As a journalist and non-profit communications professional, Aleesa Mann believes in storytelling and making an impact.
She began her career at Politico before spending three years in the Peace Corp as an ICT teacher in Mozambique. Currently she lives in Tanzania where she is a communications officer for Africans Rising, a Pan-African movement of people and organizations, working for justice, peace, and dignity.
“We largely support grassroots activists across the continent and in diaspora through movement building, whether that’s trainings, rapid response support, or as a networking platform for these different, smaller organizations,” says Mann.
“I manage communication campaigns, and develop strategies and materials that promote our ideas as a Pan-African social movement,” says Mann.
But she realized that in order to develop strong communication strategies, Africans Rising needs to have a stronger understanding of their membership. That meant exploring their audience data.
“From there I realized that I want to get deeper into this world of data,” says Mann. “I love writing, but all of our writing, especially in this nonprofit space, is based on the ability to have strong data.”
That realization inspired thoughts of a career pivot to data where she could make an even greater impact.
“Many grassroots movements and small nonprofits can benefit so much from data analysis, but they typically don’t have those skillsets on staff,” says Mann. “They also do not have contacts in the advocacy world that can contribute that statistical insight.”
“I can be more of a resource for these organizations and help them capture and use their data. Or I could even do that for policymakers,” says Mann. “Because I think the perspectives of women, Black women, Africans, and people with Pan-African perspectives is not represented within the statistical profession.”
As she explored master’s programs in data science, Mann knew Meharry was the only choice. In fact, it was sort of a homecoming, even if she is taking the online program in Tanzania.
“I am from Nashville, attended Meharry daycare, and my grandfather graduated from and taught at Meharry’s School of Dentistry,” says Mann.
It was also important for Mann, who attended Howard University for her bachelor’s degree in print and online communications, to return to an HBCU.
“I really wanted the particular learning experience that HBCUs can provide,” says Mann. “I also like Meharry SACS’s focus on diversifying the data science field. Meharry was the only choice.”
The transition from writing to studying data science has been challenging at times. As has the eight-hour time difference. But Mann has enjoyed the experience so far and the virtual environment allows opportunities for her to interact with her classmates.
She also hopes to use her new data skills to further contribute to the visibility of Black and African realities and needs on an international level, as well as other interests in human rights and the Black community in Nashville.
Mann is also volunteering with the Black Nashville Assembly, a local political mobilization.
“We are looking at the relationship between the Black community and politics in Nashville,” says Mann. “We’re exploring the data and how we can analyze it to identify our priorities for Black communities in the city.”
When Mann finally completes her transition to data science, she is confident her communications experience will be an added strength.
“The ability to tell a story is essential to data analysis and statistical learning,” says Mann. “And I think we underestimate the importance of the ability to communicate ideas clearly. My experience with storytelling and data should work great together.”