The University Record, January 28, 2002

Doctors tell story of uniting to rise above

By Colleen Newvine
News and Information Services

Sampson Davis, Rameck Hunt and George Jenkins grew up in a neighborhood more likely to produce drug dealers and car thieves than doctors. Though none of the young Black men had any first-hand knowledge of doctors, or what it would take to become one, they made a pact in high school to stick together through college and medical school. Today, they’ve achieved what they set out to do: Davis is finishing his residency in emergency medicine, Hunt is a resident in internal medicine, and Jenkins is pursuing a fellowship in dentistry.

At the Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium Health Sciences Program last week, the trio, known as The Three Doctors, told the story of how they overcame obstacles to chase their dream. It’s a story they’ve told on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, and one that earned them the Essence award for their accomplishments. They spoke to a nearly full Dow Auditorium, packed with college students, faculty and staff, mixed with several younger students on MLK day. Their message mixed humor with the tough realities of growing up poor in Newark, N.J. with little hope for success. A key message was the influence of peer pressure, and the value of role models.

Jenkins got the ball rolling all those years ago. His mother had taken him to see a dentist, and he was so struck by the young dentist he decided that’s what he wanted to do with his life. A few years later, when a recruiter from Seton Hall came to his high school to talk about professions in the health sciences, Jenkins talked Davis and Hunt into working toward it with him. It was an unlikely decision in a Newark, N.J. neighborhood where the boys routinely saw cars being stolen, where gangs and drugs were everywhere. “I knew I wanted more than that,” Davis said.

Typically, the men noted, the only way kids seem to get out of the ghetto is through sports and entertainment. Many of their neighbors mocked academic success so the men said they hid books under their coats and told their classmates they cheated to get an A on a test, all to escape the ridicule but to stay on track. “We have to start making it acceptable for our kids to excel,” Davis said. “In my community, everybody limited themselves.”

Rameck said he finds it discouraging that in elementary school, the kids in his neighborhood all enthusiastically talked of their plans to become firefighters or lawyers or the president, but just a few years later, the enthusiasm drained and they simply talked of getting by. “They started to see their reality,” he said.

It’s not hard to see, Davis said, that a kid growing up in a crime-ridden neighborhood will see crime as a logical choice. Businessmen didn’t walk down the streets of their neighborhoods, so they had no one to look to as a role model or for advice.

“You really need to see your image in order to shoot for it,” Jenkins said, laughing that the only place they saw a Black doctor as a kid was on the “Cosby Show.” Jenkins added that fear limited the young people in his community—they heard college was hard, so they didn’t think it was an option.

He said the three of them are working to eliminate as many excuses as possible for young people so they can go without fear toward their dreams. They drew applause from the audience when Davis said they wouldn’t be where they are today without the affirmative action program at Seton Hall. Jenkins, too, drew applause when he praised the audience for its attendance and remarked on how impressed he was that he wasn’t speaking to just a Black audience but to a group of many ethnicities. “I want to move here,” he said.

The event was sponsored by the schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health, and Social Work, and by the U-M Health System. For more information on the Three Doctors, including the foundation they’ve established to teach young people about health professions and encourage them to pursue their dreams, visit the Web at www.threedoctorsfoundation.org