by Veronika Chatlein
September 10th 2001, a then 14-year-old Amadou Ly came half away across the world from Senegal, Africa to join his mother in Harlem, New York. The move was major but Ly’s mother encouraged him it was for a better life. Less than 24 hours later the attacks of 9/11 took place and would change Ly’s life forever.
After the attacks, Ly’s mother found it hard to find work in New York City and made a hard decision to send Ly to live with a close family friend in Indianapolis, Indiana while she would travel back to Senegal to continue her work. A barely English speaking Ly understood that for a better life he would have to accept his move to Indianapolis and make the best of it.
After a three-year stay, Ly was asked to leave his home in Indianapolis and with nowhere to go, Ly headed back to Harlem and lived with neighbors. Ly described living in Harlem as “an experience”. With all doubts set aside Ly continued his education at Central Park East High School.
It seemed as if Ly’s puzzled life was beginning to piece together until his life took a sharp turn. In 2004 Ly and two other friends were involved in a car accident on their way to Michigan, it was then officials found that Ly was an illegal immigrant. Taking immediate action, Ly was sent to deportation where he would be trialed and sent back to Senegal. Through all this, Ly promised the judge to make his court dates while still receiving an education.
After quickly learning the ropes of being a high school student in New York, Ly along with his friends joined a robotics team; “technology has been something that has always interested me, so when I heard about the robotics competition I had to join”. Beating all odds, Ly and his teammates took first place in the regional’s at a robotics competition called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition for Science and Technology). After winning regional’s Ly encouraged his teammates to head down to Atlanta, Georgia for nationals where they would compete against other robotic teams.
Because of Ly’s pending deportation case, traveling to Atlanta would be difficult for him because he was “not documented”. Ly did not let this hold him back; he hopped on the train and made it to the nationals. Although Ly’s team did not snag first place at nationals, he reassured his teammates that “the other competitors were not smarter than them, and they were just as good”.
His return to New York only meant his return to court where he had been previously warned by the judge not to return to court unless he had proper representation. “Some days I didn’t even have money to eat, so how could I afford a lawyer?” Ly was appointed attorney Amy Meselson who would take on Ly’s case and alter his life for the better.
“Amy told me that I had no chances of staying in the U.S, and I had 180 days left before I went back”. It was then that Meselson contacted journalist Nina Bernstein of The New York Times and told his story. Together both Bernstein and Meselson did their best to help Ly. With all the media and with the help of Congressman Charles Rangel, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Senator Hillary Clinton, Ly was granted a student visa and eventually was offered a Green Card. With the light on Ly, lawyers throughout the nation set up a trust fund for Ly to continue his education and live in the United States.
After he was granted his Student Visa, Ly attended City Tech for engineering, but believed acting was his passion so he transferred to Kingsborough Community College for performing arts where he will be graduating this June. Ly is unsure of what school he will be attending next but knows it will be for acting.
Ly has overcome many obstacles but he states that his motivation is “wanting to build a better day for his mother and grandmother who raised him”. Ly never had a regret during his excursion, “at no point did I ever want to give up and go back [Senegal] because at some point the pain will be over”. When asked who his biggest influences were Ly replied “Nelson Mandela because of what he has overcome; Angelina Jolie because she has all the money in the world and still gives back; and Tupac Shakur because his poetry has helped me to overcome my struggles.” Ly has said his life has been a “journey”.
Want to learn more about Amadou Ly? Visit his website at AmadouLy.net