SJandNawehGrowing up as a child in Liberia, I felt there was nothing I could not do. My confidence came from the adults around me who saw potential in me, who supported my development, who showed me the possibilities through the lives they led. Rising from poverty, my parents created a life of possibilities for us while keeping us grounded in hard work and humility. They made me believe that I could be a business owner like my grandmother, a teacher like my grandfather, a doctor like my aunt, a judge like my grandaunt. I could be anything because people who looked and spoke like me had done it! I had their shoulders to stand on, their wisdom to heed, and their guidance to carry me.

However, my confidence deflated like a bursting balloon when I relocated to America. I didn’t know of Liberians, in the Diaspora, doing the things I dreamed of doing. My once inevitable success became an illusion as fear replaced confidence. While the opportunities were innumerable, the possibility of my achieving them seemed slim. I remember how many hours I spent in my college library hoping to find a scholarship description that would apply to me. I was an honors student involved in many extracurricular activities but most opportunities did not apply to a refugee student on Temporary Protected Status (TPS). I remember the tears from such uneventful pursuit. Yet the next day, I’d brace myself and go back to search for more scholarships in hopes of finishing college.

When the scholarship route failed, I started working several jobs and braiding hair for money. My confidence was shaken but I wasn’t going to give up without a fight. I learned to find my way with the strong support of my “uneducated” family members who refused to give me a way out by decreasing their expectations of me. I learned to treasure the mentors—many of whom looked nothing like me that God placed in my life. I learned by trial and error. I learned from my mistakes. In time, I began to see what others saw in me.

My journey to now has been fulfilling. Yet I wonder where I would be had I known there were shoulders, in the Diaspora, that I could have stood on? I wonder how many mistakes of others I repeated because I just didn’t know better. I wonder how far I would be today. Do you ever wonder?

Many Liberians, like me, may not have known all the possibilities available to us and many more may not have benefited from a scholarship while pursuing their education, but we can now be a part of sustaining an avenue for youths in our former state, to see the possibilities and receive financial support. Liberian Awards is that avenue!

People sometimes ask me why I started Liberian Awards. The shortest answer I can give is to fill a void in our community. I believe that majority of our community lacks awareness of the successes of Liberians in the Diaspora partly because of the size of the Diaspora in comparison to home. I also believe that our youths are beginning to question why our words and actions differ. Too often, we’ve not lived our expectations of them.

Liberian Awards, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, addresses the void of awareness and mentorship. We recognize Liberian professionals who have excelled in the Diaspora. We honor and celebrate their accomplishments in the presence of Liberians, Americans, and other nationalities. We introduce our youths to the brilliant pioneers before them and we pair them with these high-achieving Liberians as mentors.

Liberian Awards brings our community together and displays our intellectual stars and future stars before the world. We create a sense of pride, inspiration, and hope within the community in the Diaspora. We build confidence in our youths while providing them financial support so that they can never doubt that they too can do anything because of the shoulders they stand on! In short, Liberian Awards serves our community by dealing with the problems of our past, by celebrating the triumphs of today, and by investing in the feats of the future. Will you join us?

Samantha Divine Jallah