Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘Both my parents came to America to provide better resources for themselves and their unborn children. That translated into me taking advantage of the educational opportunities that were presented to me.’

Elmont

“I am the second child and first daughter of Igbo Nigerian immigrants. I spent most of my life growing up in Elmont. A lot of who I am today stems from the impact of my family as well as the support system and environment at Elmont High School. Nigerian parents and culture really value education.

“Both my parents came to America to provide better resources for themselves and their unborn children. That translated into me taking advantage of the educational opportunities that were presented to me. This most readily happened while at Elmont High School and in the science research program.

“I was able to get my first research experience at the age of 13, which ultimately led me to pursue research in cement, concrete and civil engineering during my senior year of high school. That was a very fun and transformative experience for me because I was able to learn more about the carbon footprint of the cement and concrete industry, as well as inspire many up-and-coming scientists and young people across Long Island and within my own Elmont community.

“This inspiration happened when I was selected to be a finalist of the Intel Science Talent Search (now Regeneron Science Talent Search), chosen to attend President Obama’s White House Science Fair and, later, elected to be a part of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the energy category. This happened all because of the research that I did, which was through my own curiosity and efforts, but really, due to the mentorship and support that I got from the Elmont community.

“This translated into my work at Harvard, where I decided to study bioengineering, which allowed me to combine my budding interests in engineering with my desire to make an impact on health and medicine. I did research in point of care technology for the past four years, all culminating to my current journey: to pursue an MD/PhD to become a physician scientist.

“This basically means having a foot in medicine and research to fundamentally help transform how we practice medicine in our country, and to reimagine how to make these systems more equitable and just for all people, particularly those who come from underserved patient populations.”

In the future, I’d like to give back to communities nationwide by providing them with research experiences.

“I was blessed to be invited to the White House Science Fair and a Science Talent Search finalist, which is the oldest and most prestigious science competition for high school seniors. I was the only Black person out of all 40 finalists. That was the first time that I really started to understand the general inaccessibility of science and research to people like myself.

“Fast-forward to my time working at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. I decided to start the TRUST Fellowship (Translational Research for Untapped Science Talent Fellowship), which is focused on exposing students from underrepresented backgrounds to research in inclusive mentoring.

“At the time when I began the TRUST Fellowship, I was working on a COVID-19 project in the lab I was in. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted underserved communities, like Black folks, socioeconomic disadvantaged folks and other marginalized communities in our society. I felt very empowered as a Black woman from a low-income background working on this research myself and thus wanted to expose more students like myself to this type of work.

“Through the TRUST Fellowship, in the pilot stage, we were able to mentor six different first- and second-year students at Harvard who come from these backgrounds. They worked on COVID-19, neurodegenerative projects and cardiovascular projects. The common theme between these projects is that they are translational, which means that the goal of the research is meant to transform and translate into the way doctors and clinicians provide care for patients.

“Ultimately, the TRUST Fellowship was an opportunity for me to take the knowledge I’ve crystallized as a researcher of about 10 years at that point and give back to students in my Harvard community.

“In the future, I’d like to give back to communities nationwide by providing them with research experiences that can not only introduce them to really cool work, but also hopefully inspire them to — like myself — potentially pursue an MD/PhD, MD, PhD or just paths that are focused on innovation and really reimagining the ways in which we do research and practice medicine to make it more inclusive and equitable for communities that are underserved.”

‘I think these accomplishments speak to the importance of identifying your passions and really just focusing on learning and growing in your passion.’

“That time [during my college search] where I was recognized by a lot of different media outlets was quite an exciting time. It was a time that I couldn’t have necessarily predicted or planned for. Literally to this day, I do not know who nominated me [for Forbes 30 Under 30]. I just got a tweet from someone who works on the selection committee informing me that I was nominated and to DM them to get a link to the application.

“I think these accomplishments speak to the importance of identifying your passions and really just focusing on learning and growing in your passion. For me at the time, it was really understanding more about cement, concrete and specifically developing a better cement seal that can be used for offshore oil wells to prevent horrible oil spills.

“I really dived into my passion and interests and stuck my hands in everything with the desire to really take advantage of the opportunities presented to me — again instilled in me by my Nigerian parents. It led to all these accomplishments, such as admission into all the colleges I applied to, which includes all the eight Ivy League institutions. I was also on BET ‘Black Girls Rock!’ and was a ‘Making A Difference’ or ‘M.A.D. Girl’ awardee. Alongside having all these accomplishments, they further reinforced to me the particular role that God wants me to play in this world, which is to lift as I climb. Because I’ve been pushed out to all these platforms, I’ve been able to connect with so many near peers who are curious about potentially studying engineering, pursuing research, attending an Ivy League school, going to college and pursuing medicine.

“I’ve been able to connect with so many of these people and inspire them because I don’t want to be the only one in these spaces. I don’t want to be the only Black person who’s a Science Talent Search finalist. I don’t want to be one of two Black people graduating with a bachelor of science in bioengineering from Harvard. I don’t want to be the only physician scientist.

“These accomplishments have just given me a platform that has allowed me to connect with and inspire more youth, which I think is very clear with some of the other involvements and things I’ve done since that time.”

‘When I returned to New York, I had a strange twitch in my fingers that wouldn’t go away.’

Elmont

“I journeyed to Sedona, Arizona, to find myself. I decided to visit there after I visited a yoga studio that had these amazing sparkling red rocks on their walls that called to me. When I asked the instructors where the rocks came from, they gave me a book called ‘A Call to Sedona.’ I knew Sedona had a message for me and I had to go there. I had such a unique experience. I sat down in front of a twisted juniper tree on Bell Rock and began praying to God, asking to reveal my purpose. I closed my eyes and meditated and was immediately engulfed in an active vortex. I could see nothing outside of the vortex; it was just me and the juniper tree. I felt scared, but that fear turned into a surreal calm.

I hope to expand my business to continue to beautify the world with art.

“When I opened my eyes, after the vortex ended, I stood up and silently continued to hike. I had a broken toe, but I felt no pain while I was on the rock. Once I made it to the top, I meditated again, and when I opened my eyes, I saw a heart-shaped cloud, the only one in the sky. Upon my descent down the hill, I felt something tell me to stop walking, step backwards and look down. I saw a heart-shaped red rock with crystals growing on it. When I returned to New York, I had a strange twitch in my fingers that wouldn’t go away. It made me feel the urge to paint. I got supplies at Michael’s, and my life was never the same.

“I quit my job and decided to dedicate myself to art full time. These were the messages that led me to start Authentic Heartwork in 2014. I answered that call and self-funded my journey. It was tough and I struggled, but Long Island libraries helped me a lot. I started doing painting classes, and this helped me to develop my skills and build connections. We are currently a vendor with the New York City Department of Education and create murals on school grounds in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. My team and I have also created murals in New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. We just recently incorporated glitter and glow-in-the-dark paint in one of our murals at the MS 129 school located in the Bronx. Being a professional artist is very rewarding. I hope to expand my business to continue to beautify the world with art.”

‘I literally heard in my ear, “You were visited by an angel.” I immediately got chills.’

Elmont

“Throughout my life, I had tiny psychic experiences. I would see different figures in my house and things like that. My mom shared with me that when she was younger, she had experiences, too. But she would always tell me, don’t speak to them, keep ignoring it, and things like that, because she built up this fear. Also, it’s very taboo in a lot of cultures and traditions.

“I had a difficult childhood. I was a first-generation American—my parents are from Guyana—and I grew up in a divorced household. On top of that, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I developed depression, and in a way, shut myself out from the world. And eventually, a lot of psychics do this, I ended up closing off my abilities as I went into high school. Then, I went away to college in upstate New York and was extremely depressed, almost to the point of suicidal. I was just embodying all of the sadness.

“Difficult things that happened to me —feeling unsupported, unloved, family issues; I was bullied in high school for being a little bit different—these things accumulated inside, and I didn’t know where to go for help. One day, I almost committed suicide. I was lying in my bed and felt this darkness over me like I couldn’t go on anymore. I went to sleep, and about an hour later, woke up and saw a single stream of light coming into my door and then saw this light figure. It said to me, ‘Don’t worry, everything’s going to be OK. We’re going to take care of you.’ And I remember feeling the greatest sense of relief I’ve ever felt in my life, this wave of peace and calm. There were tears in my eyes. I literally heard in my ear, ‘You were visited by an angel.’ I immediately got chills. From that moment on, I started to view things a little bit differently and open myself up to healing.

“When I went back home to Long Island, I ended up feeling compelled to seek out a teacher. So, I ended up connecting with two psychic mentors. The first time I saw one of the psychics, she was at this event with 150 people. She came up to me after and said, ‘I see that you have some potential,’ and gave me an invitation to join her class.”

Often, when the spirits come through, they give us messages of hope. What you think is deep sadness doesn’t matter in the long run.

“I immediately took off and blossomed in her class. I was being validated in so many ways. It was such a healing process to discover this connection to the other side. Often, when the spirits come through, they give us messages of hope. What you think is deep sadness doesn’t matter in the long run. And I just started viewing life in such a different way and really dedicating myself to realizing that this could potentially help to heal other people, too.

“My teacher taught me this incredible technique called psychic surgery. It’s a mixture of hypnotherapy techniques along with energy healing. It’s this concept that whenever you experience trauma in your life, there’s some sort of stagnant energy inside you. I actually ended up doing this with her when I was healing my depression. And it’s so wild because you literally see a somatic shape that’s inside of you and all of these emotions that are trapped. So often, we try to bury our pain. It’s empowering to acknowledge these negative words inside of us and release them.

“Sometimes I get naysayers on social media. They’re like, ‘You know this isn’t true.’ I often say to those people who are just one hundred percent disbelievers: ‘How do you know your answers?’ There’s so much about this universe that is unknown. And I think there’s beauty in that unknowingness and just tapping into yourself to find out what the answers are. And that’s what I essentially believe: that we all have the ability to tap into our own spirituality and find out what we believe in through our hearts.

“It’s important for everyone to step into their power because so many people are hiding in the shadows because they’re scared. I think that’s the message: not being afraid to go for your dreams, even if it’s something that seems so strange and out there. Because five years ago, for me to say to myself, ‘You’re going to go on social media and tell people that you communicate with the spirit world,’ I would be like, no way! Especially having been bullied and teased early in my life, to move past those negative barriers and be like, all right, I’m ready to share. I’m ready to empower other people. I think there’s nothing more beautiful than that.”