Baraka Kasongo


High school bullies targeted Kasongo for being "too dark."

Kasongo remembered one time when he intervened in a fight between a Hispanic classmate and other students.

"They were just beating the life out of him," he said.

Kasongo's effort backfired when the attackers turned on him. But he said his teachers didn't see the bruises because his skin is so dark.

"Every step I took was so painful, but I couldn't explain why," he said. "I didn't speak enough English to communicate what had really happened. And then of course if I do, even if I could, those kids are going to kill me."

His teachers soon noticed he was struggling to walk and called his parents. They took him to Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where he spent the next few days recovering.

"They ran all kinds of tests because I was peeing blood," he said. "It was bad."

"And not one time did doctors use an interpreter to communicate with me--not one single time," Kasongo said. "And it just became really apparent to me that something could be done."

Two years later, 17-year-old Kasongo got a call from the same hospital. They asked him to act as an interpreter for a patient who spoke Kirundi, a Central African language.

Kasongo agreed. He said he didn't want others to feel the way he had years before.

More calls came in, and Kasongo sent out volunteers to hospitals to work as interpreters.

Kasongo's cobbled-together network of multilingual people has since grown into Volatia, a business that offers interpretation services in over 280 languages in all 50 states.

He said he rarely has a bad day.