Define Your Success, Create Your Future. You are the only person who can create the future that you want. So define what success means to you and make your future a reality. Nothing is impossible. It will only require grit. Things may not always work out the way you want them to but keep in mind that if plan A doesn’t work out, there twenty five more letters in the alphabet. KEEP GOING!
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martina Taylor.
Twenty-six year old Engineer and Entrepreneur Martina Taylor, moved to the US from Sierra Leone at the age of 12. She is now the founder and Senior Managing Partner of the real estate company — Baltimore Property Partners. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a Master’s degree in Engineering with a focus in Cybersecurity, both from Morgan State University. Currently, she is pursuing a doctorate degree in Business Administration while serving a military organization as a civilian cyber security engineer. In her spare time, Martina enjoys reading, traveling and cooking. She is currently living in Bowie, Maryland.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in the western area of Freetown, Sierra Leone as the youngest child to a loving, christian, krio family. In my early childhood, my father was a stay-at-home dad and my mother worked for the SOS Children’s Villages, Sierra Leone.
Growing up in Sierra Leone was different and a lot more fun than growing up in the US. I started school at an earlier age than usual and had the opportunity to attend one of the top schools in the country. Good education was very expensive but my parents worked hard to give us the life that they didn’t have. At a young age, I wanted to become a defense attorney and eventually a politician. One of my hobbies as a child was acting; I enjoyed playing different characters and being on stage. I was also in the girls scout organization, which allowed me to take part in many community service events and activities. As a student, I was a math enthusiast. I loved everything about the subject; I still do. I am very competitive by nature and because the educational system in Sierra Leone encouraged competition, I was always one of the top students in my class.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
Honestly, moving overseas had always been my dream as a child. I always knew that I was eventually going to travel somewhere. As I can remember, I manifested this dream because I talked about it to everyone who would listen to me, prayed and believed it would happen. I always told people that my university education will be in the western world. Most people didn’t believe it, some would laugh and tell me to keep dreaming.
But as God would have it, the answer to my prayer came earlier than expected. When the war broke out in Sierra Leone, my mother’s younger sister and her husband moved to the Gambia. I spent most of my holidays with them as a kid and was like their oldest child. So a few years later, after the husband moved to the US, and filed for his family to join him, the couple asked for my parents’ permission to adopt me.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
Thinking about this brings back a lot of memories and emotions. Life here is very different than I was used to while growing up in Sierra Leone; the mindset, the way we address people, the culture and traditions, and the food. However, having lived here for over a decade, I have really adjusted.
I arrived in Maryland on September 9th, 2007, at the age of 12. At that time, I had completed what was equivalent to 7th school year in Sierra Leone. But the county where I lived insisted that I repeat the grade, although I had all my school paperwork proving that I had successfully completed the school year. In addition to that, I was put in an ESOL(an English learning) class; even though I moved here from an English speaking country. This really bothered me. I went home that day crying because I saw it as an insult to my person. But my parents managed to convince me that if I did well in school, I would get a double promotion to high school and be out of ESOL in a year. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
I started school towards the end of October that year and made friends quickly. Some of whom have become lifelong friendships. Most of them were West Africans and we were all in ESOL together. I noticed that my learning level was much higher than that of many of my classmates, especially in my Math class. Math has always been my favourite subject; thanks to my math teacher from my elementary school in Sierra Leone, I had a solid foundation in it.
Although I did well in school, I also had my share of challenges. I hated going to school due to fear of being bullied. I was never a quiet kid but I felt intimidated by the kids at my school and I was too afraid to speak up. They called me names, made fun of my accent and the way I dressed. There were days when it was either my clothes being stolen from my locker or someone forcing me to do their work. It got so bad that I called my mom one day crying bitterly on the phone because a boy at my school hit my head with a 400–600 page hardcover textbook. At that point, I was ready to move back home.
Another challenge was peer pressure. I had good friends, some of whom didn’t always make good decisions and I was affected by the influence. Also, I was used to being an independent kid, something my parents didn’t worry about. For example, I moved around a lot, like walking a few miles to and from school with friends, visiting relatives on weekends, etc. But I had to give that up. I couldn’t do that when I moved here because my parents feared for my safety. Lastly, Christmas is always in the dry season in Sierra Leone so my first year, I convinced myself that by Christmas day the weather would change to hot and sunny, and I would go to the beach on Boxing Day as that was our family tradition. But BOY, was I disappointed!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
Absolutely! I am grateful for having a strong support system: parents, siblings, friends and mentors. I always joke that the worst thing that could happen to you is having adopted parents who were former teachers. I’ve had no room for excuses. If I ever brought home a grade lower than a B, I had better have a very good explanation for it. All my life, both in Sierra Leone and in the US, my parents have been very involved in my life, especially with school. My biological parents didn’t get the opportunity to go to college so when they had us, education was never an option with them. It is the ONLY choice. Honestly, as much as I hated it back then, I look back and thank them for it. My siblings, on the other hand, have always challenged me to be better. From the oldest to my youngest, we have set examples and become role models for each other. I am also very grateful to have friends and mentors who believe in me and create the time to add value to my life.
So how are things going today?
Things are going great! I am very proud of how far I have come. Living in the United States has opened my eyes to the world of opportunities. In my time here, I have graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a masters of engineering degree. I now work as a cybersecurity engineer. I am also the managing partner of Baltimore Property Partners, a real estate company that buys properties in Maryland. And, I am currently studying for a doctorate degree in Business Administration.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In many ways. First, I strive to be a better version of myself every day. Next is through my nonprofit — Breaking Boundaries with Innovation. I use my engineering background to promote education, healthcare and the use of technology in West Africa. In addition to that, I coach young students, volunteer to judge high school engineering projects, and I am frequently invited to speak and motivate students who are currently studying in programs that I graduated from at the university level. Lastly, I share my journey through my blog Tunnel Vision To Success, with the aim of inspiring others.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
My experience was different. I don’t remember having many issues. But I do believe that this system can and will improve if we consider people before politics.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Know Yourself. Know What You Want. Always Follow Your Gut Feeling.
In high school, I reluctantly applied to an engineering program and got in. I really enjoyed my time there. I thought then that I wanted to become a neurosurgeon, so I applied to college based on that plan. But I soon realized that I liked the idea of being a doctor rather than becoming one. I didn’t get the support I needed when I made the decision to change majors but I know what I wanted. Today I am an engineer. I was happy with my decision and eventually everyone else has adjusted.
2. Live Life With Values. Always Put God first.
Whatever is important to you, talk to God about it first. That has never failed me.
3. Always Treat People The Way You Want To Be Treated
4. Define Your Success, Create Your Future
You are the only person who can create the future that you want. So define what success means to you and make your future a reality. Nothing is impossible. It will only require grit. Things may not always work out the way you want them to but keep in mind that if plan A doesn’t work out, there twenty five more letters in the alphabet. KEEP GOING!
5. Give Wholeheartedly
My grandmother always says, “If you wait to be rich to give, you’ll never have enough.” Giving back allows me to create an impact in my community.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
More and more people are becoming aware of the challenges that we go through as a country, and it is very refreshing to see them lending their voices through protests and holding our lawmakers accountable to make changes. With that being said, I am very optimistic about the future.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I really look forward to the day I get to meet Michelle Obama. I see her as a very personable and genuine human being. She is a leader whose life story is very relatable and a woman I admire very much. In many ways, she has been an inspiration to a lot of young black women like myself.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
LinkedIn: Martina Taylor
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!