From Setbacks to Sophie Davis
Sometimes setbacks can make the perfect ingredients for a great success story. Yolanda Omoworare’s story is one that could inspire anyone.
Omoworare is a lifelong resident of Far Rockaway, but her parents’ story was a little different. Growing up struggling in Nigeria, they both came to America for a chance at a better life. Her father set off to pursue the American dream and her mother, a Registered Nurse, came for better schooling. Their hard work and dedication made them prime role models for their son and daughter to look up to.
To Yolanda Omoworare, her mother was her own personal hero. I’ve always been a mommy’s girl. We went everywhere together, nails, shopping, she gave me advice when a boy asked me out to 8th grade prom. She was my best friend,” Omoworare said. “And she was a hard worker. As an immigrant, she came here to the land of milk and honey to do her best and provide for us. She went into medicine. She was a hospice nurse and sometimes she’d take my brother and I in the car and visit her patients and she was really passionate about what she did. She even worked with one of my teachers’ grandmothers. It was cool hearing my teacher talk about my mom in a positive way. She’s my inspiration,” Omoworare said.
From a young age, she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps. In fifth grade, at career day, Omoworare donned a white lab coat. “I always wanted to be a doctor. I had a name tag and I felt really confident when I wore that coat. It felt like I was the only one in the room,” Omoworare said, reflecting on that day in fifth grade.
It was also the year her mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer. “She was really sick, and it was really bad, but she had a lot of support, and the cancer went away. We’d go to those annual breast cancer walks,” Omoworare said. “She was a survivor.”
In 2018, her mother’s cancer returned. Initially misdiagnosed as diabetes, by the time doctors had figured out the cancer was back, it had spread to her liver and kidneys. “It was scary and emotional seeing her go through it because she wasn’t even comfortable in her own home. She was in and out of hospitals in Long Island. After school somedays, I would do my homework in the hospital. That’s how bad it was,” Omoworare said.
In December 2018, during her freshman year at New Visions Humanities IV located in the Beach Channel Campus, Omoworare’s mother passed away. Aside from the school counselor and a few close friends, Omoworare didn’t let many people know. “I’m not one to tell people how I feel. I don’t like pity. It wasn’t something I wanted attention from because I felt the more attention it got, the more it would be on my mind and the more sad I would be,” she said.
Instead, she used school as an outlet to escape her reality at home. Her mother’s passing did not deter Omoworare from working even harder. Instead, she kept busy. She ran for student government and became class president. She joined the dance team, practicing almost daily. She became a member of the Black Student Union. And outside of school, she was a member of the Rockaway Youth Task Force. “I loved being in school. It was my escape,” she said.
And while staying busy with extracurriculars, Omoworare didn’t let her schoolwork slip. In fact, she studied harder. “Since ninth grade I knew I wanted to be valedictorian. I asked my principal how I could do that. I worked my butt off,” she said.
Graduating at the top of her class in June, Omoworare gave the valedictorian speech, making sure to mention her late mother. “It hurt that she wasn’t there because your best friend isn’t there to see you, but I went to visit her after and tell her about my accomplishments. I know she would be really proud of me. During my speech, I tried not to cry. It was emotional but my dad was there, and my family was holding posters and had a blowhorn. It was crazy.”
They’re still cheering her on as Omoworare has begun college. With the encouragement of her College Counselor at New Visions, Ms. Princess Hosein, and some inspiration from her own pediatrician who had gone to Sophie Davis and went on to practice in Far Rockaway, Omoworare applied for The Sophie Davis Biomedical Education Program at the CUNY School of Medicine. With an acceptance rate of 4%, the admissions process for the accelerated seven-year program at the CUNY school is highly competitive. “I didn’t think I had it in me to get into Sophie. I’ve never been that confident,” Omoworare said.
So when she got the acceptance letter, it came as a surprise. “I didn’t know if I should cry or scream but I called Ms. Hosein, I called my dad, my godmother, and everybody started praying for me,” Omoworare said. She’s now powering through her first semester at Sophie Davis in Harlem. She also went with a parting gift from New Visions. After writing essays, finally with the courage to share the story of losing her mom, Omoworare won first place for the New Visions Scholarship program, receiving a $20K award to head to Sophie with, something she says will be a huge help to cover the costs of dorming and class materials.
After completing school, Omoworare is leaning toward becoming an OB-GYN or pediatrician but she’s still keeping her options open. “I knew I wanted to help women, especially women of color, or babies, because we don’t have proper resources, but I’ll figure out what I want to do during medical school,” she said.
There is one thing she is sure of. She wants to work in her community. After going through the experience of watching her mother make trips to LIJ for cancer treatment, as resources are limited on the peninsula, Omoworare hopes to be the change.
“The lack of resources here really bothered me. When I get somewhere, by God’s grace, I hope to open my own clinic and practice so I can give back. Whether that means opening a hospital or providing more resources for St. John’s, I want to be there for my community. Rockaway is not something I can easily let go of. Even though I’m dorming, I’m always back home because I get homesick. Despite the negativity, Far Rockaway, to me, is beautiful. Anything Rockaway needs, I want to be there.”
Omoworare also hopes that her story can serve as inspiration to others who may face hardship. “This is not a sob story. This is a story of empowerment. I hate talking about what happened, but after all I’ve been through, it shaped me as a person. Life is crazy but I used what I went through to keep going, to keep pushing,” she said. “For all that I’ve been through, I am where I am now, and all I can do is keep moving forward.”