Isha Sesay was raised to believe that she could achieve anything. “Quite simply, I believed I could lead. I want to foster that same confidence in other young girls, ” she insisted. Sesay was born in France in 1976 and grew up Sierra Leone, her parents native country. Sesay credits her mother with instilling this belief of limitless possibility in her. It is this belief, and the support system that nurtured it, that has taken Sesay from Sierra Leone, in which 50% of girls live below the poverty line and only 1 in 6 girls attends high school, to studying English at Cambridge University to holding prominent positions as a journalist.
Aware of her privilege, Sesay has made it her mission to be the guiding light for young girls from Sierra Leone that her mother was for her. The importance of this mission only became clearer as she traveled her journey. As a journalist, Sesay hungered to tell stories that made a difference in the world. She particularly wanted to tell stories that removed the limitations that are placed on what young girls can achieve. As Sesay explains, this is necessary in Africa because “the girls are getting left behind, the girls are struggling in school, they don’t get the help that they need.”
However, Sesay found it increasingly difficult to report on stories she is passionate about in Western media. Obsessed with headline grabbing stories that “sucked all of the oxygen out of the room,” more meaningful stories were given little room to breathe. So after 13 years as an anchor and correspondent of the international media organization, Sesay announced that she was leaving CNN in August 2018. Not giving up on the desire to put potentially life changing stories into the world, Sesay moved from covering such stories to producing them.
Sesay founded We Can Lead, a nonprofit in Sierra Leone with the mission of “ensuring that young girls receive the educational opportunity, leadership development and mentoring support necessary to become the new generation of female leaders who are able to impact every area of society across the continent of Africa.” Sesay is also writing a book set to release in 2019 on the Chibok girls, the 276 young girls kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram in 2014 who have yet to have their stories told. As Sesay proudly mentions in a recent interview, “I’m ready to take control of what I’m talking about.” And what she’s talking about are stories that have the potential to change the fabric of society with the experiences of young girls at the center of this rethreading.
Hazim Hardeman is a graduate student at Oxford University, where he will pursue a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Economic and Social History. He is also African Community Learning Program's intern for the #500EmpoweringAfricanStories Project.
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