South Bronx college student named Truman Scholar for community activism

Lafayette College President Nicole Farmer Hurd surprises Fatimata Cham with the news that she was recognized as a prestigious Truman Scholar.
Lafayette College Media Relations

A Lafayette College student from the South Bronx is one of 58 college students in the country to be recognized as a Truman Scholar, considered one of the premier graduate scholarships for students who intend to enter governmental work or public service.

Honored for her community activism that touches on both gender and educational inequalities. Fatimata Cham’s environmental activism comes from life growing up in the South Bronx, where auto traffic on the six-lane Cross Bronx Expressway has led to decade-long concerns regarding air pollution and environmental hazards.

The brainchild of controversial New York public official Robert Moses, the Cross Bronx was designed as the first freeway constructed directly across a crowded urban environment. An evergreen ask from community activists and local residents, capping the Cross Bronx could soon be a reality thanks to a recently approved $1 trillion infrastructure plan to fund it.

Cham said her drive for activism was rooted in how her fellow South Bronxites endured the systemic cycles of gun violence, poverty and homelessness.

“I would notice how my classmates would cope with a lot of these things,” says Cham, who enrolled into an out-of-state boarding school in ninth grade. “That really pushed me into service.”

As a high schooler, Cham founded her own nonprofit called Muslims Matter, dedicated to dialogue about cultural concerns, including early childhood marriage and the role of women in Muslim societies. She also authored a book in 2019, called”Perfectly Imperfect”, in which she tackles topics from mass shootings to beauty standards.

Cham even found screen time on season 2 of Apple TV+ docuseries  “Dear… ” where she and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai appeared on the show together. Much like Yousafzai, Cham hopes that she can be a role model for girls — especially ones who look or think like her —  as proof that their dreams are attainable, no matter the circumstance.

“They can achieve things regardless of standards and cultural stigmas,” she said. “(The Truman Scholar application) is a vigorous process that really pushes you to really think about your future. You reflect on personal experiences and get to know your story better.”

Cham is also a member of the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up mentorship program since 2018. Lafayette officially nominated Cham in January; she learned soon after that she was among 189 finalists out of 705 applicants.

Created in 1975, the Truman Scholarship was created by an act of Congress following the death of President Harry S. Truman, the nation’s 33rd president. In addition to receiving $30,000 toward a future graduate degree anywhere in the world, Truman Scholars also may be given priority placement into internships and jobs within various sectors of public service or government.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes