By Patrick Anderson, The Providence Journal
Teddi Jallow’s journey to Rhode Island in the United States began in a rural Gambian village when she realised there was a different world out there from the one she was born into.
She was walking with her mother through the village when a car pulled up and a woman stepped out wearing an expensive dress unlike any Jallow had seen.
The dress was so elegant, and the woman carried herself more confidently than the women in their village.
She asked her mother how she could get a dress like that.
“My mom said she is educated. This is a very expensive dress, and it is only for people who have a big job or work for the government and can afford it,” Jallow recounted.
From then on, her goal was to go to school, get the education the woman in the dress had and expand her opportunities beyond the village, even if it meant walking four miles to school each day.
That education led Jallow to a high school degree and, eventually, at age 24, to Rhode Island, where she rejoined husband Omar Bah, who had fled The Gambia after being targeted by the government for his writing.
The Equity Leadership Initiative
Fifteen years after arriving in the United States, Jallow is co-founder with Bah of the Refugee Dream Center in Providence, a nonprofit that helps fellow immigrants adapt to life in Rhode Island.
And she’s one of the 31 people the Rhode Island Foundation has tapped for the first class of its Equity Leadership Initiative, a project to train and mentor Rhode Islanders of color to take on big leadership positions in the future.
Others in the initial cohort include a nurse, teacher, state police trooper, lawyer, startup founder, former Journal reporter, consultant and several employees of nonprofits.
The foundation’s goal is to provide the class members with advice on how to advance their careers and to elevate their profile within the state.
So, when the next opening for an executive at a major company comes up or a high-profile position at a big nonprofit, the people leading that organisation will not be able to say there weren’t any candidates of color to choose from.
“We hope to introduce Rhode Island to the next generation of decision makers,” said Angela Ankoma, vice president at the Rhode Island Foundation. “Having access, visibility and support is critical to leadership in our state and what the Foundation is trying to do.”
The Equity Leadership class members meet once a month to discuss a particular topic and receive individual mentoring.
The Rhode Island Foundation had intended to pick a class of 20, but there were so many good candidates in the 95 applications submitted the organisation decided to pick 31, Ankoma said. The programme runs each year from August to September when a new cohort begins.
‘More independence and confidence’
Asked what she hoped to get out of the new programme, Jallow said that growing the Refugee Dream Center she founded with Bah is part of it, but it goes beyond that.
“I see it as something to help me though that same journey I started in The Gambia,” Jallow said. “What I am hoping to gain is the sense of more independence and confidence. It is not easy as a Black woman in our society.”
The first class members of the Equity Leadership Initiative are: Adetola Abiade, Adewole Akinbi, Rose Albert, Janelle Amoako, Ana Barraza, Doris Blanchard, Madeline Burke, Michael Cancilliere, Krystal Carvalho, Angelyne Cooper, Steve Craddock, David Dankwah, Rupa Datta, Nwando Egbuche Ofokansi, Yvonne Heredia, Teddi Jallow, Stacy Jones, Silvermoon Mars LaRose, Francisco Lovera, Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, Ray Nuñez, Monsurat Ottun, Alisha Pina, Manuela Raposo, Victoria Rodriguez, Juan Rodriguez, Rosedelma Seraphin, Kajette Solomon, Edward Tavarez, Carla Wahnon and Kilah Walters-Clinton.