AURORA, Colo. — Years ago, Mary Desta left the life she knew oceans away to fulfill a dream of helping others in the United States.
"I'm happy to be where I am. It is the land of opportunity, right?" said Mary Desta, owner of Apex Pharmacy in Aurora.
Desta worked for nearly ten years in a drugstore chain before opening Apex Pharmacy in Aurora last November.
She said she chose Aurora after reading research on the disproportionate COVID-19 outcomes for communities of color and her ongoing research about the unique health disparities communities of color face.
"It could be a business, but my heart was more into not just surviving as a business but doing and giving back," Desta said.
Her goal is for the pharmacy to function as a community resource center. Apex Pharmacy offers free diabetes clinics and other preventative health services.
"I wanted to get involved in the community, impact more lives. Not just fill prescriptions, but do clinical services that pharmacists are able to do, and that's exactly what we're doing," Desta said.
Desta's goal to give back to the community started during her schooling years in East Africa.
"I've always had a love for science and also the desire to help people." Desta said. "I also remember having a science teacher who talked about a biochemist, and I was intrigued."
When Desta was in her late teenage years, her mother emigrated to the U.S. Once here, Desta's mother filed an immigrant petition for her and her brother.
"I escaped, fled to Sudan, [my brother and I] did a 19 hour walk, and then made it to the U.S.," Desta said.
Through tears, Desta said her experiences are not unique, but rather a common challenge faced by Eritrean citizens who try to leave the country.
The grueling 19 hour walked allowed Desta and her brother to avoid Eritrea's mandatory military service. The country has been criticized for forcing Eritreans into indefinite military terms.
Once in the U.S., Desta attended community college and later pharmacy school.
"It is fulfilling for me to do what I do," she said.
Desta said she's grateful to U.S. Civil Rights leaders that paved way for her and others.
"I know there are so many people that paved the way for me to be in this role, and I'm forever grateful," Desta said. "I would not be here without the people that helped advance opportunities for people of color in this country."