“Due to schedule changes as well as recent uncertainty surrounding the new COVID variant, we felt it was best to postpone December 2021 travel,” said co-founder of Birthright Africa Walla Elsheikh. “We are, however, excited to launch the Pre-travel Virtual Program now for Birthright AFRICA Scholars to begin explorations of their heritage and culture virtually in order to qualify for the travel opportunity with Jidenna to Ghana in July 2022.”

In 2015, Sudanese American education innovator Walla Elsheikh and global education leader Diallo Shabazz founded Birthright Africa to provide free educational trips for adolescents and young adults of African descent to African countries. Birthright Scholars are encouraged to learn and to be proud of their African heritage.

“We aim to instill pride, enhance confidence, and spark the creativity of our scholars to fulfill their leadership and entrepreneurial aspirations,” said Elsheikh. “As our program continues to grow, we hope Birthright Africa creates the next generation of global leaders and entrepreneurs who are proud of being of African descent.”

Elsheikh is a proud African who was born in Sudan and lived in Uganda before she lived in New York. Elsheikh has almost two decades of experience in mentoring, management and leadership. She has worked with numerous collegiate spaces, served as a program director, consultant and coordinator for small and large nonprofits throughout NYC, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Elsheikn received her MBA in strategic management and social entrepreneurship from Indiana University and her BA in finance from Pace University.

The transplanted-New Yorker told the Amsterdam News, “I want to give people of African descent who are in the diaspora an opportunity to learn about their African roots, that’s really what this program is truly about. No matter the age, it is never too early or late to learn about your culture.”

In September 2021, Birthright Africa and their partners celebrated their fifth anniversary gala. The gala was co-chaired by Grammy Award-nominated songwriter and actor Jidenna, Tastemakers Africa CEO & founder Cherae Robinson, and Manager of Intra-African Trade Initiative at Afreximbank – African Export and Import Bank Temwa Gondwe. It was held virtually and in-person. Along with performances by Day Hodge and Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center, Jidenna and songstress Carmen Rodgers from NYC performed.

The purpose of the gala was to raise funds to cover travel costs for the Birthright AFRICA Scholars who were selected to attend Ghana this month. But now the trip is postponed until July 2022 due to concerns of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron.

In October, Birthright AFRICA launched their national outreach and selected 12 Birthright Scholars in the age range of 13-30 to join the new executive board with board member Jidenna in the upcoming cohort. This would be the first cohort since the pandemic occurred.  

“‘The Return of the Return’ is what we are calling the upcoming cohort. Birthright scholars will embark on the life-changing impact of returning to the motherland and get the special opportunity to connect and reflect on the journey with Jidenna.”

Since the program’s founding, more than 20,000 African descendants were able to register as Birthright AFRICA Scholars and have had access to their virtual self-exploration program. With the partnership of City University of New York, six education partners and community-based organizations, Birthright AFRICA has had more than 60 scholars receive their birthright by traveling to select African countries: South Africa and Ghana.

During the pandemic, Birthright AFRICA has developed virtual programs, self-exploration activities and opportunities where their scholars across the diaspora can connect to the country they will soon visit once it’s safe to resume travel.

By 2025, Birthright AFRICA hopes to become global and have participants all over visiting African countries.

For more information or to check eligibility, register and start pre-travel virtual exploration, please go to https://birthrightafrica.org/birthright-scholars/.

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