Daniela shares her personal narrative in converting to Islam, and how her professional passions shape her worldviews in giving back to her community. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“I was born in Melrose Park, which is a suburb of Chicago. I was born there and I grew up primarily in Naperville, so a lot of my childhood memories are in Naperville and I moved to Chicago for college. Born and raised, I would say I’m from Chicago but I’m really from the surrounding areas. I started off when I attended DePaul in biology, and then I changed it up to health sciences to be more well rounded because I didn’t know if I wanted to go to med-school, if I wanted to do research or if I wanted to do something in public policy.
So I did my beginning core classes in biology and did the rest in health sciences and public health, which just has more health communication classes. Sociology, a lot of emphasis on research, things like that. I didn’t know before DePaul that I was all about social justice. I found myself being really involved with a lot of different protests, a lot of different human rights initiatives. I found myself in my spare time getting involved with those initiatives that I felt really passionate about that others were kind of like, “we don’t wanna hear it, you’re being a little strong with it.” I really found in myself, when you believe in something, it doesn’t matter if someone else believes in it too, you just run with it yourself.
I’ve had these beliefs since I was in high school. My best friend growing up, my neighbor, she was Muslim. My childhood best friend. That’s what I knew and I said, you know what if I feel this way, you know I should be in this religion. So I started actually converting and practicing during college. So I currently do a lot of research on people that have spinal cord injuries. So I see a lot of people that are gunshot victims, people that have had falls or diving or jumping accidents, or even suicide accidents. Things like that. So I collect a lot of data on their outcomes from the time that they have their injury, to the time that they leave the hospital. Making sure that they’re really competent. You know, things of care or maybe using manual chair things like that.
I really really enjoy my work and I love seeing my patients when they see me and they’ve had really good outcomes and they’re walking. Or just really building that rapport with the families. I think it’s really useful for them to have someone that’s intimate and that cares, as well as me being in touch with society and the work that I do and seeing it really help someone.
How I started out is, you know, I didn’t really know the path cause I’m a science person. I don’t know much about business, how to go about starting a business, who are the correct people to talk to. Different things like that. So I auditioned for Founder’s Live and ended up getting chosen as one of the top 5 to present in Chicago. I just really doubted myself, saying you’re not good enough to do this. These people have better knowledge about it and I hadn’t really started off yet. But I did do it, and that was kind of like, the leap of faith. Even though I was really doubting myself without the funds for someone who is just starting off from college, and I don’t come from a background with a lot of different money. So as far as economic resources, even for myself aren’t readily available to just launch something like Facebook.
So Founders Live is something that is in the US and other countries. Every month they go to a city and they choose a couple companies that either have a good initiative that they’re really interested in, or a business that has already profited. Then you can sit in front of judges and explain a little bit about your business. They critic it off of, mostly your business plan and the market that they’re trying to serve. So there are some venture capitalists that may be there and they may offer to be a part of your business and different things like that. But it’s just a platform to locate different founders across the world.
I would say Daniela is very very sociable. Sometimes to the point where I’m trying to manage different things. Getting intimate with myself as far as learning new different things, figuring out myself, how I’ve changed over the years, so much. I feel like I’m at that stage of life where I want to just hop on a plane and travel, discover whatever my fears are. I haven’t done it yet, but that’s my plan this year. Just to hop on a plane, travel somewhere and explore, meet new people, just to say I did it. Face your fears.”