By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
Jamilah, Hadiyah, and Ayannah Page are more than sisters. They are classmates, mentors, friends, confidants, and colleagues who attended the same Birmingham high school and the same Alabama historically Black college and university (HBCU).
–Jamilah, 26, the oldest graduated from Auburn University this year with a Ph.D. in nutrition, with an emphasis on community nutrition and public health; she will start a new job as an assistant professor at Berea College located in Berea, Kentucky, in August.
–Hadiyah, 23, the middle sister, graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) this year with a master’s degree in public health, with a concentration in maternal and child health care and policy; she will begin attending Ross University in Barbados in August to study interventional medicine.
–Ayannah, 21, the youngest, graduated from Tuskegee University this year with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry, with a second concentration in biology.
All of the Page sisters attended Ramsay High School in Birmingham and completed their undergraduate studies at Tuskegee University, in Tuskegee, Alabama.
“The intersectionality is really crazy. … We all want the same things. We sing in the choir together. We praise dance together. We are the anointed Page sisters,” who attend Triumph the Church and Kingdom of God in Christ located in Ensley, Alabama, said Hadiyah. “I tell people a lot, growing up with sisters, especially two of them and me being the middle, I get the best of both worlds. … I feel like I’m in the perfect position. I get to learn, and I get to teach.”
As the oldest, Jamilah said she did not want to cast a shadow over her sisters.
“I’m thankful that each one of them have been able to establish their own footing and what they want to do,” she said, adding that she wants them to be their own person.
“They have manifested that and created it,” Jamilah said.
Ayannah gets emotional when speaking about her sisters and their accomplishments. She’s proud to say they are doctors and, even though she has decided not to become one, “They give me hope and faith that I still could,” she said.
Their mother, Desireé Ruffin Page, said if she had to sum up how she feels about the accomplishments of her girls in one word, it would be “blessed.”
“I feel blessed that they are high achievers, … blessed that they’re go-getters, blessed that they see something in our family that makes them want to keep striving,” she said. “I know there are so many obstacles out there for women first, and then even more for women of color. … To see them not letting [those obstacles] stand in their way and just strive for the best, I feel blessed.”
Overall, Desireé is most proud of the drive and determination her daughters have.
“They don’t take no for an answer on anything,” she added. “At this point, I just give them the benefit of my experience, but they’re driven. … I tried to instill in them that, even though life might throw a few curve balls, education is always something you can fall back on.”
The young ladies also have a 14-year-old brother, Nicolas, who attends A.H. Parker High School.
Page One: Jamilah
Although they come from the same household, their love for STEM is derived from different sources. For Jamilah, STEM wasn’t the original dream.
“I actually wanted to go to culinary school because I wanted to cook and own my own restaurant,” she said.
That all changed when she went to Ramsay High School, where a teacher talked to her about different culinary schools and looking at options.
“The more I talked to my mother about wanting to go to culinary school, she encouraged me to at least get a four-year degree in something nutrition-related first,” Jamilah remembered. “As I kind of kept looking, … my mom eventually talked to me about dietetics and food and nutrition sciences, and I really fell in love with it.”
Jamilah said it wasn’t until after her first internship at Iowa State in the summer of 2012, following her freshman year at Tuskegee, that she decided to stick with nutrition sciences—looking at more than just food but how it relates to the body and helps the body, how we need food to survive.
She also was interested in working a laboratory setting. There are different types of labs, said Jamillah, who considers the kitchen her favorite lab. That’s where she develops products and recipes, tests them, creates them. She even shares them in her community.
During the course of her studies, Jamilah realized that she wanted to work with people and teach, as well.
“After participating in different programs [and] different internships, one specifically with children to teach them concepts within food industries and sciences, I learned that I wanted to do community nutrition.
“[Food and nutrition are aspects of the] STEM field, but there’s also the social part of it, where you actually get into the communities and interact with people,” she said, adding that one of her main research interests is establishing and expanding community gardens.
Her path may have changed, but Jamilah’s love for the culinary arts has not. She still enjoys cooking and trying new recipes.
“That’s the fun part of being in the lab, … and now I have a kitchen lab, where I teach other students,” she said.
Jamilah is now an assistant professor of nutrition at Berea College, where she teaches a broad range of nutrition classes, including fundamentals of nutrition, food preparation, consumers in the food system, life-cycle nutrition, etc.
“I’m the professor solely dedicated to the nutrition students,” she said.
Although Jamilah is a professor, culinary school is still an option for the future, but, she said, “I’ve actually and fallen in love with where I am right now.”
“Right now” equals being in the middle of making her move and establishing a full professorship.
“I’m just in transition, getting ready to start a new job, preparing to make it my own, especially when it comes to teaching and getting more young African American professionals into the world of food and nutrition,” Jamilah said.
Page Two: Hadiyah
Hadiyah said STEM fell into her hands unknowingly. “My biggest influences have always been my parents, my family,” she said. “My mom is still the biggest role model for me in how I view life and health in general.”
“We were never not educated about our own health. [Our mom] was adamant about that,” Hadiyah said. “From there I was like, ‘How can I make sure this [mindset] is taken and multiplied to Black families, especially Black families that have endured trauma?’ [Black families] have endured trauma collectively and individually.”
Hadiyah added that health sciences involve a step-by-step approach.
“You have to learn the logistics of health promotion and health education, … [including] all the different social determinants of health that affect the home: familial background, mindset, tradition, religion, diet, exercise, educational status,” she said. “Once you learn the logistics, you get a road map for everything else.”
The fact that her father, William Page, was cardiomyopathy patient who underwent a heart transplant also played a big role in Hadiyah’s career choice.
“We were always at the hospital,” she said. “I was never scared of the hospital. I actually really enjoyed it … because it was an environment that I knew was well controlled. I loved seeing my dad’s scars, … the way he was being treated by the doctors, the goals they had in mind for him.”
Because of the experiences she had while her dad was hospitalized, Hadiyah always felt able to engage with a different perspective about medicine and health, having witnessed the way the doctors and hospital staff interacted with her dad.
William Page passed away on Feb. 21, 2005, as a result of contracting an infection after a heart transplant.
Hadiyah said she has found a way to help others following the loss of her dad.
“I think about how I have the chance to share my story about what we went through when our father passed, how we’re coping with it,” Hadiyah said. “It never gets easier, [but I hope] my story can help other people cope with grief, loss, trauma, [and] finding themselves.
“Primarily, I’m just here for the innovation, the help, and the goals of medicine in general. … Plus, [I enjoy] helping people and helping families feel better and become more in tune with each other. … The way you do that is by understanding people.”
One of the biggest lessons Hadiyah has learned throughout her studies is the need for health education, she said, as well as culturally competent trauma-informed interventions. In medicine, an intervention is usually undertaken to help treat or cure a condition, and culturally competent trauma-informed interventions are treatments that are centered around a patient’s culture, Hadiyah explained.
“I see that a lot of those interventions are not placed in communities of color, Black communities,” she said.
Hadiyah is considering psychiatry as her specialty because it will give her a platform that will enable her to become a child and adolescent psychiatrist, who can possibly have her own practice and go into schools. In the meantime, Hadiyah will be flying to Barbados in August to attend Ross University School of Medicine.
“I chose the Caribbean route because I was awarded scholarships,” she said. “Medicine is a demanding field, and financial assistance makes the journey much more palatable. … I’m excited [and] very grateful for this opportunity.”
Page Three: Ayannah
Ayannah has always been interested in STEM.
“I’ve always done well in school, so I used to say I didn’t have a favorite subject,” she said. “When I got older, I realized that my favorite subjects were math and science.”
Then, the summer after her ninth-grade year at Ramsay High School, Ayannah attended an Advanced Placement (AP) chemistry enrichment camp at UAB, which was the catalyst of her love for chemistry.
When I took pre-AP chemistry at Ramsay, I really fell in love with it,” she said. “That’s when I decided I wanted to major in chemistry.”
After graduating from Ramsay in 2017, Ayannah followed in the footsteps of her sisters and enrolled in Tuskegee University, which “made my path easier,” she said.
“If I needed something or didn’t understand something, … I knew I could call them, and they could help me with anything,” Ayannah said, adding that whether it was navigating Ramsay or Tuskegee or tackling her STEM studies, she knew she always had someone she could reach—and can still call.
Ayannah has decided to pursue a different path than her sisters.
“Right now, I’m working on my cosmetology license because I want to do cosmetic chemistry,” she said. “I want to create and curate a product or a line of products for hair, skin, and nails, especially for Black women. I also want to be what I call a ‘spa line owner’ because I want to [run a business that’s] not just a spa and not just a salon; it’s going to be both. I want it to be an all-inclusive beauty experience—a nail salon, hair salon, massages, waxes, everything in one. Then I’ll branch out and do other things from there.”
With her chemistry degree from Tuskegee University, Ayannah is currently working on her cosmetology license and giving herself three years to open the first phase of her spa line, which will focus on nail care. In addition, she and Hadiyah have a beauty business called The Front Page, where Ayannah specializes in nails and Hadiyah specializes in eyelash extensions.
Also working with Ayannah is her mom, Desireé, who supports not only Ayannah’s business plans but the endeavors of all her children.
Desireé said she’s tried to teach her daughters and her son to be productive people in society, teach them how to work well with others, “to love people.”
“The basic foundation is love,” she continued. “Love is the key, and love is not buying them a lot of things. … Loving them is being there for them. If I can stress to anybody what I think the key was and still is, it is lots of love and showing up for them.”
Hadiyah summed up the Page girls: “My sisters are dope!”
“They’re just not put in a box. … There’s nothing they can’t do, and I’m excited to see where they go from here,” she said emotionally. “I have experienced my sisters very intimately for most of their entire lives. Jamilah’s always been my protector, … and she still is. Ayanna, in a lot of ways, is my muse because she makes me see what I can do better and helps me understand that I can do anything I want to do.
“The lessons [my sisters] have taught me and everything I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand, [all of that] is so humbling. I really hope other people get to experience this type of love.”