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 89.3FM) Africa 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.”

During her formative years in the States, Appiah struggled to embrace her native identity and was burdened by an inferiority complex relating to her heritage, even to the point she’d tell people she was of mixed-race ancestry.

It was only after a life-changing trip to Ghana during her sophomore year at Syracuse University, that for the first time, she truly embraced her heritage. “That journey transformed my life.”

Standing in Cape Coast Castle, a slave outpost in Ghana, Appiah made the decision never to allow herself to “become be a victim.”

Spurred on by her newfound identity, when Appiah returned to complete her studies she was inspired to establish a platform to rebrand Africa. After two years of strategic planning, Appiah and her business partner, Isaac Boateng, 28, launched Face2Face Africa (F2FA) in March 2011, an online magazine with the mission of “restoring Africa’s image within the global community.”