Young, Gifted & Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
He was named the best graduating student of the 2011-2012 academic year and owes his success to three well learned traits – discipline, adaptability, and resilience.
He is young, gifted and Black. Emmanuel Ohuabunwa made history at John Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore on his May 24, graduation date. The then 22 year old broke four records on this Baltimore, Maryland campus: He had the highest Grade Point Average of his graduating class – 3.98 out of 4.0 while earning his B.S. degree in Neuroscience; the GPA scoring was adjudged according to a June 26 posting of Point Black News.Com as breaking the academic record at JHU on a graduation date; third, Emmanuel was the first Black male and lastly the first Nigerian to do so.
Emmanuel was additionally awarded the Becker Family Scholarship for being the most outstanding student as a Neuroscience major and he scored in the top five percentile on the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) exam.
Emmanuel for his efforts received a full scholarship to Yale University to pursue a degree in medicine. He was additionally inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, a prestigious honor society hosting 17 U.S. presidents, 37 U.S. Supreme Court justices, and 136 Nobel Prize winners as its members.
Noting posted accounts, the mission of Phi Beta Kappa is “to celebrate and advocate excellence in the liberal arts and sciences” and induct “the most outstanding students of arts and sciences at America’s leading colleges and universities.”
Christine Noah of The Key Reporter, Phi Beta Kappa’s publication for news and alumni relations writes of Emmanuel’s membership that he “will surely prove to be an invaluable addition to the Phi Beta Kappa Society.” Says Emmanuel of his induction:
“I think the Society in itself opens doors to the connections one needs to excel as a professional in any field. It is such an honor to be induced into a society filled with people of this caliber. It is the culmination of a lot of hard work and perseverance during my time at Hopkins.”
While at JHU as cited in the Reporter, Emmanuel participated in several research projects to include a study on Spinal Muscular Atrophy. He also spent time at the Snyder Center for Aphasia assisting patients to speak by giving cues in different forms of communication.
“Emmanuel stood out for an intellect so rare it touches upon the unique, and a personality that I fear is once-in-a-lifetime, but one that I wish were commonplace,” says Stewart Hendry, a professor of neuroscience at JHU. “He left his mark, first on us, next on Yale, and, all the while, on the world.”
Hendry worked very closely with Emmanuel during his time at Hopkins sharing meaning discussions that were quite impactful. He adds: “What I got from him was wisdom, and perspectives and questions that had me think through things taken for granted over a long academic career.”
Emmanuel was born in Okota, Lagos and attended Lilly Fields Primary School. He left Nigeria after his junior secondary school education at Air Force Comprehensive School in Ibaden, Oyo State. The Nigeria online June 26, 2012 Daily Post reports that his parents moved the whole family to Houston when he was 13. He was enrolled in Fondren Middle School, described in the Post as being in the “middle of the ghetto”:
“That was one of the darkest years for me because I encountered a lot of peer pressure,” he recalls. “Some of the students, ignorant about Africa, bullied me and called me names such as ‘African booty scratcher’ because to them, Africans were dirty and scratched their butts all the time.”
He adds that some of the students asked if he “lived in mud huts and ate feces for breakfast.” One experience which will probably stay with him was as he was walking to the school bus, “a boy came from behind and punched me in the face, called me an African and walked away. It took everything in me not to retaliate. I knew that God had put me in the U.S. for a purpose and it did not involve fighting or selling drugs or doing wrong things.”
Young Emmanuel grew in his words, “thick skin” as a result of these experiences and learned to “stand for what I thought was right, even when the opposition seemed insurmountable.” He learned to look at the positives in all situations and that even though his classmates were bullying him, “I was still gaining an opportunity to attend school in America and nothing would stop me from making the best of this opportunity.”
But the real “shocker” for him was that the kid who punched him in the face was Black. His reaction: “I would have expected the Blacks to be nicer to me. Nevertheless, I don’t blame those kids because they were ignorant about Africa. All they knew about us was the stuff they watched on TV or documentaries showing primitive tribes living in the jungle and making noises like monkeys.”
Throughout it all, Emmanuel remained academically at the top of his class. Upon completing his middle school education, he passed the entrance examination to Houston’s DeBakey High School for Health Professions. It would be at DeBakey that his interest in neuroscience and medicine was cultivated.“By the second year of high school,” as cited in the Post, “we were able to interact with doctors, nurses and other administrators in the hospital. The more I learned about medicine, the more I felt like this is what God was calling me to pursue and by being in the U.S., I got a lot of people to support me to do this. Even in high school, I got to see first-hand what it mean to be a doctor.”
He adds that students had the opportunity to study advanced anatomy, physiology; to learn medical terminology and be introduced to such skills as checking blood pressure and pulse rate.
Concerned that his parents may not be able to afford college level tuition, Emmanuel studied and worked hard to achieve top competitive grades at DeBakey. When it became time to take the PSAT, he performed so well that he won the title of National Achievement Scholar. Established in 1964, the National Achievement Scholarship Program is an academic competition for outstanding Black American high school students.
As a result of this award, he received certificates of recognition from pristine organizations and from senators and members of Congress from Texas and from national seats. In addition to winning the Principal’s Award during the annual awards ceremony at DeBakey, Emmanuel also received scholarships from the University of Houston, Rice University, and Texas A&M University.
The graduation ceremony, I also won the Award for the Most Outstanding Senior Young Man and the Student Volunteer Award for my volunteer activities in the State of Texas.”
The JHU grad was accepted into every medical school that he applied to include Harvard, JHU, Columbia, and Cornell. The decision of which college or university to attend surfaced when he won the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation’s full scholarship to any university of his choice. He selected and was granted admission to John Hopkins University to study Neurosciences.
He chose Neuroscience “because I was fascinated with the brain, its control of our behaviors and how various diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease leads to a decline in its activity. I also minored in Psychology because I wanted to understand disorders in the psyche. What causes bipolar disorders or schizophrenia. I did not want to label them as crazy but to understand what causes these conditions and how we can treat them,” he positions.
Emmanuel attributes his parents as “his greatest role models” who were major contributors to “my academic feat through Godly training, counsel and guidance.”
This blooming MD and medical specialist may return to Nigeria upon completion of his studies at Yale: “I am absolutely interested in the health care policy decisions in Nigeria. Because there are many changes that need to occur, I will not rule out the possibility of coming back after my studies in order to join hands with the leaders to make these changes possible,” he envisions.