The New American Initiative was created to give all immigrant and refugees living in Columbus, Ohio access to city services and programs to help improve their lives. This initiative gives equal opportunity to all refugees and immigrants and allows them to become active, productive, and equitable residents of Columbus. As part of efforts to accomplish the aim and objectives of the initiative, the New American Leadership Academy was established. The New American Leadership Academy, NALA is one way that the Department of Neighborhoods empowers individuals to become advocates for their communities. On Wednesday, November 8, 2023 the NALA graduated the 2023 cohort of Fellows. Joseph Sawo was nominated by fellows of the 2023 cohort to speak at the graduation ceremony:
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m excited to be here with you today. My name is Joseph Sawo, and I am thankful to stand here with you as a proud member of the New American Leadership Academy, specifically cohort 2023. I’m from the beautiful city of Monrovia, Liberia and came to the United States in 1997. I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and made Columbus, Ohio my home in 2012. My native country is rich in history as free slaves from all over the world notably the United States, Barbados, England settled in Liberia establishing Africa oldest republic in 1847. In fact, the 5ttheresident of Liberia was from right here in Newark, Ohio. Moreover, during the 2022 World Cup, the first goal scored by America’s Men’s National team was scored by Timothy Weah, the son of current president of Liberia, George Weah.
I share that history because one, whenever I get to talk about Liberia, I do, and two because I am standing here today with the microphone and can proudly tell the cohort, specifically Taiwo, Rasheed, Dr Danial. Patrick and Isaac who are from Nigeria and Ghana respectively that Liberia has the best Jollof rice.
I’m grateful to cohort 2023 to be chosen as the class speaker because the State of Ohio and the Country of Liberia helped shape my New American identity. There will be moments in this speech that I will need all of your participation by clapping, some of those will come naturally and others you may be prompted to do so. Let’s give it a try. We know there were six other cohorts before us, and you may call me biased, but after being in this cohort with such amazing leaders from all over the world. NALA cohort 2023 is the best NALA cohort yet!! This is the part where you Clap, see you all are a natural.
Before you call me biased, allow me to brag about this amazing cohort!! NALA cohort 2023 spans across 3 continents, 28 languages. 7 associate degrees, 20+ Bachelor’s degrees, 10+ Master’s degree, 1 Lawyer, 2 PHD doctorates, 1 Medical doctorate, 17+ certifications, 9 Micro and Small business owners, 2 area commissioners, 2 religious leaders, 1 city a of Columbus Police officer, two United States military veteran and over 5 million dollars in real estate owned in the central Ohio community. Ladies and gentlemen, Nala Cohort 2023 represents the excellence that is Columbus, Ohio!
City of Columbus, Department of Neighborhood
To the city of Columbus and Columbus Department of neighborhood under the leadership of Mayor Andrew Ginther, we say thank you. Specifically, to Director Carla Williams, Deputy Director Todd Dieffendefer, I say thank you for your leadership and advocacy in making NALA a reality. To our new leader Lindora Diawara, thank you for coming on board, offering your time, expertise and not missing a beat. To our fearless leader Abdi Soofe, we’ve called and texted you from as early as 5am to as late as 11pm and you have made yourself available. You are a civil servant, and you are a phenomenal leader.
There are certain moments that are instrumental, a moment you can point to and say, this moment changed my life. For some, graduating college, buying their first home, getting married, leaving that forsaken job and for most, is giving their life to God. Those moments all have one thing in common, we do not know what will happen afterwards, but we do know, we are taking a risk, that leap of faith, that opportunity because what is on the other side, has the potential to be better than where we are now. For some immigrants, my family included, it’s leaving our home country, leaving everything we have ever known behind to pursue the hope of a better life in another country. We left behind our friends, our community, our career; our family to pursue a life in a new country. in a new city. Columbus Ohio is the city we chose to live in. Columbus, Ohio is our home. We’ve studied here, we’ve prayed here, we’ve raised a family here, we’ve buried loved ones here, we’ve made a home here.
What do “leaders” take away from another Leadership Experience? Why did we apply to the New American Leadership Academy?
We have been fortunate to be looked at as a leader and an overall success story. I highlighted some of our collective accolades earlier. For me, I’m blessed that I have multiple degrees and certifications and work for one of the big four accounting firms. My job and firm is what you would call “prestigious” in my field. To me it means I can afford to pay the bills and the occasional Chick Fil A chicken sandwich, yet I know all that I am, I owe to my family’s sacrifices and community. My cohort will say the same.
My colleagues are just so inspirational. I can be here all day highlighting some of their stories, but I just want to share a couple. Shafiq from Afghanistan, he claims he does not speak English well but was instrumental in helping the U.S military return home from their Middle East operations. Sucdi, while raising 8 children, is putting herself through college to prove to her children you can do anything you set your mind to. Maryan, a Linden, Ohio Area commissioner, business owner of a thriving nonprofit and daycare and is completing her PHD at THE Ohio State university. Perla, making sure, black and brown voices are heard in every room she’s in. Lastly, Demasas a Police officer, a first generation immigrant that is bridging the gap with the Community and living the phrase, be the change you want to see in Law enforcement. He’s also an NPHC brother of mine, meaning we are under the same umbrella but in different fraternities and of course I am in the better one. I can go on all day and talk about EACH team member and how much their inspiring story motivates me, but I’ll say this. I’m proud of you, we are living the American dream.
The American Dream coined by James Truslow in 1931 is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born, can attain their own version of success. NALA cohort, we have accomplished that dream, but the job is not done. When we go to our communities and see our people chasing that same dream, a better life for their family, pushing that baton as far as they can take it to get it ready for the next generation, we realize the job is not done. When we see that little boy or girl, that reminds us of
ourselves struggling because they don’t “fit in” and have not assimilated to American culture, we realized the job is not done, when we see that single parent working two jobs to provide with limited English and their kids have to read and translate their lease or contractual agreements, we realized the jobs not done. To you, family and friends, when you see immigrants getting discriminated against because their English is seasoned with a worldview that differs from their employers and colleagues, you realize the job is not done.
That is why we apply to NALA because we want to be a better version of ourselves and put ourselves in uncomfortable situations so we can continue to grow as leaders and advocates.
There’s no other leadership program that can give you a global perspective while offering local leadership training like NALA can.
With NALA, we learned how to be better advocates for our community. We learned how this city is run through Civic Engagement sessions. We network with city attorneys, judges, officers, city council and business owners. We volunteered our time and represented NALA through multiple community engagements such as city council meetings and Rise up events and helped establish Africa Day here in Columbus. We were challenged through conflict resolution training, public speaking training, social and emotional intelligence training. We learned how Columbus does business through the Columbus way.
All of those training sessions were effective when we came together to complete our group project.
Our group project focuses on promoting citizenship and partnering with Community Refugee and Immigration Services to promote citizen resources to the Columbus community. We chose this project because we wanted to offer resources for New Americans. In addition to citizenship, we wanted to promote volunteerism and youth advocacy. We successfully completed our project by hosting a New American Resource Fair at the Barnett Branch of the Columbus Library. The fair had 15 vendors. over 200 attendees. In addition to the fair, we partnered to get English as a second language classes at the library to create ongoing impact.
We also developed a New American citizenship resource booklet that will serve as a guide for
New Americans. We leveraged the strength from each team member, the lessons learned from our civic engagement sessions, and we served our community. That is NALA in action!
In conclusion, The New American Leadership Academy is a testament that with an opportunity and support a New American can achieve their American Dream. This Academy helped us be better Leaders so we can take one step closer to getting the job done. NALA cohort 2023 spreads across three continents but Columbus, Ohio is our home. We will challenge our home to be better, yet we will love our home, we will protect our home, we will continue to be leaders so we can make our home better.
(Joseph Sawo, Fellow of the New American Leadership Academy 2023 cohort was nominated by other fellows to Speak at the graduation ceremony on Wednesday, November 8, 2023)
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