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Life & Work with Zainab Sesay

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zainab Sesay. 

Hi Zainab, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today.
I was Born in Massachusetts and raised in Rhode Island my mother made sure I had everything I needed to be successful. My father wasn’t very present in my life, so she was all I had. I am so grateful that I had family and friends along the way that impacted parts of my life. As a child, many of my essential needs were met but growing up, I noticed emotionally I needed support. I struggled with managing emotions in healthy ways as well as seeing myself in a positive light. My self-esteem was pretty low, and I showed signs of depression. I was never taught how to manage my thoughts and emotions, so I was always spiraling mentally. I understood that my mother could not model what was not modeled for her as a child. She did the best she could with what she had, and looking back, I am grateful for that. 

I attended Rhode Island College and graduated with my B.A. in English & Creative Writing in 2019. I find myself gravitating toward work where I can impact children’s Social and Emotional Learning. I work at an amazing Charter Public school, and I am involved with children’s ministry at my church. I find the development of children so fascinating, so I am always reading and learning how to support children on their journey to discovering themselves as emotional beings. There is this quote that says, “be the person you needed when you were younger.” I live by this quote in a lot of ways because it’s almost as if I am healing my inner child by becoming what I needed. I believe that if my younger self could see me now, she would be proud and feel at ease that we didn’t stay where we were. We have evolved and are still emerging in many beautiful ways. My experience working with children these past 6 years has opened me up to levels of healing and understanding that I wouldn’t have access to if I did something else. Watching kids learn emotional intelligence through the connections and relationships we build is so rewarding to me. I am literally embodying that quote every day by showing up and being the person I needed when I was younger. Advocating for students and being a safe place for kids is not only helping them but also healing me in the process. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It has not been smooth; there were many obstacles along the way. I stumbled into working with children when I realized Dental Assisting was not for me. That was a struggle for me to switch careers after 5 years of working in a dental office. I was pretty hard on myself and doubted my ability to do something different. The way I saw myself affected how I showed up in different spaces. Sometimes I didn’t show up at all; I enjoyed hiding and being in the background. I was present, but I wasn’t visible, and that was a direct correlation to my level of self-worth. Doing things that made me more visible was a challenge for me, and it still is. Discovering more of myself can be terrifying, even when it’s something great, because I feel accountable for what I discover. Regardless of the struggles, it’s such a beautiful journey. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I work as a paraprofessional (1:1 support) at a Charter Public school in Rhode Island. My work consists of supporting children with various needs in the classroom. We strive to create equitable classrooms, and my position fulfills part of that goal. Children with different diagnoses need different things to help them succeed. I love being that person for kids in the classroom. My job is more than just following kids around to make sure they are “good” throughout the day. I have the privilege of imparting to the kids I service support with social-emotional learning, advocating for their needs, building productive habits for their lives, and a snack to cure hangry moods. Most importantly, I get to connect and build relationships with them. The relationship piece is so important at our school, and I love that. I specialize in CPI training, where I learned the skills to safely restrain a child and also rebuild a positive rapport with that student. I also work alongside the special education team where we support students who have some challenges with learning. 

The connections I have built with kids are what I am most proud of. Without that relationship, I would not be able to help them meet any goals they have. Kids have to learn that I am a safe space and they can trust me before I can redirect them. I have seen the growth in some kids that I interacted with daily. Even though they have moved on to 8th grade some still find me in the building just to talk about what frustrates them about their day. That’s a major win to me, and I am so proud of who they are becoming but also who I am becoming. Working with kids has forced me to learn how to manage conflict, my emotions, my expectations of anyone, and so much more. I did not expect this profession to change me and my perspective on life. What a pleasant surprise! 

I almost feel as though I was designed to do this. My capacity for youth is immense, and it is not just seen and felt by the students but also by the adults I work with. There are many who have just as much patience and understanding as I do, but nobody can be me better than I can. I stay in my lane and try to show up every day for everyone around me and myself. 

What’s next?
I am looking forward to and planning on getting my master’s degree in English or Education. I love the idea of possibly working to make sure classrooms are equitable in all schools. There are so many kids going to school every day without the support they need to succeed. I would not mind being a part of that change in classrooms across the country. I also really love to write! I have been writing on my blog for so many years now I have lost count. I pour into my blog Beautifies the Meek, whenever I have inspiration. I love writing about my faith and anything else that has my heart at the moment. 

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