Vickie Remoe Institute of Digital Communications

Sierra Leonean-American wins $90,000 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship

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Saidu Tejan-Thomas, Jr.

Proud East End Borbor and Peabody award-winning podcast producer Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. continues to make Sierra Leone famous for all the right reasons. The poet and writer is one of thirty recipients of this year’s Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Saidu is the first Sierra Leonean-American to win the prize in its 27 years. The fellows are outstanding immigrants and children of immigrants from all over the country and the world pursuing graduate school in the United States.

Saidu’s fellowship allows him to pursue a long-held dream of becoming an actor. I caught up with him in Manhattan last Fall, and he told me he had taken a break from podcasting because his heart has always been on the stage. Little did I know that the east-end borbor was already making major moves! i bi ma! (you may remember this “Love and Other Exports” report by Saidu in 2022 about East End mandem’s quest to find love online for This American Life).

Saidu emigrated to the US in 2001, when he was eight. Like most Sierra Leoneans born in the 90s, his early years were also the country’s worst––Salone’s civil war started in 1991 and ended in 2001. He moved to the US to live with his mom, the late Ms. Aminata Sumah. Like most Sierra Leonean-Americans, Saidu grew up in the DC Metro Area (DMV). He attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where he studied communications. At VCU, he discovered his talent for poetry and performance.

An internship at National Public Radio helped him hone his storytelling skills, leading to podcast production opportunities. “Uncivil,” the podcast he co-produced at Gimlet Media, a national podcast production studio, won the Peabody Award. He also produced the highly acclaimed “Conviction” and “Mogul” and hosted “Resistance.” Saidu’s work highlights agency, joy, and resistance in the lives of Black and Brown people worldwide. With the MFA (which he’ll start in the Fall), Saidu hopes to merge his love for performance, storytelling, and journalism.

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans is a $90,000 merit-based fellowship. The 2025 fellowship application is now open to citizens, green card holders, immigrants, and children of immigrants. For more information.

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