Born and raised in Harlem in New York City to two immigrants from Mali, Africa, Kadidiatou (Kadi) Magassa ’13 has long been passionate about supporting and empowering marginalized communities. As a teenager, Magassa served on the Youth Leadership Council of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a nonprofit that works to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty with comprehensive, on-the-ground programming that builds opportunities for children, families, and communities. She also was instrumental in the development of HCZ’s Umoja Media Project, an award-winning community development project that brought together the West African and African-American communities in Central Harlem.

“She was in ninth grade and was already clearing a path to be a dynamic leader focusing on global human rights,” marvels Ihsan Muhammad, director of strategic partnerships at the nonprofit Community Education Building in Wilmington, Delaware, who was a department manager at HCZ at the time.

When it came time to choose a college, Magassa was drawn to the close-knit community atmosphere at Southwestern University, where she majored in international studies with a disciplinary focus in political science and a geographical emphasis on Africa. She studied abroad twice, once in Lesotho and once in Mali, and was active with the Coalition for Diversity and Social Justice, which provided her with opportunities to work with at-risk populations throughout Texas.

After graduating from Southwestern, Magassa joined the Peace Corps, serving as a preventive health volunteer for three years in Senegal, West Africa, where she taught schoolchildren about bacteria and the importance of handwashing and trained healthcare providers to detect and prevent malaria. After returning to the U.S., she worked briefly as a domestic violence case manager at Sauti Yetu Center for African Women and Families before joining HCZ as a strategy coordinator. She later served as interim assistant director of a parenting program at HCZ called the Baby College.

“Kadi made an immediate impact at HCZ, and I have been impressed with her work ethic, determination, humility, caring, openness to feedback, desire to learn and improve, meticulous organization, willingness to take on any project or task, and initiative and resourcefulness,” says Lauren Scopaz, vice president of strategy and operations at Stamford Cradle to Career in Stamford, Connecticut, and former director of strategic initiatives at HCZ. “Kadi is one of the most driven young women I know. She is tireless in both her personal and professional desire to improve the lives of others and fight for human rights.”

While leading the Baby College, Magassa and her team worked directly with parents and caregivers of young children during weekly sessions that covered appropriate discipline, early immunization, and healthcare information that ensured adequate care at home. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she successfully transitioned the in-person program to a virtual format, ensuring parents still had the resources and support they needed.

Now a diversity, equity, and inclusion program assistant and student in the master of public administration in development practice program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Magassa is exploring how the relative inclusion of diverse groups in America’s national identity can strengthen its work with foreign nations. She hopes to serve as a foreign service officer for the U.S. Department of State after graduating.

“I know that it is only a matter of time before Kadi joins the growing legions of powerful women leaders who shape the global landscape: the ambassadors, the senators, the prime ministers, and the vice presidents,” Muhammad says. “Kadi is cut from the same cloth as these women. She continues to impress everyone with her fierce commitment to human rights and human excellence.”

For her commitment to the well-being of humanity and passion for making the world a better place, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor Kadi Magassa with the Distinguished Young Alumna Award.