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NYer of the Week: Diana Musa Encourages Children to Celebrate Their Roots

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West Africa has been in the news recently because of an Ebola crisis, but for several years, the latest New Yorker of the Week has been teaching city kids about the positive aspects of several countries there. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.

Diana Musa grew up feeling different. She was born in Sierra Leone in West Africa and raised in the Corona section of Queens.

"Adolescence, it's an awkward and it’s a difficult time. It's negotiating and creating your identity. Who am I, and who do I want to be, and how do I want to express myself?" Musa says. "And sometimes, choosing to celebrate your African heritage is definitely a difficult choice."

So, Diana created the place she needed as a teen. In 2011, she founded Telem Center for the African Child, an organization where children of African descent explore their heritage.
In West Africa, telem is a game of tag.

"You get to safe base, you can say, 'Telem, telem, telem.' That means, 'I'm safe, I'm safe, You can't touch me,'" Musa says. "And so this is the space, a collection of these people, both adults and the campers, where it's safe for you to be whoever you are."

Diana and her volunteers offer educational and recreational programs throughout the year.
The workshops introduce elements of African culture to these children, sometimes for the very first time. This year's theme at the group's three-day camp is "Innovate Africa."

"It requires the kids to really reflect on the past in order to bridge into what they should do for the future, holding onto that," says Ogechi Iwuoha, co-founder of Telem Center for the African Child. "So it's not just, 'Let's come here and have fun, oh, family, we're feeling good,' but, 'Let's leave with something.'"

In fact, they leave with many things, including knowledge, confidence and friendships.

"You put the bag on your legs and feet, and then you hop and then you start," says Abdul Deen, a participant in Telem Camp.

"It's nonstop," says Mariam Fofana, a participant in Telem Camp. "Everything here is fun,, it's dynamic."

“I just love my culture now," says Obehioye Elimimian, a participant in Telem Camp. "I used to be embarrassed to say I was from Africa, but now, if I ever say it, I'll scream it out to the world if I can."

So, for encouraging children to celebrate their roots, Diana Musa is the latest New Yorker of the Week.

Web Extra: Watch Diana Musa's Interview on 'The Call'


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