Name: Zinhle Essamuah
Hometown: Quincy, Massachusetts, and Maryland
Major/Minor: Major in Journalism & Mass Communication, Masters Degree in Media and Strategic Communication
Campus Involvement: Resident Advisor, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, GW Vibes…and much more!
You were recently awarded GW’s Manheim-Sterling Prize. Congratulations! What is your topic and what inspired you?
I am creating a documentary looking at the impact of the Ferguson and Eric Garner cases on young black adults. And the inspiration behind that was that while all of these trials were unfolding, I saw so many reactions from all of my peers, and specifically the black community, and different actions were taken. Some people marched, some people posted on social media, some people hosted dialogues. But as a storyteller, the first thing I saw was a story that needed to be told, so I created this project and I’m really excited to start it. This documentary is going to be looking at how young, black people responded, what they’re thinking about the future of America’s race relations, and ‘is there hope, or is there not?’ (Check out her documentary website here!)
[Editor’s Note: Zinhle’s documentary, ‘Hands Up’, was made this past March and is an incredible look into the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Here is the Facebook page!)
You’re involved in so much on campus. How do you strike a balance between everything?
Balance is something I’ve had to learn over time during my tenure at GW. I think, for me, the thing that’s kept me most grounded is my faith, which is super important. It’s helped me decide what’s most important to me and then prioritize my activities based on that. But, I would also add that everything I’m involved with on campus I really love and have a passion for, so it kind of makes it not feel like work because it’s all stuff I love. It’s been fun, it’s been wild.
You’re in SMPA’s dual-degree program. Do you want to stay in Washington, DC?
Well, I was awarded the Presidential Administrative Fellowship, so I’ll be here for two more years which I’m very excited about. As for after those two years, I am very open because of my global background. My parents are African immigrants to the United States and I’m the first American citizen in my family, and I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to both countries [Uganda and Ghana] on multiple occasions; I really love traveling and hope to do it for work one day.
You’ve been on Colonial Cabinet for CI (Colonial Inauguration). How was that experience?
CI was wonderful! First of all, one of the reasons I applied to do it is because I love freshmen. That’s why my first year as an RA I was in a freshman hall: I just love their excitement and I love GW and I just wanted to share that with them. So that was really fun. And, it allowed me to mix my loves of theatre and music with GW. What’s better than that? And, of course, there were the khaki shorts and early mornings, and the neon shoes, but it was a great group and it was a cool opportunity to meet people from every corner of campus. I still see my freshmen running around.
What has been your favorite #OnlyatGW moment?
I think college is, like many other things in life, what you make of it. So I’ve enjoyed making the most of my GW experience; every day is kind of like #OnlyatGW, as cliché as that sounds. Probably my top #OnlyatGW moments: working at CNN last semester was incredible and I worked for The Situation Room. As a journalism major, learning from someone as established as Wolf Blitzer was an incredible experience. Other experiences: GW had a leadership conference/retreat this past summer, which featured trustees and other university leaders. I got to host something called the ‘GW Colonial Challenge’, which is like a game show, and that was really cool to, again, mesh my love of art and performance with GW and seeing where the school is going, which is really cool. And my last #OnlyatGW moment–I wrote a play that was featured in The Civil War Project and my play was called ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, and it was shown on Arena Stage in Washington, DC, in October. It was just incredible to, as an undergrad, see my own work being performed by someone else on a major stage. It solidified my love of art and theater.
Who are your role models?
One of my role models is my grandmother, and that’s because she’s just such a strong woman of faith, and such an example of resilience and staying true to your values and being a servant leader–that’s just huge for me. She’s the embodiment of all of that and has done so much for me and my family that I just hope I can make her proud through everything I do. I look up to a lot of people. One of my favorite quotes is, “Instead of being jealous of your peers, be inspired by what they do,” and I think that at a school like GW where everyone is so high-achieving and accomplished, it’s so important to remember that. If you look around campus in that way, you’ll always be inspired by the things people are doing. So, for me, aside from my grandmother, there have just been a lot of mentors and professors, and I could give you an endless list. But everyone can inspire you in some way.