on Netflix and I was on it when I was 18. It was a crazy experience - it paid for a two-bedroom apartment for about two months by myself, so it was cool. Although I stopped coming back, because I changed my hair and they changed the direction they were going in. I did the show, but that was before I even was a model. I just sort of stumbled upon the show. It was crazy, but it was fun because Jada Pinkett Smith was there and Baz Luhrmann. It was like a huge production, so the food was great.

How did you end up doing that?
I had an Afro at the time and they were looking for kids. I was pretty young, like 18 and then they gave me the opportunity and  tried me out for an audition I guess. And I did well. I was on the show for one episode, but then they cut my scene, so I was a bit disappointed about that. I still got paid for it, so ot wasn’t that disappointing, but as far as like seeing myself, I was like; ‘Ah, man’. I was in a party scene and I was like one of the cool kids with an Afro and a leather jacket.

What did you have to do for your audition?
I had to recite this line and then I had to dance.

You had to dance?
I don’t know why they chose me. I guess it was because they made me a cool kid and not a dancer, because the dancing wasn’t that great. I had to look cool - I didn’t have to dance. They were like; ‘You don’t really have to dance for us anymore.’ 

Have you tried your hand at any more acting since then?
Well, I’m going to, I got signed with a talent agency, so I am looking to do commercials and such.

Has acting been something you've been interested in before?
Right now, what I am also doing is trying to film a show - moving to behind the scenes. I am doing short films as well. I am working with this videographer who works at GQ, one of my best friends. We are going to be working on a short film.

Is that something you've written?
Yes, I wrote it. What it is basically about is youth culture. I want to capture the angst of this generation, like what we were just talking about. It was kind of his idea as well, because he thought I was really cool. He knew I was doing screenwriting, so he gave me this idea and asked me what I thought about it. I was 100% down to writing it and to giving my insight into this generation. And me expressing things about New York. How the youth lives as far as like going out - everyone who is in the scene like models or stylists. All of my friends are stylists and they're all pretty well known. It's interesting how everyone knows each other, but they wouldn’t have if they weren’t living in New York. 

It’s very easy to get to know people in New York.
Exactly, you just talk to someone and they’re from a place where you never thought you’d meet a person from. They are like from Dakota and you’re like ‘What? How is life in Dakota? What do you guys do for fun?’ It’s kind of cool. 

Seems like you are quite passionate about a lot of things. You also mentioned painting earlier, tell me more about that.
Yes, I am a painter. In a perfect world what I would do with my life, would be to live in a remote cabin just painting and writing novels under an alias. I like storytelling, I feel like that would be almost like a Stephen King or Hermann Hesse. I like to paint and I like to create stories and characters, but you can’t really live off of writing novels nowadays. Not as much people read anymore, or I feel like if you did write novels you would have to reformat it for this generation, because everything has to be quick. So maybe writing short stories that people can scroll trough on their phone or at work, would be good. 

We also have the kindle option, but I prefer buying books; I think it’s nicer.
Yes, I have a lot of books on my phone. I asked my friends, but none of them reads. They say they never have time.

That’s sad. They are missing out on life basically. You've just got create something that captures their attention.
I feel like reading is so important. It helps you with life and it helps you get through certain things.

Are there any good books you’ve read lately?
Well, my favourite book is ‘Damien’ by Hermann Hesse. Right now I am reading a lot of Kafka. I’ve been reading ‘A Hunger Artist’ and my favourite book from Kafka is ‘Metamorphoses’. I love a lot of dark novels, but as far as painting, it's sort of the opposite. I like very vibrant paintings. I am currently working on a series of circus people.

That is kind of like Picasso’s blue period - he was painting jugglers and trapeze artists and such for a period.
Yes, sort of like that. Right now I am working on a bearded lady. I feel like circuses are cool, but they’ve become extinct almost. Circuses, libraries and museums - I don’t really think people go to these places anymore.

No, it’s a bit sad. Do you go to the museum often?
Yes, I go to museums a lot. It is often just by myself.

What’s your favourite museum in New York?
I prefer the Brooklyn Museum. Their Basquiat-exhibit was good and I like a lot of their stuff, because they’re new. I feel like a lot of the other museums, they’re more so like hype - for tourists. But then again, D.C has the best museums. Hands down. When I wasn't in school, in high school I would go to museums - all day.

What is your favourite museum in D.C.?
The art gallery. I would spend hours in high school just drawing and painting in my sketchbook.

Do you think you got into these kinds of habits, because of you and your family moving around so much? Like paintings and museums became sort of your friends?
I think being immersed in stories is, because I always had a story with me whether it was if I could draw and create a story or I could read a story from someone else. You don’t need friends if your friends are in a book. When I was really young that was kind of how I lived, but the older I got, the more social I became.

If I may ask, how is your relationship with your mum? Since you guys were moving around so much. Did that affect your relationship?
Kind of. At point in times, we were super close, but then as I grew up I moved out early. I lived by myself for a while and, you know, we are cool now. It kind of did affect our relationship, because when I moved out at a young age I didn’t really trust other people, because that was my number one person. It did hurt me, but now we are cool. I say we’re cool, but we love each other. Especially growing up, my youth years, I was rebellious.

What kind of rebellious acts did you get up to?
I used to be really good at football, but I didn’t really like it. I wanted to be a painter, but my dad was a football player in high school, so I started playing football to make him happy. I never really liked it, but I was good at it. I was in the ‘Washington Post’ and other newspapers - everyone thought I was going to be this super athlete, but then I just quit. And then at points of time I skipped school. I would skip school to go to museums, but it's crazy because I still had like honour roll. My mum found out and she was got mad at me. She was just disappointed. Also, when I would get awarded honour roll, I wouldn’t show up for the award ceremonies.   

Painting and all these things are quite the opposite end of football. Very opposite directions.
You know how football players are... They would make fun of me at school - they would say I traded in my cleats for a paintbrush. They would make fun of me, but they always respected me because I did whatever I wanted to do. And then again I was better than most of them at the sport. 

They just had to have some respect for you because of that.
Yes, they had respect for me; they just knew I was different. They didn’t agree with everything I did, but they respected it. They didn’t make fun of me in that sense, so I was kind of lucky. I never got bullied even though I was often the new kid.

Especially in movies the stereotypical new kid always gets bullied.
For me, everyone thought I was super cool and interesting, but it was weird, because it worked differently for everyone. My little brother he wasn’t straight bullied, but he was... I have two brothers, they way they grew up going through the same thing as I did, we all experienced totally different things. My older brother, us moving around a lot, made him more outgoing, so it had an opposite effect on him than it had on me. It made me more introverted. It’s interesting how people’s minds work. 

People can react really differently to the same situation. Over to a little bit of a philosophical question, who is Hakeem? 
I want to be looked at as a visionary. I want to be like a jack-of-all-trades. I just want to tell stories. I've been into photography a lot as of recently. In fact, I have an editorial coming out soon. I just work on a lot of documentary photography type photography of my friends and I paint, but I also want to be able to build buildings. I want to study architecture, build glossy buildings out of cheap stuff. Just make living easier for people, because I feel like this generation - we are going to have a lot of visionaries. Hopefully it's almost like the renaissance where people were competing to make the world an easier place; a better place. I feel like if the world would be like that and people would be competing to make the world easier for others, then it would be a way better place. It's because politics have become such a big deal that artists and innovators aren’t as respected anymore. That’s what I feel. If you tell someone you want to be an artist or you want to be like a musician, they say; ‘Okay, but what is going to be your back up? What is going to be your real job?’ I feel like a lot of stuff isn’t respected as much anymore because of nine-to-fives. I would like to see myself as a visionary, hopefully - someone who can create change and make an impact. 

That’s a good thing. So I was thinking, you do a lot of different things. And I also find that a lot of people or especially the older generations want to box people in, so like; ‘You do this. You do that.’ Nowadays, everybody is doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that - mixing it all together. How do you feel about that? Do you think you sometimes need to justify and box yourself in?
Yes, that happens, even with some of my friends. Some of my friends are photographers and when they discovered that I wanted to try photography, they didn’t take me seriously. They shrugged it off sort of. I was like; ‘I want to try photography, do you have any advice?’ That’s also what my agent does sometimes. When I told him I wanted to do more acting, he told me; ‘You are a model’. After I went to acting school for a while he started taking me seriously. I feel like you just got to prove people wrong, because people definitely try to box you in - all the time. One of my goals in life - it’s like a weird goal - I want to be the ‘Biggest Slasher’. What I consider a ‘slasher’, if you look at Wikipedia, it says ‘Just slash, just slash, just slash.’ Creative freedom and chasing. It’s like when people chase financial stability. I chase freedom as far as creativity. To just create whatever I want.

Where did you go to acting school?
I studied at the Ted Bardy studio for a little bit; exploring the Meisner technique.

How did you enjoy the Meisner technique?
At first I didn’t know where I was going with this, because we were like knocking on doors. It's like 'The Karate Kid' - you do a lot of things that you don’t know. When it comes into play it's like - wow - this is why I did this. We have to do things while having a conversation with someone else. That’s were we understand why we do that, because it helps us look more natural on camera. To seem occupied. Sometimes in real life we have conversations while multitasking. During the exercises I totally didn’t get it though and I was like ‘Is this what I am paying for?’ It was pretty expensive, so I was like ‘I can do this at home’.  It worked out though. It helped.

Is that something you are incorporating right now in your acting?  
I feel like I chose the right technique, but I also want to experiment with others as well. Just to make sure.

How would you describe your current lifestyle?
Spontaneous. I do things in the moment. I might go on a road trip just because I feel like it. If one of my friends is down, we'll just head out and we’ll meet new people, get new things, explore life. As far as modelling, I have to be free to just go to an emergency casting. I might have to go somewhere on a whim. I have no set schedule for anything. I don’t know what I am going to be doing on Friday. I may be in New York or I might not be.

How do you like that?
It’s cool, because I don’t really plan that far ahead. It's because of how I lived before. That is just kind of how I’ve always lived. Going by the gut feeling. If I feel like I should move, I move. It fits with my lifestyle.

How would you like your lifestyle to be in five to ten years? Like it is now or would you like to change it?
Hopefully, I will have learned how to manoeuvre around more and to have become more settled, maybe having a home base, somewhere. As far as always moving, I wouldn’t really mind it, but maybe if we talk like in 15 years maybe it will be time to settle down. But in five to ten years, I’ll still be in my twenties, so hopefully I am still youthful and willing to meet new people and meet new places. Explore.

Who do you see as influencers of your generation today?
Steve Jobs. I think he is cool. I love Pharell. I love Shia LaBeouf, because he does a lot of different things.

Yes, Shia LaBeouf is quite an interesting chap.
I also like Donald Glover, because he is always doing different things like music, acting, comedy etc. I used to be the biggest Kanye West fan growing up, because of his talents and not so much his awkward antics, but I guess he counts. That is about it. I named Steve Jobs and he is not with us right now. There are a lot that have passed away that influence me - more so than those who are alive.

Do you think there are more innovators coming or is it the end of innovation?
I do, I think this generation is on our way to almost a new renaissance where people are competing to do cool things. Building new buildings that only use a certain amount of energy. I think there are a lot of people who are just finding new things that we need in life. It's not just because of money, it’s more for the good of their hearts - it’s genuine. On Reddit, I see a lot of good things that inspire me whether it’s someone finding a new way to give hope to other countries or finding new ways to build shelters. Things like that; I think that’s cool.

Social media has a really big place in society now. How do you think that affects your generation?
Oh god, it's crazy. I honestly did not have social media before I became a model. No one had any way of telling who I was. Social media sets people up against each other. Checking up on someone else’s life. All the time. I feel like it can cause depression in certain people. They’ll see someone who never has to struggle - or who looks like there is no struggle. I think it's very deceiving. They look at a page of someone who never seems to have a single struggle and they just get depressed because they are working their nine to five and trying hard, but they’re not enjoying life, it’s like ‘Why don’t they get to have as much fun as that other person?’ It can sort of make you feel like you are missing out. I totally didn’t have social media until I started modelling.

Did you feel a bit forced to get on social media?
My agents literally told me I had to get one. I asked if I could only post my paintings, but he was like; ‘No’. Then I realized again, especially for what we do, social media is such a big deal in our industry.

How do you feel about that?
It's like you are your own brand. You have to promote and you have to be mindful about what you post. You have to post okay content. Some of my friends are pretty big in social media, they have like 100K followers and they tell me that they can’t post everything they do, because they are almost like a brand. They can’t just post silly stuff like I would. I would post a random selfie, but they can't. They have to only post when they’re having fun - even when they are not having fun, which is also weird. Sometimes they are not really enjoying a party, but they’re portraying it on their social media to look like they’re having fun.

That’s a bit sad and dishonest.
It’s weird, I’m like right next to them in real life and I can see how much fun they are not having, but then if you go to their page it looks like their having the best time.

Do you feel like honesty is somehow disappearing? It has been a big topic in all areas that the truth is really not that important anymore?
It’s true, especially with this whole alternative facts thing. A lot of the times people filter things. Sometimes people are okay with not knowing what is going on in the world, because they don’t want to see the truth. People filter what they see in the media, so they might see lies, but they’ll believe it. I feel like the truth isn’t as important anymore, sadly. The way we can just fake things - I could write an article right now and people would believe it if they really wanted to. It might be that the truth isn’t as important anymore, but it’s more that people tend to believe what they want to nowadays. They might see the truth about something and they might not agree with it, so they'll Google something that they believe in and then they’ll see somewhere in the world that someone made an article about that thing and they’ll take that. That is what happens.

Do you think the world is afraid of the truth? In the sense that that they would rather live with a lie than the complete truth, or do you think they are aware of the truth, but then just kind of denying it?
That is a good question. I think that some people are aware and choose to filter themselves because they may not want to deal with it. Maybe someone is living a good life and the way they live is at the cost of someone else, but they choose to ignore it. And I do feel that some people just don’t know. Some people just flat out don’t know, because there are people in New York who has never left their borough, which I find crazy. There is so much more to the world that they haven’t seen. People choose not to act on something, because it doesn’t affect them. That is where I feel we’re at.

What do you do to make yourself happy?
Sometimes when I’m down, I lock myself in a room for like a day and I'll just paint. Other time, I go out and explore. I’ll take a bus to Chicago for no reason and just look around because I think people are so interesting from afar. I like to study people from afar - not to sound like a creep or anything - I like to look at people, how they interact, how people in other places live their everyday lives. Or I’ll just lock myself in a room and watch movies all day. 

What kind of movie would you put on?
I love psychological thrillers. I like ‘who did it mystery murders’ as well. I love plot twists, so I love a lot of Christopher Nolan movies. You know, thrillers, stuff that keeps you on the edge. One of my favourite movies is ‘Scream’. I love it, it’s beautiful.

That’s a great series of movies, ‘Scream’.
Yeah it’s cool. What are your favourite movies?

My favourite movies? Wait, it’s not my turn to be questioned. Well, I would agree on psychological thrillers. And I love Quentin Tarantino.
That’s my favourite. He is probably amongst my top three directors. I love Reservoir Dogs. I love Pulp Fiction. I love every movie of his. Also like ‘True Romance’ that he wrote - he didn’t direct it. I love that he didn’t go to film school. He's not going by the book.

Would you say you are an emotional person?
I am becoming more emotional. I wasn’t always; I tried to repress emotions when I was younger.  I am becoming more open as far as moving around and seeing how different people react to certain things. Seeing how some things affect some people more than others. I was raised by my dad to have tough skin, but the more emotional friends I befriend - the more emotional I’m becoming - or perhaps mindful is a better word to use. Sometimes I would do things and not understand why people feel a certain way, but now I know that if I say something it might rub someone the wrong way. I am becoming emotional in that sense. I am not really sensitive when it comes to certain things. I repress a lot of things and release it through other means. 

Painting for instance? Instead of repressing it, you might just spill it all out across a canvas.
Instead of showing it, I will bottle it up and then release it onto a canvas.

Do you ever cry?
No, I haven’t really cried since my grandma died in 2012. I am sort of like; ‘It is what it is’. That’s kind of how I live. I never really cry, because everything happens for a reason. 

How do you experience other emotions? For example, anger?
I would probably go for a jog sometimes or listen to a lot of music. Or just not see anyone for a few days, so no one can ever see me angry. Just become very introverted for a day and by the time they see me it will all be over.

Does that mean you are not comfortable with sharing your emotions with others?
I think that may actually be the case, because growing up my dad was like ‘Don’t cry’. I never really do that kind of stuff. When I was a kid I would never let anyone see me doing it. 

I was thinking, how does that work in connection with acting, since you’re not the type of person to show your emotions in front of other people?
That was really my problem, I was very monotonic. My works weren’t as expressive as they could’ve been. Maybe I was supposed to be sad, but then I wouldn’t be as vulnerable as I needed to be. Being vulnerable was kind of what I was raised against, so as far as acting I had to show certain emotions, which was hard for me at first, because I didn’t like going that deep. My teacher used to tell me to go somewhere deep and that would be make me feel a certain way, but I didn’t really open up in front of everyone. Others used to see me perform in front of the class, but I wasn't comfortable with everyone seeing me vulnerable and expressing deep feelings. But I got better at it eventually.

That’s good. You feel like you’re getting more comfortable by sharing it with others, friends and family?
Yes, I do, and also with my friends, because I am just more open now about expressing what I feel. The acting and friends have helped.

You mentioned earlier that your dad always said things like ‘Don’t cry’. Masculinity is starting to change now and what your dad told you growing up is quite an old-fashioned way of raising a son. How are you handling that really traditional way of being raised opposed to the world of New York that you are surrounded by now?
I always had my own mind when it came to my dad. If I was down, I would be sad or if didn’t want to talk, I wouldn’t talk. I am pretty open to it. I accept it all with open arms. It’s kind of interesting, because it’s true, I never really thought about it that way. So I’m kind of going back now thinking ‘Wow, it’s because I was raised in such a masculine way.'

You’re having epiphanies here while we’re speaking. 
I’m like realizing ‘Wow’. You are like my therapist. 

Do you feel that you’re getting more in touch with your feminine side with your more emotional friends by your side?
I am becoming more open to sensitivity and other people's feelings. That’s kind of cool and interesting, because at first I was like ‘What is this? Why do I feel this way?’ Then I was like; ‘Oh, I’m sad, that’s why.’ It’s something I will need to become more aware before settling down in the future. If I do ever have kids, a wife or a girlfriend, I wouldn’t want to be strict in the sense of ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that.’

Mental health is a big buzzword nowadays, is that something that is close to your heart?
Something like that runs in my family. My grandma became mute a year before she died. I feel like depression runs through my family on my mum’s side, and I think that’s why she moved around a lot. That’s why I instead of a handling problem, I run from it. It's like a coping mechanism. I think I kind of had it too. I felt like that's why my mum always moved once her and my dad got divorced. She just wanted new beginnings everywhere she went. And my grandmother gong mute, she couldn’t help it. She just couldn’t bring herself to speak. I do feel that mental illness is something that should be looked at more, instead of just prescribing it away. I had ADHD as a kid, too. I have two brothers and I was like the black sheep basically of all of us. They’re both straight A students, but I was always in my own world. Something that's also a problem is that parents won’t get medicine prescribed for their kids, because they find it embarrassing. When I was diagnosed with ADHD, I never got any help. They figured it was a knock on their parenting. A therapist telling someone that the kid is out of control, they're like ‘What are you trying to say?’ I guess I did straighten out myself, but that was more through fiction. That’s kind of how I learnt to control myself. I started picking up painting, books… I used to be an ADHD type kid that just did things for no reason.

That's interesting, because a lot of kids with ADHD struggle with concentration. 
I had a hard time concentrating on things that didn’t interest me, like for example school. If I wasn’t overwhelmed by something intense happening every ten seconds. I wasn’t interested in regular textbooks. I didn’t do too well in school originally.

Until you discovered what you were actually interested in? I guess that made you feel a little more comfortable with yourself in sense of ‘Okay I am actually good at things’.
I would fall asleep in class reading textbooks, because they were so boring. When I’m reading a novel I can be up forever just reading or when I am painting I can be extremely precise with every stroke depending on whether I want to make it very detailed or not. With the ADHD, it depends. If I wasn’t interested in it, I couldn’t focus.

Going back to society nowadays. In modern society genders are becoming a bit more fluid. How do you feel about gender identity and fluidity?
I feel that it is interesting that people feel that they can change something if they are no okay with it. I like the fact that society is going that way. Sometimes we are born in a certain situation that is ideal to us and sometimes some things are out of our control. It could be your name for instance, maybe you don’t like your name, but you can change it. And that’s how it is nowadays with gender. I feel like it gives you more of an identity as far as being your own person. 

Are you spiritual or religious?
Not really. I come from a religious background. My parents were very religious. We went to church every Sunday. Even sometimes on Fridays. I used to, I don’t nowadays, but my mum and dad do. 

How come you came to the conclusion that this is not for me?
I was always forced into going. I feel like if it had been something I wanted for myself I would have had a different reaction. They were so judgmental there. As I said, I was the one black sheep with bad grades and church is all about gossip. Especially the ladies, they were talking about my mum behind her back, because I was bad at school. They think they are more holy than you. It's funny, because I think all religions are very judgemental. The one I grew up in was very judgmental.

What about spirituality? Not in the religious sense, but something more related to for instance new age. People talking about a higher power - not necessarily knowing what it is, but there being something. 
I do feel that there is a higher power looking over us as we speak. It’s good to have something to believe in, whether it is there or it isn’t. So many people stay hopeful by having something to believe in. I just feel like there is, but it’s too hard to explain how everything was created. There must be something up there, watching over us. I hope so.

Speaking of relationships and ‘talking’ was the term you used. Have you ever been in love?
No, I haven’t. Not yet. I feel that social media has a lot to do with why people ‘talk’, because we have stuff like tinder where there are so many options, so it is hard to fully commit when there is so much out there. Sometimes people don’t know how good the things that they have in front of them are, because of that very reason. Procrastinating on committing - everything that they need is right in front of them

How do you feel about that? Would you want to change that reality?
I think kind of, but not really. You can also meet very interesting people through social media. I may find my soul mate through Instagram and she may live in Canada. Maybe it has a purpose. We can just talk trough the Internet for a few weeks and we meet up and then maybe she is like the perfect person. The only difference is that you won’t feel like you settled - if you do find the right person.

What is your dream?
I want to be the ‘Biggest Slasher’ in the world. I want to be able to do whatever. I want to have things that I created. I want to have buildings. I want to have a business and be able to create jobs for people. I want to be able look out for this generation by creating new technology - just being a visionary. Sort of like a Leonardo da Vinci. He wasn’t just a painter - he was a sculptor and a scientist. I just want to make the world better, but I sometimes feel that saying stuff like that sounds narcissistic. Who is this one person who thinks he can do all of this? I feel like that’s how people look at me sometimes. So they’re like; ‘Just you?’, but of course I need help from the people I meet because these are the things I would want to accomplish, hopefully. My dream is to have an impact in more than one way.

Any wisdom for the lost people out there? 
People should be able to do whatever they want to do, because there is so much in this world to see and to do. No one should feel like they can’t do it. If someone feels like being a fire fighter, then that person should go and be a fire fighter. If someone wants to be a photographer, then go and be a photographer. I feel like they shouldn’t settle with getting a nine to five. I mean you only get one life and you should live it to the fullest. Do what feels right to you. At the end of the day there is only one person in the casket. You should make sure you are okay with your life. Just be who you are. Don’t be ashamed. Do what you want to do.

Interview and words by Hedvig Werner.

Gen Z: Hakeem Nieght