The brand of freedom sold to viewers of one of the nation’s most-watched cable news networks doesn’t reflect the kind Abraham Sisay has come to know, he declared, looking back on his journey from rising Gambian soccer star to Kansas City filmmaker and how it revealed the true definition of the word.
“Fox News was talking about ‘freedom’ a lot … [but it] sounded like a toxic version of what freedom really was,” Sisay said, recalling his decision to launch “The Freedom Project” — a documentary series that chronicles the struggles of mental health experiences in America and the freedom found in reframing perceptions about them.
Expected to debut online in fall 2022, the premiere episode of “The Freedom Project” is set to tackle mental health and wellness in the field of sports, Sisay teased, noting Dustin Colquitt, former Kansas City Chiefs punter, is featured in the series first down alongside Jon McGraw, the team’s former free safety.
“It’s a very beautiful flow of storytelling,” he said of the series, noting McGraw provided a percentage of financing for the project.
A global premiere event is anticipated to coincide with the release of the series, Sisay envisioned.
“We will bring keynote speakers [in] and businesses that prioritize mental health,” he detailed.
“I’m also hiring 50-plus influencers who will be distributing content during the event in different states. I want mental health [awareness to see] a huge global push that day.”
Click here to learn more about “The Freedom Project” or Sisay.
Additional episodes of “The Freedom Project” are expected to explore the effects of human trafficking and childhood trauma — a topic Sisay can speak about with lived experience, he said, noting the series was further inspired by his youth soccer career and the promise it held before his own mental health took a hit.
“I wanted to talk about it, but I didn’t know how to,” he said, recalling the day he watched a childhood friend drown among other traumas he experienced growing up in Gambia.
“One thing that was holding me back was defining myself by my mental illness. I wasn’t giving myself room to grow,” Sisay explained, noting a reframed mindset (and a move to Kansas City to live with his uncle) helped him understand how to live beyond the bounds of his mental health experience.
“I started saying, ‘I’m going through depression,’ rather than, ‘I am depressed.’ It helped be more open to learning and growing every day.”
Click here to follow Abraham Sisay’s health advocacy journey on Instagram.
Kansas City nice
Looking for a fresh start, Ebrima “Abraham” Sisay begged his father to let him move to the United States. The request ultimately led him to Kansas City.
“I had this plan that I would be in Kansas City for a few months and then disappear. The first week I was [here] it was wild how nice people were,” he recalled, adding he immediately found a bond with the city’s arts community.
“The Freedom Project” is just the beginning of Sisay’s quest to help others find the same sense of clarity, he added. In addition to the documentary series, a social media series — “End the Stigma” — launched across platforms last month.
A secondary docuseries, “Director’s Corner,” is expected to examine local mental health initiatives through one-on-one conversations between Sisay and Bruce Eddy, executive director of the Jackson County Community Mental Health Fund, he said.
“So many people believe that mental health is ‘frou frou.’ [Through these initiatives we are able to] see what stigma was,” Sisay said, further explaining his hope for expanding his mental health projects and the impact they could have on the local film space.
“I want to bring in parents and all these different sectors of people we miss. I’m trying to change film in general by helping people who don’t [traditionally] have an outlet,” he said, noting he intends for all of his projects to film locally.
“I am who I am because I decided to come [to Kansas City],” Sisay continued.
“Here I am nine years later and I have a son now. I told myself I would leave, but there is something about it here. I want to put [Kansas City] on the map.”
Click here to connect with Abraham Sisay on LinkedIn.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.