An Interview With Merci Ngozi Best [Plus, A Special Announcement + Fresh Voice Friday #1!]

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Recently I realized I wanted to lessen the echo-chamber happening on this blog. I am only one person with one lived experience, and there are so many people out there doing kick-ass things who have opinions and outlooks different from mine. In fact, some of these people are my friends! Why not do a series where I interview these incredible folks and share their accomplishments and thoughts about how to live fully with the world? That sounds pretty inspiring to me!

So without further ado, I bring you: Fresh Voice Fridays! Eep! I’m so pumped to start this series, where every week a new interview with a young leader will be posted. Each of these people are going out and doing big things, and I think everyone can learn from their approaches to living well.

To kick things off, I’m SO EXCITED to introduce you to Merci Ngozi Best! Merci and I met at William & Mary, where we briefly attended the same church. While balancing a killer workload, she founded her own organization called STEAMtrix, LLC with the intent to combine the arts and STEM fields while empowering youth to enter these fields regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. I’ll let her tell you more about it!

An Interview With Merci Ngozi Best

13940977_1039234606183849_1999605026_n.jpgWho are you, anyway?

My name is Merci Ngozi (pronounced: in-go-zee) Best. First and foremost I am an unashamed follower of Jesus Christ. I am a 21 year old senior Neuroscience major and Community Studies minor at the College of William & Mary. I am from Richmond, Virginia, but was born in Manhattan, New York, where a lot of my dad’s side of the family still lives. I love the intersection of scientific inquiry and the creative arts. I can spend hours in the lab: conducting experiments, reading research articles and working with my fruit flies. But at the same time, I could spend hours dancing, sketching and baking. Unfortunately, there are not enough hours in the day. So as a way to combine my various interest, I empower youth through an educational intervention program STEAMtrix, LLC which incorporates the arts into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. I want to ensure that all children regardless of race, gender and/ or socioeconomic status are well aware of the opportunities in STEM and provided with resources and encouragement in STEM pursuit outside of the traditional academic setting. Simply put, I love leading by example, especially because I consider it a personal responsibility to help others in my community.

You’re suddenly in an elevator with your favorite author and s/he asks you your life story. What the heck do you say?!

I hope this is a long ride, because, I recently wrote a poem about my life story so if I had that memorized I would recite it (after introducing myself of course):

Hello my name is Merci Ngozi Best and I am a huge supporter of your work. I would love to recite a poem I recently wrote about my identity if you have a moment now. If not I would be honored to exchange contact information and schedule a sit down.

Where I Am From (My history)

I am from a chosen generation,

a royal priesthood.

I am from kings and queens,

from the dirt under the slave’s fingernail.

Melanin glowing

we are magic and real.

I am from a country that never loved us.

From #BlackLivesMatter:

black hoodies, skittles and Arizona Iced Tea.

I am from a long history,

shameful but true.

I am from disrespect and stolen narratives,

from countless tears shed.

I am from the angry black woman,

fried chicken and watermelon.

I am from the single story

told from generation to generation.

I am from the union of Sutton and Best.

I am from the Big Apple,

trash-filled streets and economic disparity.

I am from Virginia is for Lovers,

moving towards better educational opportunities.

I am from the only black girl in class,

from a journey of self-actualization.

I am from God,

the author and finisher of my fate.

13942385_1039234552850521_851146913_n

Let’s get deep, speed-dating style. What’s the purpose of life?

My purpose in life is to share the Good News through my daily interactions, relationships and platforms. I do not necessarily go door to door and read the Bible to people, but rather choose to offer biblically grounded encouragement and inspiration to others. In a world plagued by so many issues I had to identify at a micro level what I as an individual could do, and do it. My entire existence internalizes the Nelson Mandela’s quote, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” In a household of two parents who place emphasis on education, I was born the second oldest of five with a mandate on my life to be extraordinary. We were encouraged by our parents to live up to our family name, be twice as good as our white counterparts and take advantage of opportunities that came our way. Because of this, my educational experience has been fairly extensive in terms of regional, national and international reach. But, I have never seen these opportunities for the benefit of myself, instead to benefit my entire community. This is why I created my business STEAMtrix, LLC and documented my entire study abroad trip for a public YouTube Channel: Traveling Merci. I am currently applying to Neuroscience graduate program in hopes of obtaining my Ph.D. and conducting research in hopes of finding therapies for patients with Alzheimer’s. I believe my ultimate purpose through my research is to demonstrate the beauty of having a personal relationship with Christ and all you can do through his strength.

What do you get passionate about?

I am super passionate about the underrepresentation of females and multicultural people in STEM. I have tutored with College Partnership for Kids (CPK) organization on campus, developed research projects on STEM education, given oral presentations on my findings and ultimately developed a curriculum for a STEM intervention program, STEAMtrix. STEAMtrix incorporates the arts for multicultural groups and female students who are underrepresented populations in STEM. We have partnered with a Richmond Boys & Girls Club to provide underserved youth a free opportunity to combat summer learning loss and develop positive feelings towards STEM fields. As I am entering my senior year and looking at programs outside of the state I am realizing I will have to step out from the forefront of these issues and focus on my grades and entrance exams. It’s sad to think about not being able to directly advocate for this issue as I begin my Ph.D., but at the same time I realize the restraints on my free time and how important it is that I thrive academically and successfully obtain my degrees without having to cut corners. My mom and I recently talked about this as she explained to me the power of all I have done to plant the seed and ensures me that she will continue the work as I obtain my doctorate and watch our organization flourish.

13942272_1039239006183409_2056509654_n.jpgHow did you get interested in these issues? And anything you’re working on now?

My interest in the underrepresentation of females and multicultural individuals in STEM is based on a lived experience. I was blessed by my long-term mentor, Dr. Waide Robinson with the summer opportunity to conduct research in a Biology laboratory at the University of Richmond as an eighth grader with a research professor, Dr. John Warrick and his undergraduate student, Hersh Gupta. We used a fruit fly model to understand more about a disease in the polyglutamine family (i.e. Parkinson, Huntington, etc.) called, Machado Joseph Disease. The next summer I worked in a sponge lab, which was an amazing experience, but I missed my flies. My sophomore and senior year, through a science fair and then a senior seminar program I was able to return to the Warrick lab and conduct more research. I knew when I attended William & Mary, I would want to continue research and through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Freshman program run by Dr. Margaret Saha, I was able to join Dr. Matthew Wawersik laboratory that spring. I am currently working now on an Honors Thesis Project in the Wawersik laboratory using a fruit fly to understand more about stem cell development. I am so excited for the presentation aspect during my Honors Thesis Defense as I will be able to explain my research to professors, staff, peers, and family.

No false modesty, now. What’s your proudest achievement and why?

I don’t want to be redundant, but founding and serving as the CEO this year for my organization STEAMtrix, LLC hands down is my proudest achievement. I remember being on campus conducting research on a grant summer 2015 and asking to go home for a weekend to celebrate the official filing of STEAMtrix, LLC (July 1, 2015) with my CFO and mother. I have done a lot of cool things, but being able to say that I saw a need, and made something happen brings me an unexplainable joy, especially in being integral throughout its development. I will not say the experience has been all unicorns and rainbows, the struggle was real being a college student and a business owner, but it was worth it. My academics took some hits along the way and achieving harmony between my school, work and life was nearly impossible. I plan to use this year to build my academic record and cannot wait to see my business flourish as it enters year two under the leadership of my mother. The transition out of major leadership will be a task in itself, as a lot of people see me as the main representative of STEAMtrix, LLC but I know that it is crucial for me to refocus on my academics, get into an amazing graduate program and finishing successfully.

13956859_1039236969516946_1640842376_nEveryone gets it from somewhere. Who inspires you?

My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Joyce Sutton is one of my main inspirations. Unfortunately has been diagnosed with dementia for about five years now and no longer remembers who I am. Before her onset, she was always stylish in her mink fur coats and was already loving retirement when her first grand child was born. She, young at heart refused to be called grandma, instead demanded that we called her Nee- Nee. As the matriarch of the family, we respectfully did so. She always told me to study hard in school due to her only having a sixth grade education. She pushed all of her grandchildren to not only achieve, but excel in our academic ventures, and I try to do just that. She is the reason I have decided to pursue a neuroscience major at the College of William & Mary in hopes of furthering the research on neuronal development. When times get rough academically, especially around midterms and finals, I think of how much Nee Nee would have loved to experience college and I am instantly inspired to make my experience count for the both of us.

Top 3 things on your bucket list. Ready, go.

  1. Meet President Obama and the first family
  2. Travel to Barbados and meet some of my paternal family
  3. Travel to France

13957394_1039233162850660_696436443_nIf you could communicate one message to a large group of people, what would it be?

I am black and I am human. The amount of melanin in my skin should not be used to view me as lesser, nor should my female gender. I know as a black woman in STEM, I will constantly navigate spaces where I am a minority and I am ready for the challenge. I said this before in a recent social media post: “I know all white people are not racists, just as all black people are not criminals, but white privilege is real and it is up to white people to move from sympathy for the black experience to action in dismantling white supremacy.” In light of recently televised problems, my faith encourages me to have hope for a more unified world. A world where I do not have to remind people of my first sentence: that I too am a person. One where I don’t have to proclaim that other people who look like me do in fact matter, contrary to prior and current history. Many are losing their hope, but I would want to share my hope with a unifying message for a more understanding society, filled with stronger communities and true reconciliation.

And finally, what’s your favorite flavor of Skittle? 

Lime…

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A very special thanks to Merci for her time! She is clearly such a busy gal with all this going on. If you’d like to learn more about what STEAMtrix is doing and how you can get involved, you can find them online:

Send Merci some love in the comments! She’s changing the world, folks.

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