Beyond NYU: Decoding inner-city stereotypes
Each week, WSN sits down with an NYU student, faculty member or alum who’s making change beyond NYU. SPS senior Aboubacar Sall shares how his media company works to deconstruct the negative stereotypes associated with under-resourced neighborhoods.
Oct 3, 2022
Bronx natives Aboubacar “AB” Sall and Fredo Figueroa have been confronted with negative stereotypes about their community all throughout their lives. After graduating from high school together in 2019, they began to discuss how they could push back.
In May, Beyond Your Stereotype Media was born — a digital media company that aims to confront negative preconceptions about inner-city communities while highlighting the positive achievements of their neighbors. Sall, who studies data analytics at NYU, works with Figueroa and a team of around a dozen New York City students and residents to produce videos, social media content, a magazine — and soon merchandise — all under the BYS brand.
In an interview with WSN, co-founder and CEO Sall highlighted the gap that he sees between media coverage and the reality of under-resourced communities and shared more about the company’s video series.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WSN: How did the idea for BYS come to be?
Sall: Growing up in the inner city, we’re taught that there aren’t many ways to make a sustainable life for yourself. We’re supposed to rap or entertain or play a sport or do things that lead to our demise. But there’s way more than that. As I get older and I’m exposed to way more great things, I’m inclined to give that information back to youth. And although I’m trying to fight the stereotypes that are based on our community from outside our community, we’re also trying to fight the stereotypes within our community to break down barriers there as well.
WSN: Why did the BYS team decide that creating a media company was the most effective way to spread that message?
Sall: We thought of it as the best way to start off resources-wise, and as well as with connecting with people. We consume media every day whether we like it or not. What we see in the current media channels — what goes viral and what gets publicized — isn’t always portraying our community or various other communities, so we saw that as the most efficient way to make an impact. We saw media as the best way to make a direct impact.
BYS produces three main video series — Your Narrative, Spotlight and Untold Stories — and regularly uploads them to YouTube. The first episode of Your Narrative was released in September and features Saquon Singleton, who went to the same high school as Sall and Figueroa and now plays basketball at George Mason University. Kicking off with Singleton’s story, the series allows athletes to control their own narrative off the field.
The BYS Spotlight series pinpoints positive events and contributions within the Bronx. The first episode of the series featured a basketball tournament held by community members Aminata Kante, Keilyn Blanco, Ali Sillah and Beyagy Sillah. The event brought participants from Brooklyn, Queens and Harlem to the Bronx and included a “Battle of the Boroughs” game, among other activities. Sall said that the series will continue to cover positive community-building events like these, which he believes are often overlooked by the mainstream media.
WSN: What video kicked off the production process at BYS?
Sall: We first started off with the Untold Stories talk show. It’s the talk show that I host and we have two episodes out now, one with Savannah Hosley. I met her through NYU. We spoke about everything from finance to the college experience. What tempted us to start that specific series of talk shows was essentially us wanting to highlight everyday individuals that are doing great things in communities that can inspire the youth and just ordinary people to do great things. Our main thing with that series is to hone in on the fact that you don’t have to be a superhero or one of a kind to do amazing things. You can be ordinary and you can all excel at what you do.
WSN: What is your favorite video that you’ve produced for BYS?
Sall: I really like the second episode we did with the “Untold Stories.” I love all of those, but the second one we did was with Daman Brown, former basketball coach, Amateur Athletic Union coach, just a lifelong mentor that we all know. We were able to talk to him about everything from basketball to academics. He’s been a staple in the community, just helping individual kids — whether it’s with the pursuit of basketball, academics — he’s just been very supportive. So just to have that sit down with him and just reflect on his journey. It was a great conversation and that has to be my favorite so far.
The team, and the brand as a whole, follows six core values — be bold, be passionate, be creative, be ambitious, be the difference, and execute. Sall said that working with the BYS team and witnessing its support for his and Figueroa’s project has been an incredible experience, despite the hard work and long hours that go into video production and the brand’s other initiatives.
Sall added that he has seen negative stereotypes about his community come from its own members as well. He hopes to empower his friends, family and neighbors to realize their full potential and push the limits of the expectations of others.
WSN: Have you seen the impact of BYS on your community so far?
Sall: I’ve heard a lot of feedback from it. I was at the barber shop the other day and saw a friend that I talked to about this specific series before we started it. I saw him that day and he was like, “You said you were gonna do it, and you did it, and I’m proud of you.” A lot of people in our neighborhood don’t do things like this, so it’s definitely very receptive in our community. They just want to see us do more things like this.
WSN: What is your vision for the future of BYS?
Sall: The long-term vision for BYS would be to start producing films — short films and long-term term films — and form partnerships with existing brands. The common goal is to uplift the community and continue to decode and break down all barriers and stereotypes. Long term, the goal is definitely to amplify everybody’s voices and produce a lot of content.
If you know an NYU student, faculty member or alum who’s making change beyond NYU, contact [email protected].
Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected]