“Dark as night.”
“Your mother kept you in the oven too long.”
These were the kinds of racially charged comments that Nosa Akol walked into on her very first day of middle school, which would mark the first time in her life she’d ever been subjected to bullying.
The results were damaging. Nosa admits to The Root that insecurities started to take over. “I felt really insecure,” the 17-year-old student from Binghamton, N.Y., recalls. “Middle school [is] kind of where people start breaking off into their groups, and that’s where I first experienced bullying, and that’s where my insecurities began taking over and just really started to deteriorate me mentally, emotionally and physically.”
Originally from South Sudan, Nosa, who has a rich, dark skin tone, came to the U.S. with her parents when she was 5 years old.
“Growing up in Sudan, everyone there has the same skin tone; no one points that out. And then, growing up in America, everyone has a different skin tone, so [my parents] wouldn’t, even if I had told them about it, there wouldn’t be any understanding. They wouldn’t really know how to deal with it,” she explains, saying that for this reason, she kept the bullying bottled up inside her.
But Nosa’s story is one of triumph and overcoming her insecurities. The Binghamton High School student, who joined Citizen U 4-H as a freshman, has been announced as the 2015 recipient of the 4-H Youth in Action Award, the highest honor in the organization.
She was chosen out of more than 80 other candidates because of her phenomenal story, in which she overcame her personal struggles while empowering her peers and facilitating positive change in her community. Nosa will be honored at the National 4-H Council’s sixth annual Legacy Awards on April 23 in Washington, D.C.