Temitayo “Tayo” Bakare is 35-years-old with a family and a job as clinical director of pharmacy at CoxHealth in Springfield. But her life began thousands of miles away in Africa. She learned to be on her own at a time when many children in the United States are just beginning to test the waters of independence with their parents close by.
She grew up in Nigeria and remembers a fun childhood there.
"I'm number two of five, grew up in a pretty large family, had aunties and uncles around," she said, "father died when I was nine-years-old."
And that's when she went away to boarding school. Summers were spent at home, but, during some of the shorter holidays, she stayed at school.
Toward the end of high school, she took exams to apply to universities in Nigeria and in the United Kingdom.
"And one of my mom's sisters...she's a pharmacist as well. At that time she was a pharmacist in New York and suggested I do all of that, and, unbeknownst to me, she had gotten all the results and applied to a bunch of schools," she said. "All I had to supply her was my preferred major."
After poring over packets from universities in the United States sent to Bakare by her aunt, she headed to the embassy in Nigeria.
"And somehow the guy at the embassy said, 'yes,'" she said. "He looked at me and said, 'I don't think you're going to come back,' and I said, 'but why? I would,' and he tried to calculate what the tuition would be, that I would have spent, and he said, 'but I'll give it to you anyway.'"
Bakare was just 17 when she arrived in the United States to live with her aunt while she attended school. She spoke English well and knew what to expect when she stepped foot in New York City.
"I didn't know any different," she said. "I knew "Coming to America," the movie, so that's what set my expectations, and New York is about that. I'm so glad that my first stop in the U.S. was New York, 'cause in New York, it's everybody's space and nobody's space at the same time."
She was surrounded by students from all over the world at St. John’s University and, because she was in a big city, she had access to a variety of food.
Two years into school, Bakare’s aunt got married and moved to London, so she moved in with a friend.
Bakare had thought about studying engineering. That’s because all the rich parents she knew in Nigeria were petro chemical engineers or something similar.
"It just made sense with Nigeria in the crude oil resource, but after, I mean, really, just, I'd done the SATs, and I think it was a trip coming back from church, and I felt I needed to go into the healthcare space," she said.
She prayed about it, then talked to her aunt who suggested she go into pharmacy—something she remains grateful for to this day along with all the work her aunt did to get her to college in the U.S.
"Why she did it, I don't know," she said. "Every now and then I have this 'Aha!' moment. I send her thank you notes just because. She didn't have to, but she did anyway."
She took pre-med classes until it was time to take the MCAT—the step a student takes before applying for medical school. But Bakare decided she would pursue pharmacy and become the best possible pharmacist she could be.
She spent her residency in Johnstown, Pennsylvania where the residency director, Lou Gonzalez, became her mentor while she worked to change her visa status to allow her to work. He offered to be Bakare’s sponsor, and her visa was approved.
Her first job was at Boston Medical Center, and after she spent three years there, she began thinking about going into management. That led Bakare to earn a Master’s degree in management from Harvard University.
She said learning management in a non-healthcare setting was “fascinating.”
"It's very interesting how others approached the exact same topics versus how the folks in healthcare," she said. "It was a wonderful experience."
While she was in Boston, fate played a role in leading Bakare to her future husband. A friend asked her to attend a wedding with her in Virginia. Bakare was bored and didn’t want to stay in Boston for the weekend, so she went.
"I met a fine, young man," she said.
That man, who is also from Nigeria, was from Springfield, Missouri.
Today, she has a 17-year-old stepdaughter, a three-year-old daughter and a newborn son. And she’s been at CoxHealth for nearly five years—serving as both the clinical director of pharmacy and as the site manager for the oncology infusion center.
And on June 1, 2017, 20 years after arriving in New York City, Bakare became a United States citizen. But it wasn’t an easy process to get there. When she went to Boston Medical Center to work, she had to file for an entirely new h1b Visa and then an extension and then lawyers started the process to get Bakare’s green card. After five years of having a green card, she became eligible for U.S. citizenship. Bakare called it a waiting game.
"Every single time administration changes, and every single year you get nervous because the immigration laws just get a little tighter tighter," she said. "But I'm so glad."
The naturalization ceremony in Kansas City was quick and unceremonious, she said, but it was exciting. She recognized a familiar face in the crowd—the man who had administered the tests required for citizenship.
Bakare has been back to visit her siblings in Nigeria a few times, but it’s been six years since her last trip. Her mom, who has two out of five children in the U.S., is in Springfield now to help with her new grandbaby and has a green card so she’s not bound by the six month visits on a visa.
And Bakare’s husband, who, with his brother, runs an executive coach business started by his father, is working to become a U.S. citizen, too.
Bakare continues putting down roots in Springfield, and she said whatever the future holds for her, she’ll be O.K.
"By the grace of God, I can thrive anywhere," said Bakare, "and that's the goal: Thriving and not surviving. Geographically, it doesn't matter. I love Boston, and I still go back. I loved New York, and now I call Springfield home, and I'm grateful."