In many ways, the odds were stacked against Kujegi Camara. Born to Gambian immigrants who settled in the Bronx, she grew up in a working class family, with a modest single income split between a growing family here and relatives back in Africa. At school, classmates teased her for her hijab, which she wore from an early age as a sign of her Islamic faith. The eldest of eight children, she struggled to be a role model for her siblings as she bridged cultures at school and at home.
“I have a responsibility to motivate my seven siblings to achieve success and become someone who can incite change and incite the good and positive in others,” Kujegi says.
That sense of responsibility has carried Kujegi further than she dreamed.
This summer, Kujegi was selected to participate in a leadership training at the Summer Institute in Harlem, part of the Hope Leadership Academy at The Children’s Aid Society. She was one of 40 low-income young people addressing head-on some of the difficulties they encounter in their lives and neighborhoods, gaining the skills and self-confidence they need to become peer educators and to make changes in their own lives, their communities and beyond.
Earlier in her high school career, she began to create a path to college by enrolling in “Money Matters,” a financial literacy program she learned about through Children’s Aid and from which she won a scholarship. Her drive to succeed ultimately earned her a Wick Stern scholarship – also through Children’s Aid – and together, these and other financial support she found and secured have cleared the way for her ultimate reward: a place in the freshman class at Princeton University.
By keeping focused on her schoolwork and staying positive for herself and her siblings, Kujegi has become an inspiration to many.
In late July, she was profiled in the New York Daily News. Typically modest, she says she didn’t know she had a story to tell before this summer. But when people in her neighborhood began to stop her and congratulate her for achievements, she realized that she does and that by sharing it, others just like her can dream big, too.