By Edem Torkornoo
First Published in Ayiba Magazine (September 2012)
Fatima Sesay is the host of SaharaTV’s Youtube show Inside the Diaspora with Fatima. The show covers any and all things that affect the African Diaspora community in New York. Ayiba’s Edem Torkornoo spoke with Fatima about how she came up with the concept of her show, producing it, and being part of the Diaspora community in New York.
Edem: What inspired you to start your show Inside the Diaspora with Fatima?
Working at SaharaTV or SaharaReporters and realizing that there was no connection to the Diaspora. We had stories that were connected to the Diaspora, but I felt like having a show that catered solely to that demographic was a good idea.
Edem: Do you remember your first show?
Yes! I had Solome Lemma. I remember before I started the show, I had a sit down with her and she was very kind. She gave me some guidelines like “you don’t want your Twitter handle to be too long, @insidethediasporawithFatima” and stuff like that. I do remember that I was very nervous. I did not do broadcast in school, I did print, so this was something very fresh for me but I have to say it was a learning experience and every day I’m learning something new.
Edem: How do you pick your guests for your show?
Some of them I have known for years, some of them I come across and I find them interesting. There’s just something about them that pops and so I want to tickle their brain, I want to know what’s going on in your head. For example the last guest that I had, DJ Tunez; I don’t party much but whenever I do, he is there. I’ll say like 85% of the parties I go to, he’s been the DJ or he’s mentioned on the flier or something. So I feel like someone like that needs recognition. If you are doing something that is grabbing people’s attention, you are doing something right. I want to give people the exposure and have people learn a thing or two from them.
Edem: What has been your favorite thing about the show so far?
Going to events. I’ve always loved that. But it’s been a hustle because sometimes I have to go by myself. There’s nobody to go with me. I’ve had to embrace that. It’s helped me learn about myself. I’ve learned that when I have to do something, I do it. If I have all the tools that I need, I know that I can prosper but sometimes there are hurdles that hold you back but I’m being optimistic about it. There’s stuff going on behind the scenes that nobody sees.
I had this professor in college, she actually passed away last year, and she is the one that had faith in me. She’s the one that kept telling me, as a journalist, you have to be tenacious. You have to see what you want and go for it. You can’t sit there and wait for somebody to help you. Ever since she told me that, I’ve understood what she meant. She’s always had faith me. She used to tell me all the time, Fatima I know you are going to make it. Having someone like that tell you they have faith in you is awesome.
Edem: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa. I came to the U.S. in 2001 right after 9/11 happened. So it was very devastating for me because I was scared after having gone through war in the 90s in my country and then coming here, I was like, what’s the difference? What’s so great about America anyway? I remember vividly that day I was in a classroom, I think I was a freshman in middle school and we were in gym class and they called us all and said you have to come in, we have to call your parents. They sat us all down and said something bad has happened and kids started crying. I was like, another war? It’s crazy.
Edem: Why journalism? What piqued your interest in journalism?
I will give you a backstory. When I was in the 11th grade, I started writing for the school newspaper and they made me the editor. Then I started taking photos and realized that I like doing that because prior to that I wanted to be a lawyer. Came to the 11th grade and discovered journalism and the freedom to multitask.
Edem: What three tangible skills would you say anyone who wants to get into journalism should have?
You have to first know how to write. If you don’t know how to write people will discredit your work. You also have to name your sources. You must know how to do that. You have to be able to connect with people so when you go to an event you know how to network, because that’s how you go far. Like they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Finally you have to be factual. You cannot be a journalist and misquote somebody. You can’t misquote President Obama on something. You have to be attentive.
Edem: How would you describe the Diaspora community, especially in New York?
Diverse. Because look, Solome is Ethipoian, you have Saran Kaba Jones who is Liberian, and these are women who are making strides, you know? They get invited to the White House. So just having those women and looking at them makes me know that I have people to look up to. So I will say promising, the Diaspora is promising but at the same time, there’s a divide because people are selfish. They want things for themselves: “I want my organization to shine, I want my videos to get the most likes, I want my article to be the most read.” If we all come together, we will make more of an impact not only here but back home, too, because Africans are very powerful.
Tropical Grill, Club Elusive in Brooklyn, where they have twisted Thursdays. DJ Tunez hosts that. Hair braiding places in Harlem and the Bronx!
Edem: What do you find them doing a lot?
Eating! We love to eat. We love to shop, too.
Edem: Is there anything in particular that you love about being in New York and are there things that you don’t like?
I love that it is very commutable. You can just get up at 2 a.m. in the morning and decide to go somewhere and be able to do so, whether by cab or bus. You may have to wait a little longer but you can just get up and go. Living in New York has made me have a get up and go attitude. I also love the people because they are very honest. They don’t sugarcoat anything. I love the food because you can get any type of food at any time.
I hate that New York is dirty and noisy. I also don’t like the relationship between civilians and the justice system.
Edem: What are you most proud of?
The fact that I can connect with anybody no matter what race you are. If I don’t connect with you then there must be something wrong with you [laughs].
I’m also proud of the fact that when I say I’m going to do something, I do it. That’s something important for being a journalist. You have to be trustworthy. People have to believe you when you give your word. Someone can tell you that I am going to tell you this and I want it to be off the record. You cannot publish that if someone already told you that it’s off the record. You publishing it will make you lose their trust.
Edem: What are your future plans for the show and for yourself?
Short-term goal for the show is to get at least 5,000 views for every episode that airs from now till the end of the year. For long-term goals, I’d say the sky is the limit! The show is not that new because it’s been almost a year since it started but compared to other shows at SaharaTV it is new. I’m learning as I go being that I didn’t study broadcast. As time goes on, it will get better. The quality will get better, I’m getting better, I’m feeling more comfortable in front of the camera, so that’s good.
Personally, my long-term goal is to finish graduate school, which I have just started. I have to graduate at the top of the class. I’m a student at The New School. My end goal is to be a freelancer and become a photojournalist. I’d also have my own non-profit organization to give back.
Edem: Do you have any plans to move back to Sierra Leone?
I do, but I feel like when you say move back you mean return for good. I’d like to be able to go, live there for a couple of months, come back to the States, be here for a couple of months, or another country. I don’t want to be tied down to one place because now everything is online. I can be here and be working for somebody back home.
Edem: Do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?
Believe in yourself. I know it’s very cliché but believing in yourself goes a long way because there are people who are going to tell you how to do things. If you believe in yourself and you feel like what you are doing is the right thing, that’s all that matters. But at the same time you have to take heed to what people tell you. Listen and choose which paths you want to take.