Samantha Kobbah was born in Monrovia, Liberia (West Africa)–one of the poorest, yet incredibly resilient, countries in the world. In the late 90s, her family immigrated to the US, and planted roots in Detroit, Michigan. Growing up, access to quality education was always seen as the gateway to success in the Kobbah household.
Sam’s K-12 education experience sparked her curiosity around education inequities and what leaders can do to ensure that all young people, particularly Black students, have access to quality educational environments that can affirm and cultivate their skills. She began her career in education as an elementary school teacher in Cleveland, Ohio, and later transitioned into the education policy/advocacy arena. For the past decade, Sam has served in various roles at the national, state and local levels of the education system, working alongside top leaders–including education philanthropists, advocates, district and state superintendents, national education thought leaders, former US education secretaries, students and families– to advance a more equitable and just education system. As 50CAN’s Chief of Staff, Sam supports strategic objectives for the network and helps drive progress on organizational goals. Outside of work, Sam enjoys spending time with family and friends and exploring new countries.
She holds a Master of Public Administration from American University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Michigan.
Though my grandmother had but an eighth grade education, she inspired generations—not only in my family but across her community. She was an entrepreneur with an incredible work ethic, charitable spirit (like, literally would give the clothes off her back if someone needed it) and an unwavering faith in the God she served. Her spirit inspires me to continue to advocate relentlessly, support others and to act in service of future generations.
Why I love my job:
Our mission matters on so many levels. I love that I get this unique opportunity each day to work across various aspects of the organization and help our teams advance education policy, strategy and overall outcomes in support of young people around the country.
My connection to public schools:
I am a proud product of Detroit Public Schools. I am forever grateful to my parents for being intentional about which school environment would best develop my younger self. In my early years, I attended Paul Robeson Academy—the first public school program in the country to provide students with an African-centered education. It was at Paul Robeson Academy that I was truly affirmed in my culture, identity, and academic potential. I then spent my high school years at Cass Technical High School, which helped foster my understanding of the level of excellence that would be required to compete educationally with my counterparts across the state and at the collegiate level. Neither school was perfect, but both exposed me to essential tools and levels of understanding—personally and academically—to thrive.
What I’m bad at:
Lying. I can’t make up a lie to save my life, even if I tried. I was definitely not the sibling to go to if you ever needed someone to run with your story to get out of trouble with mom and dad.
The image that represents why I work at 50CAN:
I made a commitment to my former students and myself that I would work relentlessly to make a difference beyond the realms of my classroom walls—a difference that would expand opportunities for them and the students who share their backgrounds. This picture was captured during a normal school day, but it continues to serve as a reminder for me to keep advocating, leading and serving. Each day, our young people are depending on us to do and be better for them.