Zenabe Bakayoko

What does inspiration mean to you and how would you use your platform in your future career to inspire others?

Every Saturday, I awake to an aromatic smell of scotch bonnet peppers, onions, and tomatoes. Nothing was more inspiring than seeing my mom make the most delectable dishes, despite her limited budget. Similarly, early in the morning when I’m heading to school, I see local vendors setting up their merchandise and at sundown when I’m returning home I see them packing up to go home. These vendors remain loyal to their spot on the street and return to it day in and day out to financially support themselves & their families. The individuals in my neighborhood share many values as a collective, such as diligence, cleverness, and resourcefulness. My neighborhood is a bustling and fascinating place because the members are always striving to improve their lives despite the constant adversity they have to face because of their socioeconomic status. The streets of 116th-125th are looked at by outsiders as unkept and impoverished, but I see a neighborhood filled with immigrant-owned businesses built by sweat and tears, stories of a global movement, and hope for something better. This dedication and determination demonstrated by them are what I view as inspiring because by growing up in this community I have been taught a great lesson at a very young age; With effort, you can create something amazing, regardless of the limitations and barriers often inhibiting your success. These lessons have propelled me to success, namely, when my low-income status made finding a summer program nearly impossible. Though the search process seemed fruitless at times, I persevered, ultimately applying to and earning admission to a highly-selective, cancer research program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center that allowed me to pursue my dreams without barriers. As an African-American low-income student breaking down barriers I hope to use the lessons I learned in my neighborhood to inspire other students in my position to aim for their goals by teaching them that with effort you can create something amazing regardless of the limitations and barriers often inhibiting that success.

What are you currently doing to inspire those around you?

Ever since I was a middle-schooler I have been an advocate for social justice. At a young age, I was exposed to the inequality that many underrepresented minorities have to face. I remember applying to high schools across New York City and noticing how each school’s resources differed based on their borough. This experience inspired me to join Teens Take Charge (TTC), a youth-led advocacy program fighting for educational equity in NYC, through hosting workshops to educate youth in NYC and organizing rallies. According to UCLA Civil Rights Project, New York is the most segregated state in the nation for Black students and second-most segregated for Latino students, following California. I saw these gaps in my everyday life, and their impacts were as pervasive as the harms that created them in the first place. Although I could not stop the problem’s creation, I could be a leader in the charge to fight against it. As a dedicated organizer in TTC, I am working to inspire more teens my age & even younger to fight for the education they deserve. Through campaigns such as Save SYEP in 2020, I collaborated with peer organizers to plan and execute campaigns to collect petition signatures. Together, we gathered over 40,000 signatures to convince city officials to continue the Summer Youth Employment Program, a program that provides paid summer jobs for high school students in New York City, during the pandemic. Since then I have become a member of TTC’s staff. As a staff member, I facilitate workshops and meetings. I take my role seriously because I have been given the privilege to provide students such as myself a voice and confidence to fight for themselves and thousands of kids across New York City. For example, I have facilitated workshops on organizations such as The People’s Money Project, a participatory budgeting process that provides funds for projects and improvements in neighborhoods across the city. The People’s Money Project allows New York City residents to vote on dire changes they want to see in their neighborhoods. In addition to informing organizers about the project, I have collaborated with The People’s Money Project to canvass and spread awareness about the project to youth on social media platforms. By participating in Teens Take Charge I am inspiring teens from across the city to fight for social change and I am investing in the future of underrepresented minorities in New York City.

What you would do with the scholarship award if you were to receive it?

If I receive the scholarship award I would put it towards paying for my college education because not only will attending a four-year institution allow me to develop my passion for medicine and the social sciences, but also position me to eventually fulfill my dream of becoming an epidemiologist.

One thought on “Zenabe Bakayoko

  1. You go Zenab! You’re a star girl XOXO

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