It’s a tough pill for Adama Bah to swallow.
She’s meeting a family from Senegal that is about to be evicted from their shelter. They’ve hit the city’s 60-day limit.
What You Need To Know
- Adama Bah is the founder of Afrikana, an organization that helps immigrants get their footing in their new country
- Bah immigrated to the U.S. from Guinea as a 2-year-old. She said law enforcement took her into custody on suspicion of being a terrorist when she was a teenager
- Her organization helps immigrants find benefits, apply for identification cards and more
“She doesn’t want to rely on the system,” Bah said. “She just needs help understanding how the system works.”
Afrikana, an immigrant advocacy and resource organization Bah started, is trying to help. Asylum seekers file into Afrikana’s Harlem offices every day.
“We’re the translators,” Bah said. “We’re social workers. We’re the therapists. We’re everything.”
Bah’s immigration journey began when she was 2 years old. Her parents fled Guinea to protect their girls from genital mutilation and childhood marriage.
“He believed that we had so much potential and the world was at our fingertips,” Bah said. “And he left Guinea because he knew we had no life there.”
Bah’s father lived in the U.S. for 16 years before being deported. He returned to the states seven years later.
Bah said she found out she was in the country illegally as a teenager, when law enforcement officials detained her on suspicion of being a potential suicide bomber.
It motivated her.
“When I was in a detention center alone, there was no advocate sitting next to me,” Bah said. “There was nobody advocating for me. I had to learn how to advocate for myself.”
Bah started helping fellow immigrants fill out citizenship papers, register for municipal ID and become their own champions.
And in 2022, Bah formally launched Afrikana. Most of their clients were born in Africa and in the Caribbean.
“They’re the reason why I wake up every morning on time and open the gates, even though I’m tired or I’m hungry,” Bah said. “But to make sure that they get the help that they need.”
Bah’s advocacy work recently earned her the Coalition for the Homeless’ eighth annual Compassionate Communities Award.
Twice a week, Afrikana runs an interfaith food pantry out of a Belmont mosque.
Helping people to build a better life — just like Bah’s family did all those years ago.
“It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are. It’s just having that partnership and community that you can rely on to heal,” she said.
For giving immigrants the chance to live the American dream, Adama Bah is our New Yorker of the Week.