Six years ago, Amadou Ly wouldn't have believed you if you told him he'd make newspaper headlines. He'd also have been incredulous if you'd told him he'd face deportation, get high profile politicians pleading his case and that he'd eventually become influential in New York City education.
Six years ago, on Sept. 10, 2001, Amadou had just arrived from Dakar, Senegal, in awe and frightened by the prospect of America. Then 13, he was visiting the States with his mother, but she left him behind when her plans for America fell through. He was entrusted to the care of another Senegalese woman in Indiana, but soon found himself on his own. He shacked up with eight other people in a two bedroom apartment in East Harlem, armed with just the French and Wolof he spoke.
Amadou, now 19, will have you know in spite of all he's been through he doesn't believe in role models, he doesn't really have them and doesn't want to be one. He has a long list of people he respects and finds admirable, New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg being one of them, but who he most wants to be is one who makes a difference in other's lives. And he's already started.
Last month he mentored high school students in the Bronx for a robotics competition, not unlike one he'd taken part in a year before which marked the pivoting point in his life. He also just got approved to work on an education-improvement project, possibly with his former coach, Kris Breton and students in East Harlem.
The beneficiary of a Supreme Court law that allows children a public education regardless of their immigration status, Amadou enrolled in the Central Park East High School, a school with a current graduation rate of 42 percent.
In 2006, in his senior year of high school, Amadou worked with a robotics team, which was equipped with just one computer. They made history by beating more privileged schools in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) regional competition. The national competition was held in Atlanta, Georgia, and Amadou could not make the trip by air because he didn't have a valid ID to board the plane and that was when the media buzz started.
His immigration problems had begun before that, however. After a car accident in November 2004, the investigating state trooper discovered that Amadou had overstayed his welcome, and reported him to immigration services where they began his deportation proceedings.
Two years later, his story was picked up by newspapers. Individuals provided legal and monetary support and politicians Hillary Clinton, Charles Rangel and Bloomberg rallied behind Amadou, securing him a student visa.
"It's a great thing," Amadou said of the help he received. "Something I never thought could happen."
Eventually the deportation charges were dropped. Now Amadou is determined to give back to the community that helped him get where he is today. His mentoring program is only the beginning. He believes technology is the key to getting out of what he calls a bad neighborhood, and he constantly preaches the importance of education. At one point he said, "If you work hard, you get the payback" and at another, "Now's the time to work hard and laugh later."
He is definitely working hard, planning on double-majoring in computer science and economics, mentoring high school kids, and staying up till the wee hours of the morning doing his school work, at the New York City College of Technology.
He seems to have no regrets. And neither does his mother, who always told him to keep his head up and said it was a great thing he went through the hard times, "because I learned it on my own."
Photo Courtesy of: Al Vargas for City Tech