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Gunfire, Poetry, Pharma: An Ivory Coast Immigrant’s Path to UAlbany

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Bullets pierced an area Souhimbou Doh Kone’s father often went to pray.

He remembers that experience from over a decade ago in Ivory Coast, his home nation.

Growing up in a West African nation, Kone would witness armed soldiers with machetes walking down his street. He would hear explosions rumble throughout his neighborhood, bullets rip through the sky, and missiles fly over his roof.

During that time, the Ivory Coast was in civil unrest between the Christian-led government and Muslim rebels. In the Second Ivorian Civil War, Kone, his two brothers, uncle, and niece sought refuge in Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, and Mali.

“There was a bullet on the floor and I picked it up and show it to my brother and we starting talking about it,” Kone said. “It was so casual that now when I think about it, it’s kind of scary.”

During that time, Kone described his experiences through poetry. Now, living in the United States for six years, he writes about a different experience through the same outlet: being black.

“My journey is as dark as the ink, my path is scribbled but have its own style and purpose,” Kone wrote in “Pennmatic,” a poem in ARCH, an online creative writing journal for University at Albany undergraduate students.

Coming to Albany High School in 2011, Kone considered himself an outsider to American culture. In the beginning, Kone claims to have experienced discrimination from peers due to his cultural background.

Despite feeling left out, Kone pushed through high school. While in high school, he won multiple academic honors and became involved with varsity athletics, acting, and hip-hop.

“I might be shunned upon because of my nature, but I’m a highly praised and admired because of the work I can do at the same time as an athlete, as a writer, as somebody who is a scholar,” he said.

At home, his parents struggled to find employment. Their degrees, both in education, were obsolete in the United States.

Kone originally thought his first degree would be from the Albany College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences. Had he finished pharmacy school, Kone by last year would’ve been the only member of his immediate family in the country with a valid college degree.

But that didn’t happen. Disinterested from his studies and flunking two classes, he left. Kone didn’t know why he wanted to work in the pharmaceutical industry.

He went to Hudson Valley Community College and then UAlbany. Now in his senior year, Kone, a public health major, wants to go back to pharmacy school for graduate studies. For him, this time is different.

After college, he wants to use pharmaceutical epidemiology to help treat others with inexpensive medicine in underdeveloped countries across the globe.

“The fact that I’ve been here and learned about public health and epidemiology, I have a better sense of why I want to do pharmacy,” he said. “At first, I was just doing it ‘because,’ which is why I didn’t have as much intrinsic motivation.”

While focusing on a future in STEM, Kone saves time to transfer his experiences through poetry. Most recently, one of Kone’s poems, “Pegasus Flies Away” was selected to appear in “New York’s Best Emerging Poets: An Anthology,” coming out on Wednesday.

“I’m a Renaissance man in a lot of ways,” he said. “Art and science to me are damn near the same thing.”

 

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Tyler A. McNeil is the current managing editor for the Albany Student Press. The Capital Region native previously served as managing editor for The Hudsonian, and as an intern for the Times Union and Capital Tonight.

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