The immense impact that Bella Sobah made on everybody that she met in her life was nothing short of incredible and inspiring. Her family, her former classmates, and her mentor want to make sure that she is remembered and celebrated forever.
“She was a ray of sunshine that came into my life and I will never forget her,” Dr. Ahna Skop, UW-Madison genetics professor and Sobah’s capstone mentor, tells Madison365. “Very simply, she just changed my life. And she changed all of the lives of her classmates.”
The Madison community lost a brilliant, charismatic, inspiring and visionary young woman when Sobah unexpectedly passed away last week.
She was only 25 years old.
Sobah earned her bachelor’s of science in genetics from UW-Madison in 2016 and her J.D. from UW-Madison Law School in 2020. She had just started her career as an attorney in the Dane County District Attorney’s Juvenile Unit.
Because of the immense impact she had on so many people, Sobah’s family and former classmates are looking to establish the Bella Sobah Award for Social Justice. They have started a gofundme page with the goal of raising $100,000. So far, they’ve raised $10,000 in just a couple of days. The funds will be used to create a memorial in Bella’s honor at UW-Madison and will go towards issues Bella was passionate about including minority, disability, LGBTQ+, immigration rights and prison reform.
Skop remembers Sobah fondly from her capstone course she taught at UW in 2016. “It was a genomics course but I teach the students how to communicate science,” Skop says. “I’m very much a proponent of creating inclusive environments.”
As a woman in a wheelchair with spinal muscular atrophy, a neuromuscular disease that affects her arms and legs, Skop says that she wanted to make Sobah feel right at home right off the bat.
“This was the most magical class that I’ve ever had partly because Bella was there. The students were amazing and with Bella, it was as if nothing was different. Bella taught us a lot about not seeing her as ‘disabled’ but ‘abled’ and she certainly was abled. I didn’t have to treat her differently; she was exactly like everyone else,” Skop says.
“The students in class are like my kids. We maintained a connection the whole time since. I just talked to Bella a month ago,” she adds. “That class was absolute magic. Bella taught us so much. She was hilarious and she was fun and she was just like every other kid. She was often the instigator of fun. She was a force.”
Bella brought joy and laughter to everyone in her life, her classmates said on the gofundme page.
“She loved good food, fashion, lipstick, and especially Beyoncé. She was charismatic and hilarious. Her brilliant sarcasm never failed to make everyone around her laugh. She loved and cared deeply, and was the biggest cheerleader for her classmates, friends and anyone who had the honor of being close to her,” they wrote. “She was authentic, confident, and her actions always came from a place of empathy. Everything about her was infectious, and all of us around her became better people, by her example.”
Sobah was the chair of Madison’s Disability Rights Commission and was a tireless advocate for people of color, disabled, immigrant, and LGBTQ+ communities.
“We wanted to, as a class, create an award and we set our sights at $100,000 because we know the university needs that amount of money to create an award,” Skop says. “Each student called me immediately after she passed to talk about it.
“If more people know about this we’ll be able to establish this award in the city and on campus in the manner in which she should be revered and honored,” Skop adds. “Bella was a changemaker.”
Skop cherishes a Facebook post that Sobah made in 2016 (above) that she dedicated to her classmates.
“That was so moving for me to see that post on how her classmates changed her life. And it was my entire class,” Skop says. “It was an amazing feeling for us.
“I cried as I read that post. To see how much my class made a difference in her life and how much she made a difference in our lives,” she adds. “There are so many things she taught me as an educator to be better as a person.”
Skop and Sobah’s former classmates and Sobah’s family are eager to see her remembered forever with the Bella Sobah Award for Social Justice at UW-Madison.
“It’s so sad that her life was cut short and that we lost her voice because she was willing to make a difference and she worked so hard to get there as a scientist and as a lawyer and as a social advocate,” Skop says. “She was amazing. Everyone should follow in her path.”
A candlelight vigil for Bella Sobah will be held Thursday, June 25, 7:30 p.m. at Brittingham Park, 829 W Washington Ave. The event is being organized by the Black Law Student Association at UW-Law and Bella’s family.