Meet Ozioma Egwuonwu, an extremely accomplished young woman at the forefront of Newburgh’s revitalization. She has given a Tedx Talk, spoken at the UN and even created her own holiday, World Dream Day. You might have seen her dream board on the corner of Broadway and Liberty or heard of her participation in the I AM Illuminated event with the Mayor. With her business, BurnBright LLC, she is making moves in Newburgh. She is now based out of the new collaborative workspace on Broadway called Space Create. Learn about her international journey and why she has decided to come back to Newburgh.
Where are you from and how did you end up in the City of Newburgh?
I am originally from Nigeria. That is where I was born. My family came to America when I was very young. My father was a diplomat and after his term concluded, we decided to stay in America. I lived my early years in Manhattan and then the Bronx. My family moved up to the Newburgh/New Windsor area when I was 13 years old.
What was it like growing up here?
It was a beautiful struggle because I attended Valley Central High School, but always looked to Newburgh for a certain degree of freedom of expression and identity. When my mother purchased a home in Newburgh, it gave me permission and license to begin to explore.
At 16, I began working at the Newburgh Mall and after work would host sleepovers at my Newburgh home on Friday nights. Newburgh became the place where I would come to play. I remember having a group of diverse friends from all different ethnic backgrounds. The friendships reflected the make-up of the city. Hispanic, Black, White.
During my teenage years, when my friends and I came together we had a lot of fun sharing our lives and creating a safe space beyond the violence. My home on Hasbrouck at that time became a safe haven, and years later some of those friends ended up raising their families in that home.
Growing up in and around Newburgh had many challenges for me, but also created a great foundation for my creativity and tenacity.
Where did your journey take you after high school?
After high school I received a Presidential Scholarship to attend the University at Albany where I received a BA/MA in English studies. Right after, I was selected to work at the Sundance Filmmakers Lab Utah where Robert Redford made a huge impression on me with a speech on the importance of creativity + truth. It set the pace for me.
I returned to NYC I and went straight into the world of production and rose through the ranks to become a full-fledged commercial producer at Saatchi and Saatchi working OLAY. I also pursued a 2nd masters degree in Television, Radio and New Media from Brooklyn College.
After 5 years of being a producer, I decided to switch careers and became a strategist. The 1st turn strategic brand re-invention I worked on was helping to rebrand JC Penney with the Every Day Matters Campaign.
I became a Vice President at around 26 and left about 2 years ago from my post as VP of Cultural Strategy and Innovation at a Madison Avenue Agency to begin to evolve my strategic work in the areas of helping individuals, businesses and communities transform. I now consult with businesses, brands and non-profit entities as needed.
Tell us about your business, Burn Bright. What is it about? What do you hope to achieve?
BurnBright is a transformational coaching, consulting and training business that focused on igniting human potential.
When I was in my mid twenties, I developed a methodology and a series of processes that were very effective in helping people gain clarity around where they were in life and where they wanted to go. I called it the BurnBright Method.
In 2011, I began doing more social good and community empowerment work and ever since then many communities and non-profit organizations nationally and internationally have asked me to share insights and strategies on how they can move forward.
In 2012 BurnBright launched World Dream Day a global holiday that has been celebrated in close to 50 counties around the world and reached about 1 million social media impressions the year. This year, however, things really took off for BurnBright with collaborating with the Mayor and the I AM Illuminated event, initiatives at the United Nations, appearances on MSNBC and also even being invited to support global launches with organizations at UK Parliament.
I love being of service and supporting the path towards individual and collective progress. I love helping individuals, businesses and communities move forward and BurnBright!
What other exciting projects are you a part of in the city?
When I returned to Newburgh I conducted a large scale transformational study and published a report that details a 6-point strategy on how to create even more + change in Newburgh. Columbia University invited me to share that research and my other insights as one of the initial inputs to their work, since then I have played a supporting role as a member of the design review committee and also community stakeholder on their local site intervention. My main desire was to ensure that their ideas reflect a dynamic balance between what Newburgh currently is and what Newburgh CAN be.
You have had an impressive career teaching at Columbia University, a Tedx Talk, and even working at the UN. Your could take your work anywhere. Why was it important to circle back to Newburgh?
A large part of my life has always been led by asking “where is the need?” and going there. I live a life of service and there is nothing that brings me greater joy at the moment than playing a powerful role and making major contributions to the landscape that helped to shape my formative years. I believe we should always give what we can, as much as we can, for as long as we can. It consider it to be an honor to be a part of this phase of Newburgh’s evolving narrative.
I recently moved my global headquarters to Newburgh. BurnBright International LLC is now located at Space Create at 115 Broadway, where we have launched Dream-UP NBNY, which was a local event to benefit the community goals and dreams and highlight the importance of peace in the city of Newburgh and the world.
Most recently, I have already launched BurnBright Business Labs. Where we provide services that support start-ups, establish business owners, and creative professionals with igniting entrepreneurial success in the Hudson Valley and beyond.
I will also be training people on how to create Personalized MasterPlans that support their lives and their dreams. Many people here have goals and dreams without the strategies to make them happen. BurnBright will provide services that support them in that. We even have a class called DreamYoga-a new form of Yoga I developed to help people connect to their ideas, goals and dreams on a deeper level.
My main desire is to be a resource for business, personal and community development.
How do you envision the revitalization of Newburgh?
My vision is of a Newburgh where the beauty that already exists is able to shine through for all to see.
When analyzed objectively, the City of Newburgh possesses all of the trappings essential to create a thriving city. Green space, arts and culture, architecture, public transportation, etc. When analyzed closely, however, you begin to realize that the challenges that face Newburgh are quite complex. These challenges are wicked problems that are currently blocking Newburgh’s Light: drug problems, rampant corruption, and a lack of unity, integration and collaboration across economic and color lines among many others.
I believe these challenges can lessen and come to a screeching halt when a community is committed to putting an end to whatever is blocking it’s light of progress. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’m a strong believer in a comeback story, and I believe Newburgh has a new story to tell. I believe the time to tell it is NOW.
A better, brighter Newburgh is indeed not only a possibility, but inevitable if we are willing to join forces and do the work.
I believe that what it required in Newburgh are key strategic interventions that support and create transformation where it is needed most. My research led me to create a transformation plan based on these areas and I and others have begun to address change in the following key areas:
- Empower Newburgh Youth to become agents of change
- Create a coherence strategy that pulls key stakeholders and community together.
- Turn Newburgh into a Transformational Brand: Newburgh needs a New Story
- Stir the air with community-driven innovation. Newburgh as Open Source City
- Ignite “Next Generation Entrepreneurship” that attracts business growth
- Leverage the cultural equity of Orange County and The Hudson Valley
What advice would you give someone looking to start a new dream in Newburgh?
Newburgh is a great place to bring forth new dreams as long as the person is willing to roll up their sleeves and dig in. This is the perfect place and time to be in Newburgh.
I would suggest that it’s important to first come and learn about what is going on in the community from all aspects of the community. Newburgh can be quite misleading on the surface. When you take the time to listen to people and listen to the story that Newburgh is ready to tell, you can find your place in the unfolding narrative.
Hopefully that place is to be a contribution. To fill this city up with love, light and innovation. There is so much that is needed here and I believe that more good people will come to play the role of lighting Newburgh up from the inside out!
And last but not least, what is your favorite building or location in the city?
Right now my favorite location in Newburgh is at the corner of Liberty and Broadway where we installed a Dream Wall. I love stopping by each day and bearing witness to the way in which this wall is opening this city up in ways I couldn’t imagine. The other day it was wiped clean and within hours filled up once more.
On that wall, all cultures and age ranges have poured out their hopes and dreams for a better Newburgh. That corner holds my heart.
Thank you Ozioma for sharing your story!