African American Studies


Interviewee: Zainabu Sesay-Harrell

Interviewers: Dr. Mark Naison, Dr. Jane Edward, Dr. Bernard Hayford, and Kojo Happa

July 21st, 2010

Summarized by Andrea Benintendi

Zainabu Sesay-Harrell is an African American nurse who was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 1977. As a young child, Zainabu’s family came to America and settled on Long Island, in the town of Roosevelt. Her family strove to combine the new American culture with their Sierra Leonean culture through food, festivities, and language, and would often travel back to their home country to visit with family and friends. Zainabu’s mother would prove to be extremely influential in her life, as she kept the family’s Sierra Leonean roots strong, and introduced her daughter to the healthcare fields. In 2006, Zainabu settled permanently in the Bronx after many moves throughout the five boroughs. She presently lives in Kingsbridge Heights, the Van Cortland Manor area, and works as a nurse for the Veterans Association. She is also the president and founder of the New York Chapter of the Sierra Leone Nurses Association, and is a member of the National Black Nurses Association and New York State Nurses Association. From there, Zainabu dedicates much of her time and personal resources to try to improve her home country of Sierra Leone, as well as its health care system. She raises money to donate to the hospitals, and donates supplies herself, including anything from ace bandages to generators or plywood. Zainabu has also hosted collections for basic objects to send over to Sierra Leone as well, including clothing, mattresses, furniture, and anything else that would better the lives of the citizens. On her vacations in the country, Zainabu devotes a few days to volunteer her time and energy at local hospitals. She also advocates for others to follow her lead.

Though her efforts to aid Sierra Leone are remarkable, it is also worth noting what she has accomplished here in the United States. Zainabu has worked with the Sierra Leone Nurses Association to develop programs that encourage vaccinations for African immigrants, as well as advocating for HIV/AIDS testing. She has also fought to make it easier for Sierra Leonean men and women to become nurses, hoping to use the nursing books, courses, and curriculum seen in the United States to improve the nursing schools in Africa. She believes that by doing this, it will financially aid the health care system in the U.S., while simultaneously helping to fix those struggling countries in need of medical personnel and good education. Zainabu recognizes the red tape and the barriers that come with improving any country, including anything from the government apprehension to people’s reluctance to get involved. She believes, however, that small changes such as painting a facility or donating 20 beds could go a long way to improving the overall health and prosperity of a nation. She hopes the next generation will do even better than she, and encourages the education of children to build a better foundation for her country.

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Harrell, Zainabu.mp4 (174129 kB)