Sandra Appiah is on a mission. The 23-year-old wants to rebrand Africa and alter skewed perceptions of the continent.

The New York-based Ghana native says when she moved to the States as a teenager she was shocked by the racist name-calling, not only from Whites, but teasing and bullying from Black and Latino kids in the Bronx.

“They’d say things like, ‘African booty scratcher,’ or ‘You stink” or ‘You live in trees,’” says Appiah. “I couldn’t relate to what they were saying because these weren’t experiences I had as a child growing up in Ghana.”

Born of humble beginnings in small town in eastern Ghana, Appiah and her family immigrated to Italy when she was just eight years old. She describes her time in Milan as challenging and it was there that she “first encountered racism.”

When her parents decided to relocate to New York, Appiah assumed things would get better. She was wrong. “My experience was terrible, especially in high school.”

Mwiza Munthali, a public outreach director at TransAfrica and host of Washington DC-based Pacifica radio show (WPFW 89.3FMAfrica Now!, says part of the problem is the mainstream media’s portrayals of Africa. He says issues are underreported, oversimplified and “stories are often negative and not always in proper context.”