Aissata Bah’s story begins in her mother’s hair salon. Born and raised in the outskirts of Atlanta, Aissata watched in awe at her parents’ kindness and desire to create safe spaces despite the challenges that they faced as Guinean immigrants. It was within those salon walls that Aissata recognized the importance of storytelling in empowering communities and inspiring change.
As a low-income student who attended various under-resourced public institutions before enrolling in Phillips Academy, one of the nation’s top private and boarding schools, Aissata recognizes how improbable her educational journey has been. With the help of Atlanta-based enrichment program Reach for Excellence and through her 7th-grade admittance into the Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholar Program, Aissata “beat the odds.” Both programs have been instrumental in widening Aissata’s knowledge of the opportunities that await her and granting her access to the education that she believes every student deserves.
When first adjusting to Phillips Academy, Aissata gravitated to extracurriculars that made her feel connected to her home community that was now a thousand miles away. Aissata’s experience as a racial and socioeconomic minority led her to create discursive spaces and mediums for students of marginalized identities to tell their stories. Through her roles as the head coordinator of a mentorship program for Black and Latinx students, a balance-and-inclusion curriculum developer and teacher, and the Chief Financial Officer of the student newspaper, Aissata is committed to amplifying marginalized students’ voices and making her campus more equitable. Aissata also aims to support students who do not have the access to the resources that they need to reach their maximum potential, like she once did, and partnered with the Youth Development Organization her sophomore year to create a program that introduces students in her nearby school community to real-life applications of math.
In the summer after creating her community program, Aissata had the opportunity to attend the Telluride Association’s Sophomore Seminar on “The Culture Politics of Race in Media and Literature” at the University of Michigan, where she developed a passion for exploring the intersections of research and activism. Aissata has written a research paper examining Black women’s agency and sexuality in Shonda Rhimes’ television shows and created digital media content under the hashtag “#StopSolitary” to raise awareness of the cruelty of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons while working as an intern at the Dodd Center for Human Rights. Between her junior and senior year, Aissata also embarked on an independent research project where she wrote a thirty-page research paper analyzing the media’s erasure of Black women from activist movements.
Aissata believes that our collective progress towards social equality relies on our abilities to question the narratives brought in front of us. In the future, she hopes to harness the powers of traditional research, digital media, and film to draw attention to the realities of Black youth in low-income communities, celebrate their resilience, and ultimately incite the political change needed to dismantle the oppressive structures embedded within these communities.