“I AM’’ are two most powerful words that he lives by. An inspiration that is scintillatingly moving, and courageously empowering, has been his journey from Sierra Leone to the United States and now serving as the first Permanent Youth Representative of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in New York.
Mr Isaac Bayoh is a 23-year-old Sierra Leonean born in the Western Area of Freetown. He attended the Sierra Leone Grammar School before he relocated to the United States where he continued his secondary and tertiary education at Roxbury High School and Eastern University.
On this journey, while at the Grammar School, he encountered two teachers who drastically transformed his life for the better. His class teacher for three consecutive years (JSS3 – SSS2) who also served as his Literature teacher, Mr Hassan Massaquoi, was not only a teacher to them but served as an elder brother when they needed him; both in love and in compassionate understanding. He taught him not just to learn a subject but to ‘experience the very essence of its being’. It was one thing to know how to speak English and another to be introduced to a whole new dimension of commanding his spoken word. Mr Massaquoi taught him how to respect the art of vocabulary, to learn to love each unique letter in its subtle intricacies, that when put together can create words, and these words, when carefully aligned, could lay the foundations for a better tomorrow. Mr Massaquoi was the reason he excelled in his love for the arts and literature as he went on to win national debates, regional reading competitions, and International speaking awards that in time manifested a space for his transition to the United States.
Equally important, his awakened spirituality and belief in God is unmatched, as Ms Hawa Kargbo, who was his Christian Religious Knowledge teacher and Director of the drama club taught him that it was okay to question what he believed, that only by doing so will he get the answers he sought, from God. She did not only teach him by her words but more so by her actions and how she led her life. Her uprightness in all things laid the path for young Regentonians to follow in truth. She would say, “He is the wisest who seeks God. He is the most successful who has found God.’’
All in all, his time at the Grammar School taught him virtues of tolerance in the face of opposing beliefs, wisdom in being true to the man he is and emotional intelligence to deal with others. This, and more, has made of him the true stand of a Regentonian man.
Like many of us, the Ebola epidemic set forth a new journey for Mr Bayoh. Considering the predestination of his life, he engaged in various school activities, as he was persistent in finding opportunities by which to experience the world. It was difficult for him to stay during the Ebola epidemic and pushed for his dreams. Time passed as he gained a fighting chance. He applied for an American visa, withdrew his savings, and purchased a one-way plane ticket unbeknown to his mother and embarked on a journey which was about to change his life.
He had the support of his Friend, Tiah Knox, CEO of Le Platinum Style Productions, who believed in his dreams and advised him to take the leap; it was only then could he manifest his wings to soar. With a single suitcase, a duffle bag, and no place to call “home”, Mr. Bayoh arrived at the JFK airport in New York on the 16th of July 2014, helped by his saving grace, Ana Valdez. A faith-step that electrifyingly altered his life to the man he is becoming, serving as the first youth representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations.
During his time at Roxbury High school, was when he experienced his first racial discrimination in America that played a significant role in authoring his calling into being; catapulting him into the leading man he is today. He realised, he was not only defined by his ethnicity and country of origin but more so by the colour of his skin. He was ridiculed and discriminated by his white peers as they elated in ignorance, as their perception of Africans and blacks were distorted. This led him to a series of introspection. He started asking questions of why the colour of his skin should be a reason for him to be ridiculed and humiliated? With the fear of his skin complexion, he felt neglected to live in a country, and more so a world that should be inclusive for all. Although life proved hard, his mother had taught him that “true strength lies not in the fist but in the God-like response he showed to those who wronged him”. He used this opportunity, guided in wisdom, to teach them about himself, about Sierra Leone and manifested a heart-song of tolerance and respect for Africans, ethnically ambiguous folks and blacks alike amongst his peers.
He found himself in the guidance of his assistant principal, Ms Bowles at Roxbury High school, she taught him what it meant to embrace his uniqueness and the power he wielded because of it. To let people, see the real, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful and magical person he is and always reminded him that his black is beautiful.
After his university, He moved back to New York City to intern for The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation, whose objectives are to offer microgrants and ‘spotlighting’ to individuals and organizations bettering humanity in the fields of the Arts, Education, and Orphan Care. The J. Luce Foundation is most active in the U.S., Haiti, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
It was during his many late nights of staying back in the office to help clean up that he was called to a higher purpose; Jim Luce and his foundation enabled him to do the Landmark Forum where he got to meet Donna Tsufura, the DAYAKO, who saw the leader within him and introduced him to Queen Mother Delois Blakely- Goodwill Ambassador of the UN to Africa where she introduced him to the United Nations where he has been speaking his commitment for African girls, women and marginalized communities to have respect and a voice in the African Society.
I caught up with him for an interview via WhatsApp call after I watched a 36 seconds video of his inspiring speech at the Rondine conference, describing what love is as he told dignitaries and delegates to hold each other’s hands, noting that we should seek strength in our vulnerability. full link of the video here https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JiyXW0G5DxZOVog3ObtUhe7RO593peuH/view?usp=drive_web
Below is the interview I had with him.
You serve as the permanent youth representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nation, tell us more about the office and about how you got selected or elected. (The process)?
“I am the first in this office and was appointed by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations with approval from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Mrs. Nabeela Farida Tunis, who felt my blazing passion for positive change, saw the qualities I possessed to lead and manifested a clearing for me to do just that. This office was non-existent before my term and what led me to create it was my realization that Sierra Leone had no Youth Delegates program or youth representatives actively working at the Permanent Mission here in New York; Each year during the General Assembly I found it odd that Sierra Leone was missing in youth-related briefings and high-level meetings and if we were present, it would be a much older person (out of the youth age bracket) that would be representing us, young people. In the humility of understanding who we are as beings of power, intelligence and love, and the lord of our own thoughts, I put my faith to work and collaborated with the Mission and developed a proposal that defined the youth delegate’s mandate, created a selection process that is transparent to ensure legitimacy and representativeness, and clarified the funding process and continuity. It was the belief that each of us holds the key to every situation and contains within ourselves that transforming and regenerative agency by which we may make ourselves what we will, that ignited the courage in me to create this office and pave a way for young Sierra Leoneans like myself to be at the forefront of diplomacy, and guiding them in discovering their life’s direction and purpose.
The aim of this public diplomacy initiative is to provide a platform for young people from Sierra Leone to be represented at the United Nations and to facilitate greater engagement with Sierra Leonean youth on national and foreign policy issues. Being appointed as a Permanent Youth Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations was a unique opportunity for me to get involved in developing policies that affect the young people of Sierra Leone.”
Tell us more about your role as a Permanent youth representative to the united nation and how long have you served the office?
“While participation in intergovernmental processes is the ‘milestone moments’ of my term as Permanent Youth representative, what rings true for me is the legacy I create with each soul I encounter along this journey; manifesting a space for each unique voice to be heard from the collective and knowing sure that there is no greater gift I can give or receive than to honour my calling. It is why I was born. And how I become most truly alive.
Being the Permanent Youth Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations for a year now is an empowering stretch. Young Sierra Leoneans face challenges of exclusion and being perceived as a problem rather than partners and agents of change, despite increasing recognition of the positive role of youth in peacebuilding.
I work directly with the Third Committee; it is one of six main committees at the General Assembly of the United Nations. It deals with human rights, humanitarian affairs, and social matters.”
Where did you have the inspiration from?
“There have been many periods in my life where hope was all I had; periods in my life where I did not have a permanent place to live, a job, or a family whose shoulders I could cry on. Here, I faced immense challenges, because I dared to be different in a society that rewarded homogeneity. But in the face of these tragedies, I still had hope, and more so, I Had GOD. It was my hope that one day, I would be able to actively engage in improving the welfare of people whose circumstances paralleled my own; to support young people regardless of their differences, and create a world where the African dream was not merely about surviving, but about flourishing and harnessing our collective talents.”
Tell us about your experience growing in Sierra Leone (if you were in Sierra Leone during the war, how did you survive?
“The journey to lasting change began with defining what mattered most to me. And that is my people, the generations yet unborn, that will spring from the bedrock I am establishing; to greater dimensions of prosperity and heightened mental state of intuition, that will transform the heart of who we are as a nation and realign us to our ordained calling as Athens of West Africa to the World. I run a Non-Profit Organisation called Girl Optimization that provides women and girls with equal access to education, health care, and decent work as a fundamental human right to empower them to benefit their societies.
I grew up in a single-parent home; with a mother who loves me and a sister who shares in the colourful spirit of differences that makes us human. I grew up being different in a society that values sameness. Differences, in this society, are less than a source of celebration, and more a reason to tease, hate, and exclude.
I live my life intentionally. I live my life free from societal pressures; and at a young age, my mother taught me to embrace ALL that is me; for how I choose to love and treat myself is how I teach others to love and treat me.
I quickly learned that mirrors existed only to show our outer appearance but nothing beyond that. Only our actions, words, and ideas could represent the personal qualities that matter.
Growing up in Sierra Leone was an empowering stretch that altered the trajectory of my life. I understand what it means to walk half a mile to fetch water under the vengeful heat of the dry season sun. I understand what it means to bail water out of my flood-swamped house because of the heavy rains. All the while hearing the neighbours cry about drowning relatives, as the remains of zinc houses, which were once homes, float by telling stories of the families it once sheltered. This is home, and I AM the change!
I aspire to become a compassionate capitalist who contributes the best that we have, and all that we are. I work towards creating a world that supports everyone; because I believe that one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.
I feel close enough to relate to others, and far enough ahead to motivate them. I can be anything: a visionary, an educator, a motivator, an innovator, a communicator, a facilitator, and an adviser. I know that God is using me because I have a vision for my life that is greater than my imagination can hold.”
How are you adding the voices of young people during representations and engagements with international communities?
“As the Voice of the young people of Sierra Leone at the United Nations, I am commissioned to critically emphasize the defining challenges (access to quality education, unemployment, inequality, social exclusion, and climate change).
In my bilateral engagement with member states, I encourage focused agreements to overcome the mismatch between the skills that youth possess and the specialized demands of labour markets that are shaped by globalization.
I am also commissioned to contribute to the Sierra Leone-UN Youth Strategy Policy – in line with Sierra Leone’s Medium-Term National Development Plan 2019-2023. The Youth Strategy serves as a supporting framework to guide the government of Sierra Leone on track with the United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. It seeks to significantly strengthen Sierra Leone’s capacity to engage young people and benefit from their views, insights, and ideas and to ensure the government’s work on youth issues is pursued in a coordinated, coherent, and holistic manner.
My vision for Sierra Leone is one in which the human rights of every young Sierra Leonean is realized; that ensures every Sierra Leonean is empowered to achieve their full potential.
One that recognizes and honours every Sierra Leonean, in terms of our resilience and our positive contributions in becoming agents of change.”
What has been your milestones?
“As a senior in high school, I was the president of the Distributive Education Clubs of America for the New Jersey chapter; DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe. I was Vice President of the Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda, Inc. (FBLA-PBL) is the largest career student business organization in the world. Each year, FBLA-PBL helps over 230,000 members prepare for careers in business. I was later recognized and awarded “Business Student of the Year in 2016”. I was the Tenor section leader of Choral -the musical arm of our performing arts program as well as a lead actor on our Broadway Musical School Productions. I was a hard-working deli associate at Shop-Rite where I worked to earn money to pay my bills as I was now becoming independent, and was the founder of Roxbury fashion for relief campaign, which aided the women and orphan children of Sierra Leone.
Similarly, in my University experience, I was an Honour Student. I studied International Marketing & Corporate Management Technology and I belonged to the Leadership Fellows Program -The Leadership Fellows Program is a selective leadership cohort and scholarship program for students demonstrating leadership ability. I excelled in the arts and was part of Eastern University’s yearly theatre production as well as the Blaze Step Team (Step dance is the generic term for dance styles in which the footwork is the most important part of the dance). I was the advising counsellor for the Black Students League -BSL exists to promote and educate the EU community about African American and black culture through events, services, lectures, and activities. I was the outreach coordinator for the Multicultural Awareness Advisory Committee (MAAC) – which is a diverse group of students who plan events and activities for the EU community designed to increase cultural competence and multicultural awareness.
Significantly in line with these achievements, I represented Sierra Leone as a youth delegate to the Youth Assembly and at the UAE’s National Youth Debate (which Sierra Leone emerged as the winner). I hold an executive position in the United Nations Department of Global Communication -NGO division Youth Committee. I am a member of the Zero Sub Committee on the Commission of the Status of Women; I am a consultant to the New Future Foundation and held the secretary position on the youth committee to the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa.
I served as a Youth Representative to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs where I assisted in providing leadership in formulating and implementing programs; helped determine priorities and allocated resources for the completion of outputs and their timely delivery, and assisted in auditing Non-governmental Organizations compliant with the sustainable development goals.
Further, I serve as Vice President to the Leo Division of the New York Young Global Leaders Lions Club, where I encourage youth to develop leadership qualities, conduct projects in the fields of health care, and service to elders, children, and the disabled, as well as literacy and self-development; I also volunteer for community activities and youth-related services including the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International Worldwide in New York.
I stand with the BlackLivesMatter movement. We are a collective of liberators who believe in an inclusive and spacious movement. We also believe that in order to win and bring as many people with us along the way, we must move beyond the narrow nationalism that is all too prevalent in Black communities. We must ensure we are building a movement that brings all of us to the front.
My greatest milestone above all has been to seek God and find Him in the most uncommon places.’’
What was your inspiration?
“It was my hope that I would one day work with world leaders, and become a leader, advocating for the growth and development of young people. My hope allowed me to view my struggle as a refining process, it allowed me to regard roadblocks as opportunities to extend compassion to others. My hope rested in God, gave me the courage and determination I needed to leave what was familiar and move to the U.S. It is that hope that has led me to where I am now, Permanent Youth Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations.
It is that hope that I want to encourage you all with. The hope that no matter how difficult, despondent or depressing life is, you will always be able to overcome it. And no matter how many dark threads life has tried to weave into your tapestry, you must wear it with pride, like a cape, and be determined to make it through.”
What is your message to young people in Sierra Leone?
“Step into the water, get your feet wet and be sure to know that God will meet you halfway. He wants to see you move before He moves.”like What You Read? Buy Us A Drink