For many people around the world, the onset of the pandemic was a time to pick up hobbies and to pursue your passions. For Michaella Kosia (Public Allies North Carolina ‘19) this desire to follow one’s dreams was no different.
Lockdown induced re-centering and reflecting encouraged Michaella to propel herself into culinary arts and open up Manifest Kitchen, a food blog and catering business that specializes in West African cuisine. And as an immigrant from Sierra Leone, this was the perfect opportunity to ground herself within her culture and share it with others through food.
“It was definitely an experience jumping into entrepreneurship,” Michaella says. “I don’t have entrepreneurs in my family. It was a lot of self-taught things, finding things out on my own, and trial and error. In my journey of defining myself, I’ve learned that I am very much an educator at heart and I implemented that in my business.”
Michaella partially contributes who she is now to the life lessons that she learned through running her own culinary arts business. “It was nice to do it for a year and engulf myself within making connections, finding out what works and what doesn’t work, and then to come back to what I know and what I can build from,” she says.
“Being a Black immigrant, [you’re told to] work three times as hard,” Michaella says as she recounts her experience emigrating from Sierra Leone, West Africa when she was 5 years old.
“It has definitely contributed to how I show up and see the world. I see the impact that it has on the people around me.  was a huge testament to the fact that we do need each other and that we need to be around our friends and our family. It made me appreciate being able to have those connections and having the time and space to do that.”
However, it was her time serving at the Family Resource Center South Atlantic in Raleigh that allowed her to gain an appreciation for a healthy work-life balance and how our identities inform and shape our experiences.
“Public Allies was a doorway,” Michaella says. “It provided me with an opportunity to advocate and give resources to [marginalized] communities. In my service year, I learned more about the special needs and disabled communities and I’ve become more aware about ableism and ageism. My supervisor really helped me to put that into perspective.”
Despite being the one of the oldest Allies in her cohort, Michaella loved that Public Allies ensured that teams would be diverse in both cultural experiences and thought.
“I love that Public Allies is intentionally diverse and inclusive. We had a lot of Black women, which was different because I’m not typically in spaces where there are a lot of people that look like me,” she says. “Quite a few of the cohort members were a part of the LGBTQIA+ community as well. I didn’t feel uncomfortable and I felt like I could express myself in the ways that I wanted to without backlash. We would talk about race, gender… topics that they tell you not to talk about at work. It was my kind of group. It energized me to be in a space where I could talk about these things.”
Following her 10-months at Public Allies North Carolina, Michaella was hired by her host site as a full-time health information victim advocate. Now, she works as an AmeriCorps program associate at the Conservation Trust for North Carolina where she supports Resilience Corps NC members during their service term by coordinating trainings, planning cohort connection events, building relationships, and strategizing other best practices for member sustainability.
“It’s interesting to be in the position that I’m in now. Now that I’m on the other side of the table, I see it as leverage. I understand the type of experience that they’re having [as] an AmeriCorps member. I can really empathize with the members that I manage as a program associate,” Michaella says.
She also encourages the members she oversees to make their mental health a priority and to find joy in the little things in life. She also recognizes the privilege in being able to make that choice. It’s something that her ancestors didn’t have.
“We deserve to get things, to do things, without struggling,” Michaella says. “I am a strong advocate for mental health and putting your mental health first. In my Black experience and the women that are around me… my aunties and the mother figures in my family they have worked themselves to the bone. I want a different kind of life. But they created better opportunities for me. I’m thankful that my family was supportive in helping me build some of that foundation.”
In her free time, Michaella uses these experiences to advocate for mental health on social media. She hopes to be able to help develop a space to find the value of balance, and encourage others to indulge in creative movement and freedom. And through her culture, Michaella is thankful to find comfort in aspects such as food, dancing, and music.
“One of the major things that I’ve found interesting about the human existence is that we’re always looking for ways that we can connect with other people.. even in the smallest of ways,” she says. “I’m always trying to help out where I can. It’s important to do that because as human beings, we are here to help each other. You never know what kind of impact you’re going to have on others.”