Alumna Tamykah Anthony-Marston has become a successful scientist since graduating from John Jay in 2015. She’s also a testament to the fact that you don’t need to be a superhero to achieve your wildest dreams.
Anthony-Marston, who was born on the small island of Saint Vincent, has known what she’s wanted to do with her life ever since she first learned the term “scientist” after arriving to the states in fourth grade. But her path to success wasn’t without its challenges. She was admitted to foster care and became pregnant in her teenage years, which put her dream of becoming a scientist on hold. Eventually, she enrolled in John Jay’s Forensic Science program, but during her third year of the program, she became pregnant again.
By then, Anthony-Marston was on the Dean’s List and was one of the first John Jay students to receive a research prize at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) conference. Nothing could stop her from completing her degree. “I knew I needed to graduate on time because I already made it this far,” she said. “I was at St. Luke’s hospital and I was supposed to be on bedrest, but I would sneak out to class with my IV bags.”
That fierce determination paid off. Using the knowledge she learned through her concentration in toxicology, Anthony-Marston soon developed a line of natural products called Xanthines, which she created as an alternative to harmful cancer-causing products. “I started going back to my John Jay textbooks to learn about pHs, and I created my first natural deodorant,” she says. Xanthines has been so successful that it now carries 24 products in its line.
But while Tamykah enjoys making natural products, her passion has always been working with children. On weekends, she hosts science workshops at the Seneca Village Montessori School in Brooklyn for children and their family members. When she saw how popular the Black Panther film was this February, she decided to launch Camp Wakanda over spring break, where she taught students that they could be superheroes by using science. “I’d tell the students they could make things move without touching them. It’s called the superpower of static electricity,” says Anthony-Marston.
“The goal was to teach these kids that they’re already super powerful, and to also help them redefine what it means to be a superhero.” –Tamykah Anthony-Marston
With its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum, the weeklong camp covered not only science, but a variety of subjects. From culinary demonstrations to hip-hop classes taught by a member of the Bronx-based group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Camp Wakanda taught students new skills and nourished existing passions. “The goal was to teach these kids that they’re already super powerful, and to also help them redefine what it means to be a superhero,” says Anthony-Marston. “Being a superhero isn’t about what you can do, but something that’s inside of you.”
Camp Wakanda was so successful that Anthony-Marston is now hosting a summer long version of the camp at sites in both Brooklyn and Queens. Her goal is to impact 10,000 children by the end of the year.
For Anthony-Marston, who grew up in Brownsville and has experienced the challenge of being a black scientist in a predominantly white field, it’s important to provide these educational opportunities to students who otherwise might not have them. To her, all that any child needs to succeed is for someone to show them that they, like Black Panther, can be superheroes, too.
“In Black Panther, Killmonger wasn’t really a villain,” says Anthony-Marston. “It was just that he was unloved. Similarly, in real life, someone will only do bad because they don’t yet know their value. But once they know their value, they’ll cherish it. All you have to do is show them how dope they are.”