The Member of the Month initiative showcases the outstanding contributions of ACT's community leaders. ACT's members are as diverse as the African continent from which they come. They are at the heart of this organization. They are the reason why ACT fights everyday for language access, economic opportunity, and a fair chance for a better tomorrow.
Click here to check out the Member of the Month profiles!
Amaha Kassa is ACT’s founder and Executive Director. Amaha is an Ethiopian immigrant with 22 years of professional experience as a labor and community organizer, nonprofit director, and social entrepreneur. For nine years, Amaha directed East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, a workers’ rights nonprofit in Oakland, California, growing it from a startup to one of the leading organizations in its field. Prior to launching ACT, Amaha earned his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley and a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School. In 2012, Amaha launched ACT with the support of a Black Male Achievement Fellowship from Echoing Green and Open Society Foundations. Since then, ACT has grown into a membership organization with chapters in New York and D.C., run several successful policy campaigns, and emerged as a key voice on African immigrant issues.
Akinde Kodjo-Sanogo is Lead Community Organizer with ACT in New York. Akinde brings to ACT extensive experience with New York’s African immigrant communities. For over a decade, Akinde served as an outreach worker for a child development project affiliated with New York University, which Akinde first encountered as a parent leader. Akinde is active in the Ivorian community, with African women’s organizations, and with her religious community, which is one of the largest African mosques in New York City. Akinde is fluent in five languages, including English, French, and Mandingo.
Audu Kadiri is a Community Organizer with ACT in New York. Audu has over 15 years of experience working in community outreach, public health, and human rights. Audu previously worked as Head of Programs for the International Center for Advocacy on Rights to Health in Abuja, Nigeria where he coordinated HIV prevention projects, documented human rights violations against gay men, and coordinated Nigeria’s first clinic serving this population. Audu sought asylum in the US in 2014, after Nigeria passed a bill criminalizing LGBT rights advocates. Since arriving in New York, Audu has continued his health advocacy work, volunteered for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs as a Yoruba interpreter and for the HIV/AIDS advocacy organization Housing Works, and organized with the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project. Audu holds a BA in Banking and Finance and recently completed a diploma in International Humanitarian Assistance at Fordham University. He is fluent in Yoruba and Afemi.
Bert Bayou joined ACT as the Chapter Director for ACT’s DC office in January 2019. Originally from Ethiopia, Bert has lived in the US since 2001. Bert has a Master’s Degree in International Development and Social Change from Clark University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations from Addis Ababa University. In Ethiopia, Bert worked in humanitarian aid and development for the United Nations World Food Programme. After moving to the US, he became an organizer for Unite Here, a labor union serving the United States and Canada. In 2014, he was elected President of Unite Here Local 23, the Washington D.C. Chapter. In his time as a chapter president, the union has seen a dramatic increase in organized members and raised the wage standards for hospitality workers in the DC area. One of its greatest achievements was organizing close to 600 workers in the DC airports and leading a successful airport minimum wage campaign that raised wages for all DC airport workers over $4.00 an hour. Bert is fluent in Amharic.
Diana Konate is Policy Director in ACT's D.C. office. Prior to joining ACT, Diana worked at the U.S. House of Representatives as a legislative aide and scheduler to Congressman Bill Foster. While a congressional staffer, Diana also served as President of the Congressional African Staff Association (CASA), an organization with a mission of educating the Capitol Hill community on Africa policy issues through regularly held briefings. Diana was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. She moved to the U.S. at 8 years old and was raised in the Liberian community. Diana holds a J.D. from Michigan State University College of Law and a B.A. in Political Science from Old Dominion University.
Hamza Abdulmageed is ACT's Operations Manager. He is an accounting professional with over 20 years of experience in managing day-to-day financial operations, reporting, and auditing. Born in Ethiopia, he worked in Yemen as the primary accountant for a major hospital, and served as an auditor for the country's largest telecom company. Hamza provides individual tax preparation for low-income individuals as a volunteer. He speaks Arabic, Oromo, and Amharic.
Hiwot Berihun is the Legal Director at ACT’s DC office. Raised in Northern Virginia, Hiwot attended University of Virginia where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Economic and Anthropology. After working for Booz Allen Hamilton as an IT Project Manager for five years, she earned her Juris Doctor from Washburn University School of Law. Hiwot practiced immigration law serving individuals and businesses in private practice for several years before joining ACT. She is a member of the Maryland Bar Association and American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). She is admitted in Maryland. Hiwot is fluent in Amharic.
Jainaba Camara Ceesay is a Program Assistant in ACT’s New York office, where she coordinates immigration legal services for ACT members and clients. Jainaba was born and raised in The Gambia, where she worked for 13 years in office administration and finance. Before joining ACT, she served as an Administrative Officer at a Gambian nonprofit organization, National Farmers Platform. Jainaba earned her diploma in Business Studies and her Advanced Diploma in Banking and Finance. She speaks seven languages, including Mandingo, Wolof, Fulani, Mandinka, and Krio.
Khadim Niang is the Civic Organizer at African Communities Together. As Civic Organizer, he represents ACT in advocacy and coalition work, including the City of Refuge Coalition. Khadim was born in Senegal and immigrated with his parents to the United States at the age of four, growing up in Harlem's Senegalese community. Khadim earned his bachelor’s in Political Science from Wheaton College and a Master's in Global Policy from the University of Maine. As an international human rights advocate, Khadim developed programs in Adult Sexual Health in The Gambia and worked with Syrian refugee families in Turkey to document their experiences, monitor human rights compliance, and promote integration into Turkish society. He has also worked in education, youth development, and cultural programming with Harlem Children's Zone and the Schomburg Center for Black Research and Culture. Khadim is fluent in Wolof.
Maimouna Dieye is the Program Manager in ACT's New York office, where she leads ACT’s Community Interpreter program, supervises the development of our African language services worker cooperative, and manages ACT's advocacy to address occupational licensing issues faced by African hair braiders. Prior to joining ACT, Maimouna served as a College and Career Advisor at Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School. Born and raised in Dakar, Senegal, Maimouna has lived in New York since 2007. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from Mount Holyoke College. Maimouna is fluent in Wolof and French.
Sadatu Mamah-Trawill is a Community Organizer with ACT in New York. Sadatu has over 15 years of experience fighting for social justice in New York. While working at a non-union hotel in New York, Sadatu helped organize her co-workers into Hotel Trade Council Local 6, UNITE HERE. Sadatu later joined Local 6 as a professional Organizer. Sadatu continued her organizing with the Retail Wholesale & Department Store Union (RWDSU), where she served as Lead Organizer/Secretary Treasurer for Local 2006. While at RWDSU, Sadatu helped create the Retail Action Project (RAP), an immigrant worker organizing initiative, and served as RAP's Lead Organizer. Over the course of her career, Sadatu has helped thousands of workers to organize and won back millions of dollars in unpaid wage claims. Sadatu is an immigrant from Ghana and is fluent in Hausa.
Qesis (Priest) Waleligne K. Desta is ACT’s Community Organizer for the DC office. An immigrant from Ethiopia, Qesis Waleligne mobilizes the DC area Ethiopian religious leaders, laborers, and community members to push for immigration reform and connect the community to immigration legal services and labor unions, including mobilizing National Reagan Airport and Dulles Airport workers to increase wage and employee benefits and rights. Since 2003, Qesis Waleligne has served as a deacon and priest at Debre Mihret Kidus Michael Ethiopian Cathedral Orthodox Church in Washington, D.C., and sister churches in the DC metro area. As a union member, himself, Qesis Waleligne uses his over 12 years experience working in the public transportation industry to inform his organizing work. Qesis Waleligne is fluent in Amharic.
Board of Directors
Kolu Zigbi is ACT’s President. Kolu is the Program Director for the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Program of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, and has 15 years of experience funding grassroots organizations engaged in organizing and advocacy. Prior to philanthropy, Kolu worked for nearly a decade as an affordable housing advocate and organizer in New York City. Kolu has a degree in Rural Development Studies with a focus on West Africa from Stanford University, studied in the Master’s program in City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, and is currently researching food systems, urbanization, and globalization as a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Kolu’s commitment to the African diaspora is inspired by her grandfather, a Liberian rice farmer and traditional town chief.
Ilana Berger is ACT’s Secretary. Ilana is Interim Director of Hand in Hand: the Domestic Employers Network. Ilana brings to ACT over 20 years of experience in grassroots organizing and leading membership organizations in New York, San Francisco and Miami. For five years, Ilana directed the work of Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), one of Brooklyn’s most effective community organizations. Ilana is the daughter of Jewish immigrants and received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley. Ilana has also served on the Board of Directors of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and New York Jobs with Justice.
Naomi Abraham is ACT's Treasurer. She is a multimedia storytelling & strategic communications consultant to social change organizations. Naomi has more than 10 years of experience working in various roles including as a Director of Communications and a program officer managing a multimillion-dollar immigrant civic engagement fund. In 2010, she transitioned from working in philanthropy and non-profit programming to communications because of her ardent belief in the power of storytelling and messaging for social change. Since then Naomi has had the privilege of consulting with various human rights organizations around the world and working as a communications strategist with groups such as Policy Link, the UN Population Fund, and Video Volunteers. She has also worked as a freelance journalist publishing articles on human rights and social issues for which she was awarded a fellowship with the International Center for Journalists to report on human rights abuses in Uganda and Kenya. She holds graduate degrees in international relations and journalism, respectively, from City University of New York and Columbia University. Naomi is an Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrant.
Afua Atta-Mensah is a Board Member. She is the Executive Director of Community Voices Heard, a statewide community organizing group focusing on housing and job creation for low-income communities. Afua received her Bachelors from Trinity College, where she was a Presidential Fellow, and her law degree from Fordham University School of Law, where she was a Stein Scholar. Prior to joining CVH, Afua was Director of Litigation at the Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center, a staff attorney in The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice Law Reform Unit, the Policy Director at the Center for Working Families, and was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship that sponsored her work at the International Federation of Women Attorneys-Accra, Ghana. Afua has also worked as an adviser to community based organizations throughout New York City and has served as an adjunct professor at Fordham Law. Afua is a Ghanaian-American and a native of The Bronx.
Sekou Siby is a Board Member. Sekou is Executive Director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers- United (ROC United), a national organization committed to improving wages and working conditions for the nation's restaurant workforce. Sekou was a French teacher in his native Côte d'Ivoire, and worked at Windows on the World atop the World Trade Center until September 11, 2001. Sekou was a founding member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, where he served as Community Organizer, Co-Director, and Executive Director prior to joining ROC United in 2012. At ROC NY, Sekou led successful campaigns that improved conditions for hundreds of restaurant workers. Prior to assuming the role of Executive Director, Sekou oversaw organizational finances and
management as well as several local affiliates as ROC Deputy Director. He holds a Master's in Business Adminstration.
Juanita Lewis is a Board Member. Juanita was born and raised in the Sierra Leonean community in Saint Paul, MN. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a B.A. in History and Political Science, and earned her M.A. in Advocacy and Political Leadership from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. In 2004 Juanita began her work as a community organizer with the Minnesota chapter of ACORN. She has worked on numerous electoral campaigns at the city, state and federal level. Juanita worked as a field organizer, campaign manager and fundraiser. She currently serves as the Hudson Valley Organizing Director of Community Voices Heard.