Community Spotlight: Black History Quarter

Your stories have power. They bring ideas to life and can shape how others see the world, and here at Hearts, we use stories to build community.

This is one of many posts in our Community Spotlight Series, where we feature Hearts who identify with a group and have important conversations about how we can support one another.

Throughout the series, we will work closely with these individuals to create an experience where they can share their culture with fellow Hearts. We’ll hear directly from them about their lives, the safe spaces they’ve created to live their truth and how we can be better allies.

And then we listen. 

Because more than ever, stories that celebrate our differences need to be heard.

Celebrating the contributions of Black heritage

Black History Month is often relegated to February alone. But because a month is not long enough, we will take this quarter to dive deeper into the histories and achievements of Black people and their communities and to recognize the immense impact Black heritage has had on shaping American culture.

Black History Quarter is a chance to share some of the individual stories that make up the multiplicity of lived experiences and to honor and celebrate Black voices more fully.

Safe spaces to share

Samantha seeks out experiences with intention

Outside of work as Project Manager on the AT&T team, Samantha Wilson likes to keep active. She runs in the park trails near her home and participates in races like the Bronx 10 Mile, which she has run the past five years in a row (excluding 2020). She prefers the experience of running outdoors over a treadmill any day. As she says, “I need scenery!” 

The youngest of three girls, Samantha grew up in the South Bronx, raised with her mother’s southern values. “Make sure family comes first,” her mom instilled. In the summers, she took Samantha and her sisters to places like Curaçao and Saint Martin. She wanted them to see the world beyond New York.

With the tough love of her mom and stepdad, Samantha focused on doing well in school. As she got older and was looking into colleges, she attended her third cousin’s graduation at Howard University. It was her first exposure to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and at that moment, she thought to herself, “I’m going here.”

“Growing up in the Bronx, I didn’t see teachers who looked like me, so it was important for me to have the experience of an HBCU.” 

Samantha became the first in her family to graduate from college — not only earning a bachelor’s degree from Howard but later an MBA from Mercy College as well. Since then, mentorship has been a big part of her life, talking to high school students about HBCUs and helping incoming students get adjusted.

Samantha remains heavily involved with her alma mater and has found a continued sense of community with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the first African American sorority for college-trained women.

In her own words, “Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated is a group of like-minded, college-educated women in different professional fields coming together to provide service for all mankind. That is really my safe space now. It’s not just a college experience. It’s a lifelong commitment.”

Similarly, she has found opportunities to connect with her fellow Hearts.

Pro tip: “I think just the culture alone at Hearts & Science opens itself up for you to really get involved. The different clubs, events and the Black Leadership Network offer those individual spaces where you can talk about anything, such as a verdict on a trial or something that’s happening in the world.”

Owee masters the art of pivoting

Owee Cooper Long was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, and from an early age was motivated to succeed. He grew up playing basketball, taking inspiration from Kobe Bryant’s passionate dedication to the sport.

Like Kobe, he would get up at 5 am to practice. When his neighbors complained and insisted that he wait until at least 6 am to bounce the ball on the court, he spent the first hour dribbling in a parking lot out of earshot. 

Further inspired by High School Musical, he moved to his mother’s hometown of Los Angeles at age 17 to complete his senior year of high school.

The following year, Owee succeeded in making the team at West Los Angeles College, but he realized pretty quickly basketball wasn’t going to be his career path.

And so he pivoted.

He started day trading. He tried his hand at professional poker. He explored online careers in drop shipping and YouTube. You name it, Owee tried it — and all while still in college, first at West LA, then Morehouse. After graduating, he joined Hearts as an assistant strategist.

Owee credits his dad for his entrepreneurial drive. His father was born in Nigeria, and he started multiple businesses before launching a solar company that fully powers a hotel he owns there. It uses wind and solar energy combined. Owee’s goal is to one day own his own advertising agency and help his dad with marketing.

“My dad has always instilled in me that you can do anything. You might have to work 10 times harder, but if you set your mind to it, you can do it. There’s no victim mentality.”

Owee’s childhood in Johannesburg and his extensive travel experiences have given him a unique, global outlook. He notes, “I have a really wide perspective of what it’s like to be the poorest poor and the richest rich. That has shaped how I see the world. I can make my home wherever I am.”

Owee’s ability to feel at home anywhere helps drive his entrepreneurship. He charts his own vocational path and changes direction whenever necessary with a sense of inner freedom.

Basketball still remains a big part of Owee’s life. When asked what he considers to be a safe space, he’s quick to answer, “On the basketball court. Any basketball court. It’s where I can go to just lose myself. It’s almost like a meditation or a tranquil space.” He continues, “To me, the basketball court can be used as an analogy for everything in life.”

Pro tip: “Wherever you are, you have to find your community. At the end of the day, we’re all people just trying to do our best. Most people have good intentions.”

How Afro-Caribbean culture, ethnicity and heart inspire Susan

Whether fulfilling her professional role within Hearts & Science or taking an adventurous trip beyond the borders, Susan Nightengale is charting her path to success and building on life experiences. 

Born in Barbados, West Indies, the youngest of three siblings, Susan was reared in a Christian home, where she first fostered a spirit of excellence and a singular sense of family and community that would follow throughout adolescence and early adulthood. 

Completing high school in Barbados, she immigrated to the U.S. as a young woman and attempted a career in nursing before turning her attention to pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business at Baruch College.  

In 2015, Susan joined the fledgling agency Hearts, where she quickly rose from project manager to associate director. As a firm believer in mentorship, Susan encourages and develops new talent in her sphere of influence. 

Susan at the 2014 NY Five Boro Bike Tour.

Ever curious and with a passion for learning, in 2021, she acquired Project Management Professional (PMP) and ICAgile certifications, with the objective of acquiring the Agile Certified Practitioner accreditation by October 2022.

When she’s not busy adding to her credentials, she is an avid sports fan and enjoys cheering on the New York Major League sports teams. Additionally, she loves cycling and has participated in the New York Five Boro Bike Tour for the past five years. 

She loves cooking, sharing a meal with friends and having talks that broaden her horizons. “Great conversations always happen over food and wine,” she notes. Travel is another way she gains new insights into diversity.

Fueling her ambition and life’s perspective is a strong sense of self and purpose established in her upbringing. Referencing the African diaspora as inclusive of her West Indian heritage and key aspects of African American culture and legacy, she says, 

“Our heritage is deep and wide in the governance structure of who we are to each other. This diversity, as a people, is strong and bursting with pride — and should never be forgotten or neglected.” 

As it pertains to safe space, Susan thinks that culturally and ideologically, the Black community is very complex. The lived experiences transport across many spectrums, including the workplace. In the ethos of the Hearts organization, having a safe space where many can gather and express themselves is a beautiful thing.

In parallel, outside of the work environment, Susan is a proud member of Knarrative – Home to the Largest Africana Studies Class in the World. Susan says, “This safe space is dynamic and transformative. It provides a gateway to great conversations and interactions across a wide variety of topics akin to the community where we can be inspired to learn and grow together.”

It is this inspiration, she continues, that shapes and motivates her social relationships at Hearts. 

“The African American experience is deeply rooted in the tapestry of this country. Despite continuous efforts of some to deny our contributions, we should continue to promote and uplift what is important to us, i.e., Black History Month.”  

Pro tip: “I would encourage any new employee to the agency to join OMG Black Leadership Network. There is a wealth of knowledge-sharing and community that happens in this forum. Black Together is another source and gathering space that I enjoy following on Instagram and LinkedIn.”

Work should be a safe space too

Hearts & Science is dedicated to building a space where its employees are recognized and feel seen. There are many ways we are supporting inclusion efforts.

Here are some initiatives that we’re supporting:

  1. Participate in a network. Hearts & Science invites employees to access the OMG Black Leadership Network and have a voice in how its company supports Black employees and allies. Team members can also check out Change of Hearts, our employee-led DE&I group focused on diverse hiring, retention and development. 
  2. Explore health and wellness. This year’s Black History Quarter theme is health and wellness. Employees are welcome to join Open Hearts, a safe space at Hearts & Science, to discuss whatever is on their minds. The Calm app, which helps with meditation and sleep, is available for free to all Hearts employees. Fellow Hearts can also get their endorphins flowing with one of our workout classes, such as boxing. Reach out to our team for access to both.
  3. Show your support. In recognition of Black History Quarter, Hearts & Science encourages making donations to support anti-racist efforts and Black-led nonprofits that serve and empower the Black community. Consider finding your own organization to support. 

Andriena Coleman, associate director of DE&I at Hearts & Science, shares,

“Hearts is a workplace where new ideas can flourish. Together, this community of amazing individuals changes and grows through unique experiences and perspectives. Our differences are celebrated and truly invaluable to our organization.”

There is always more to learn, whether it is through the plurality of cultural histories or through self-discovery that opens our hearts. When we let each other’s stories in, we grow.