What I wish I knew when I was 18

In honor of Black History month, Newsday asked black Long Islanders of all ages what advice they would give their younger self.

Black History Month is an opportunity both to look back and to look forward. To understand what that really means on Long Island, Newsday recently posed a single question to members of the black community of all ages – what do you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self? From doctors and ministers to politicians and activists, from millennials to senior community leaders, and from our own staff, here’s what they told us.

Nassau County Minority Legislative Leader Kevan Abrahams

“Exercise your right to vote”

Nassau County Minority Legislative Leader Kevan Abrahams stresses the importance of staying “politically engaged” to his younger self. “Make sure you exercise your right to vote.” He also stressed the importance of saving, particularly for a home, and to “invest in yourself.” 

Hon. Victoria Gumbs-Moore

“Have mentors for every stage and every facet of your life”

Family court judge Hon. Victoria Gumbs-Moore tells her younger self: “It’s very important to have mentors … for every stage and every facet of your life. You don’t need to have one.”

Erika MacDonald

“I’ve definitely blossomed”

Erika MacDonald, of Hempstead, reflects on how much she’s changed since she was a “shy” teen. “I’ve definitely blossomed … I’ve actually created a business that actually pushes me to meet a lot of new people.”

Pastor Arthur L. Mackey Jr.

“You’re going to have to stand up and fight”

Pastor Arthur L. Mackey Jr., speaking to his 18-year-old self, recalls the important advice a history teacher gave him as a teenager, “Black history is American history,” and how it would come to change his worldview and influence him later in life.

Dr. Allison McLarty

“Not let fear define you”

Dr. Allison McLarty tells her 18-year-old self about all the exciting experiences that await her and to “not let fear define you. You’re going to be offered the chance of a lifetime …  you’re going to feel intimidated and afraid and unprepared” but “sometimes opportunity knocks only once. Go for it with everything you have.”

Godson Michel

“Focus on making yourself better every single day”

Godson Michel, of Amityville, tells his 18-year-old self to focus on what really matters: “your education and building wealth … making yourself better every day” and “being more involved in the community.”

Kent Mills

“Be that kind of person that’s a friend to others”

Kent Mills, of Uniondale, tells his 18-year-old, for starters, that “it gets better.” He also passes along this lesson he’s learned: “Life is not just about what you want to do but it’s also about the friendships that you create and the friendships that bring you through the tough times … and the good. Be that kind of person that’s a friend to others, that helps others, that helps your community.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr.

“Try to be as patient as possible”

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. urges his 18-year-old self to “be patient” and to not “get frustrated.” Toulon said: “He’s going to experience great highs and great lows. He’s going to suffer through some serious ailments … personal tragedies  … but he’s going to find love in his life … and personal achievements.”

Ashleigh Wilson

“You’re going to get a lot of ‘no’s”

Newsday homepage producer and Alexa briefing host Ashleigh Wilson encourages her 18-year-old self: “Your ambitions are actually attainable. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do anything. You’re going to get a lot of ‘no’s…Take a deep breath because those no’s aren’t no’s. They’re just redirections.”

Sheila Wilson-Wells

“Being connected to some sort of mentorship … or intern pipeline really helps you”

Sheila Wilson-Wells, of Lakeview, says in her 30s she’s realized the importance of mentors and networking, and also contributing to her community. She said she’d tell her younger self to “be more conscience around political stances in the community and environment” and look to “add to the community versus just taking advantage of everything that was around me.” 

Kia Wright

“Be resilient”

Kia Wright, coach of Copiague High School girl’s junior varsity basketball, tells her 18-year-old self: “Be happy, be free .. make decisions that make you happy. Don’t live your life for anyone else but your self. You’re not always going to make everyone happy with your decisions but stick to them and be proud. Life isn’t always going to be fair … or easy, but you have to push through and overcome all the obstacles that are meant to destroy you.”

Monte R. Young

“Learn how to encourage yourself”

Newsday Assistant Managing Editor Monte R. Young tells his 18-year-old self about some of the challenges he will face in his life – from racism to cancer – but that with faith, family and mentors, and “learning how to encourage yourself” he will get through it all. “You’re going to have good black mentors … you’re going to learn that not all white folk are bad … as you get older you’re going to learn to give that back … you’re going to be pretty good at that.”