Francisca: Advisor to her peers

“Pathways taught me to have the courage to speak up for myself and to speak in front of people and have confidence.”

In her native Ghana, there are many poignant proverbs, but there’s one in Ewe, one of two traditional languages Francisca fluently speaks, that characterizes her entrepreneurial spirit. It translates into English: “The market is not full of traders on ordinary days; it is full on market days — great things don’t just happen; they have to be planned.”

At New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) this fall, Francisca plans to follow the path so many generations of independent West African women across multiple ethnic groups have blazed across the Atlantic: trading and commerce.

“I love to make things with my hands — bracelets and necklaces,” says Francisca, whose passion for handcrafting gave way to her own business, Royal Beads Design. “I really want to develop the finance side,” she says, “because I’d like to gain knowledge about how to manage money.”

Francisca, a graduating senior in Newark, learned how to make bead jewelry through a virtual internship in her junior year. She bought beads online, then marketed her products by creating an Instagram page. Francisca cultivated her business acumen in unusual circumstances — in 2020, in the throes of isolation brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic — and now makes custom-designed pieces for her customers. Francisca plans to study computer graphic design and finance at NJIT.

Membership in Pathways has provided a forum to share her dual Ewe and Twi heritage with her fellow Scholars — particularly, her African American peers — whose knowledge of sub-Saharan African cultures may be limited.

“Sometimes I’d see on Instagram people posting about all of Africa being poor and that offended me a lot,” says Francisca, who partly grew up in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. “It’s not like that at all.”

Francisca says she literally gave Scholars a taste of Ghana with two of her country’s famed delicacies — peanut butter stew, and fufu, a stew made of cassava, meat and plantains, that is eaten by hand.

Conversely, Francisca’s interactions with fellow Scholars have her wanting to educate her Ghanaian friends about the continuing African American struggle for equity and justice in the United States.

“Sometimes people in Ghana ask me how African Americans are treated here,” Francisca says. “I tell them that they aren’t treated the way we treat our people; how they are treated is different.”

Pathways sessions also have given Francisca a space to hone her leadership skills.

“I used to be very shy, but Pathways taught me to have the courage to speak up for myself and to speak in front of people and have confidence,” Francisca says. “I’m very optimistic. My peers now ask me for advice — I never thought I’d be such a person.”