Author and activist James Baldwin said, “if you know from whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
The number of people who are deeply interested in tracing their ancestry is on the rise. For some, that means delving into archives and digitized records to trace their lineage. For AF Amistad High scholar Nyah, that means traveling to Senegal as a 2020 Black Birthright scholar to learn more about her roots.
Black Birthright is an immersive program that sends Black high school students to African countries to learn their history, experience the continent’s rich culture, and develop a stronger sense of self and purpose.
We recently spoke with the rising junior about her passions and her acceptance to the Black Birthright program.
Tell me a little about yourself—what do you like to do for fun, what’s your favorite subject and why?
I am a Haitian-American. My favorite subject is math because I’m good at it and I’m a quick learner. My favorite thing to do is educating myself and others about different topics and issues. I like having debates to see other points of view on issues that are going on in the world. And whenever I have an opportunity, like the Black Birthright opportunity, I take it.
How does knowing that your parents emigrated from Haiti influence your desire to learn more about your history? Does it influence how you approach life?
My parents told me how different their childhoods were compared to mine. There’s so much more opportunity here. And that’s all they wanted for their kids; that’s all they wanted for me. They always push me to do my best, and I feel like it’s only right because they didn’t come here for no reason. They came here for me to make something of myself. They are constantly giving me resources and motivation to excel and further my education. They always encourage me to think outside the box and do what will impact many people in the right way. That’s what I want to inspire young Black kids to do. If kids are looking up to me, I need to pave the way and make a difference.
That’s why, when I return to school in-person, I’m looking forward to creating or joining a club that supports Black rights. With everything that is going on right now, people should be informed. The best way for people of color to know their rights is to be educated and raise awareness about what’s happening in our society.
You were recently accepted to the Black Birthright program. Can you tell us more about that?
I learned about the program from one of my school’s college counselors, Ms. Cohen. The program educates young, Black teens about the culture and history of Africa—traveling to Senegal—and teaches us about where we come from and our history. I really wanted to participate in the program because, based on the interviews they did last year, it seemed like everyone was touched. One girl said, everything that she does now, she thinks back on the trip. And I want to feel that empowerment. I want to go back to my roots. I know this trip is going to pave the way for my future.
What are you most looking forward to going on the trip?
I’m most looking forward to meeting the kids, learning about their educational system, and seeing how life is different there. It’s going to be a life-changing experience for me. Many people are misinformed about Africa. They only see one story: how people are living in poverty and doing nothing to help themselves. But there’s so much more.
If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
I would tell my younger self and any young, Black child, don’t hate the skin you’re in. Even if you feel like you have no power because of how you look, you will come to love yourself and see your great power.