Malcolm/King Award Winner Hadja Bah ’23 Hopes to Advocate for African-American and Muslim Communities as a Lawyer and Writer

Malcolm/King Award Winner Hadja Bah ’23 Hopes to Advocate for African-American and Muslim Communities as a Lawyer and Writer

Malcolm/King Award Winner Hadja Bah ’23 Hopes to Advocate for African-American and Muslim Communities as a Lawyer and Writer

In celebration of Black History Month, our entire community is recognizing the incredible achievements and contributions African-Americans have made to this country. Aiming for a future that fully embodies the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we’re also applauding the work our students, faculty, staff, and alumni are doing to continue this proud legacy. The College is hosting a series of events during the month of February exploring the African-American experience, its history, and its impact on culture; including Education Emcees: Hip Hop and Community Building; AfroLatinidad; and an African-American Military Heritage Luncheon. The month-long celebration culminates with the 30th Malcolm/King Awards Breakfast on February 28, which honors the legacy of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and recognizes the intellect and determination of our student award winners.

In anticipation of the Malcolm/King Awards Breakfast, we spoke with this year’s award winners to understand what Black History Month means to them and to learn how they hope to advance the work of the African-American leaders that have come before them. Our next student is Hadja Bah ’23, a Political Science major, who hopes to represent and advocate for African-American and Muslim communities through her work as a lawyer and writer. 

“African-Americans have achieved a lot in this society, they helped build this country, and I look forward to continue on that path of greatness.” —Hadja Bah

February is Black History Month. What does it mean to you to celebrate the many achievements African-Americans have contributed to this country?
To me, it feels like we’re finally giving credit where credit is due. For far too long African-Americans—who accomplished and gave so much to this country—remained nameless and unknown in history books and in the culture. African-Americans have achieved a lot in this society, they helped build this country, and I look forward to continuing on that path of greatness. I say that because I believe that it’s not just about celebrating the leaders at the highest levels, it’s also about celebrating those on the local level.

What goals do you have for advancing equality and fairness for all people, especially African-Americans? 
My goal is to become a lawyer, more specifically a prosecutor. In the law field, and other spaces of power, you are not going to see too many people who look like me, or have my same faith or background. I want to be that representation. I want to represent African-Americans and Muslims. I want to show that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you believe in, you can still be in the spaces of power, and you can use that power to do good in your communities. I want to be the type of prosecutor that sees the humanity in people, especially those in the African-American and Muslim communities, who are often overlooked.

“I want to be the type of prosecutor that sees the humanity in people, especially those in the African-American and Muslim communities, who are often overlooked.” —Hadja Bah

If you could have dinner with anyone from African-American history, who would it be and what would you want to ask or say to them?
I’d want to meet Lupita Nyong'o. Seeing her succeed in the field of acting; her winning an Oscar award, which black actors rarely win because they’re rarely nominated; and seeing how she celebrates her skin is truly awe-inspiring. I would really just want to sit with her and talk about her experiences as an actor, the roles she’s played, and the people she’s worked with. I also admire her drive and confidence. Lupita represents dark-skinned beauty, which some people may not see as beautiful, and she celebrates the skin that she’s in. She even wrote a children’s book called Sulwe that celebrates dark skin and talks about how true beauty comes from within to help young kids deal with colorism. I find her to be truly inspiring.

What does it mean to you to receive the Malcolm/King Award? 
As a freshman, winning Malcolm/King award serves as a confirmation that I’m doing the work and that I’m at the right College to reach my goals. To have my effort recognized at such an early stage in my John Jay experience reassures me that when you put in effort to shape your future, you reap the rewards. I’ve been blessed to be here at John Jay and to meet so many people who have helped me on my journey. The College has given me so many opportunities for learning and growing.

If everything goes according to plan—since you’re a freshman we’ll add some extra years—where do you see yourself in 15 years?
In 15 years, I see myself being a practicing attorney who is proactive in local communities and advocating for justice in African-American communities. I also hope to be supporting my parents financially so they can retire—they deserve to relax and enjoy life. And, hopefully by then, I’ll be an accomplished writer with multiple novels already published. Currently, I’m working on what I hope will be my first novel. It’s a story is based on my own high school experience as an African-American who is Muslim.