Ibrahima Sow is a servant-leader and an advocate passionate about creating opportunities to improve equity among marginalized groups. As a network director with United Way of Central Ohio’s Success by Third Grade movement, he collaborates with regional school districts and community partners to eliminate barriers to learning and implement systems-level change, ensuring that every child is on a pathway to success by the end of third grade. On top of his full-time job, Sow currently serves as the chair of the Ohio New African Immigrants Commission (ONAIC) and he’s pursuing a doctoral degree in organizational leadership from Franklin University.

It’s safe to say he has a lot on his plate, so when Sow met Foundation Executive Director Angie Lloyd earlier this year, it would have been understandable if he kept the conversation to small talk. Instead, he and Lloyd discussed how to increase access to legal help for the more than 69,000 African immigrants living in Ohio, a community that often can’t afford help and distrusts the legal system.

“The justice system is completely new for many African immigrants, and so there’s a lot of knowledge that still needs to be shared about how the system operates,” Sow said. “We want people to be informed about what they need when it comes to legal challenges and concerns, not only in terms of immigration, but anything from housing discrimination to employment discrimination.”

Lloyd connected Sow with the Ohio Justice Bus and ONAIC held an inaugural legal clinic with the Bus at the end of April. The clinic not only served as a place where attendees could receive legal advice, but also provided an educational opportunity for community members to learn more about the resources available to them.

“We’re excited to trial and pilot the clinic, and hopefully expand into other counties across the state,” Sow said.

Connecting African immigrants with groups like the Ohio Justice Bus is only part of Sow’s role at ONAIC, a state commission that advocates for sub-Saharan African people in Ohio to decision makers such as the Governor, general assembly, state agencies, and local governments.

Sow understands African immigrants’ unique needs. Born in Senegal, Sow immigrated to the U.S. as a child with his Mauritanian mother, who fled violence in her home country and stopped school in fourth grade. With his family safely established in the U.S., Sow and his siblings completed the education their mother never had access to; all have graduated college, and Sow and his brother have master’s degrees.

As Sow pursues his doctorate, he is weaving together his passion for equity, commitment to serving marginalized groups, role at United Way, and firsthand knowledge of how education can transform lives. His course of study will explore the many factors that affect early childhood literacy.

“I’m interested in looking at the social determinants and how to mitigate those barriers so that students can learn with peace of mind, a full stomach, and stability at home.”

The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation funds and supports the Ohio Justice Bus. Visit www.ohiojusticebus.org for a complete list of clinics and to volunteer.