CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK
7 MAY 2003
How three pals from the Newark projects helped each other — and became doctors
A promise kept
Doctors and longtime friends George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt and Sampson Davis will visit Louisville to discuss and sign their new book, "The Pact." They remind you of "The Three Musketeers," the heroes of Alexandre Dumas' classic tale about unshakable friendship.
The terrific trio of Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt — bosom buddies from the Newark, N.J., projects — used their "all-for-one-and-one-for-all" camaraderie to overcome poverty, crime (Hunt and Davis have spent time in jail) and broken homes to achieve a phenomenal mission: to become doctors. "There were no doctors or lawyers walking the streets of our communities," they write in "The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream" (Riverhead paperback, $14).
"But one of us in childhood latched on to a dream of becoming a dentist, steered clear of trouble, and in his senior year of high school persuaded his two best friends to apply to a college program for minority students interested in becoming doctors. We knew we'd never survive if we went at it alone. And so we made a pact: We'd help each other through, no matter what."
Released in May 2002, the book was written with award-winning journalist Lisa Frazier Page and has received rave reviews. This week the three young doctors are coming to Louisville on a book tour — and as part of their mission. "The Pact" is a collective, coming-of-age memoir about struggling to beat the odds, in which Jenkins convinces Hunt and Davis that a better life lays in avoiding trouble and pursuing career success.
Although a child of the ghetto, Jenkins as an impressionable third-grader had been greatly influenced by a teacher, Viola Johnson. "She was the coolest teacher in the world," Jenkins, now a dentist who teaches at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, said in a telephone interview. "She took us to Broadway plays, had me taking ballet, which lasted only a few weeks because I couldn't stand the tights. She had us reading Shakespeare, the children's editions, gave us our first crack at algebra. "We'd all gather around her globes, and she'd point out places she'd been on vacation. She was breaking down barriers, helping us to realize that the world was bigger than our neighborhood and had just as much to offer us as anyone else — so go get it."
Though Davis and Hunt also excelled in school, they had issues. Both had been locked up in their teens and charged with serious felonies — armed robbery and attempted murder — narrowly avoiding prison. Hunt spent much of his childhood living with his grandmother because both his parents were drug addicts. His first week of college, he was nearly expelled for fighting with a fellow student. "I had some adjustments to make," said Hunt, an internist and medical director at the Adult Family Health Center at St. Peter's University Hospital in Newark. "Where I was from, that's how you dealt with problems. You confronted them physically. That was the social skill I was used to."
Davis, now an emergency medical attending physician at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark and director of community outreach, also was the child of divorced parents. He had his first run-in with the law at 13, for shoplifting. By junior high school, he was drinking and had joined a thug crew that specialized in robbing drug dealers. They got caught.
In one of the book's more instructive passages, Davis, freed from juvenile detention on a plea bargain, recounts the poignant moment when he informs his friends that he's decided to go straight. He writes, "I didn't tell Rameck and George about my arrest — at least not right away. I wasn't sure what they would think of me if they knew. Instead, I shifted my focus on getting into college. I wanted to share my news about my college plans with my boys from the neighborhood. "One of the older guys who had participated in the robbery was out of jail, awaiting his trial. We were hanging out on the stoop near the basketball court at Dayton Street Elementary with two other guys when I brought up the subject. 'Man, I'm thinking about going on to college,' I said. They burst out laughing. 'What? College? Man, that ain't gon' happen,' my friend said. "I sat quietly and took their taunts. I didn't blame them for being unable to visualize my going to college. I could hardly see it myself. I just knew that I wanted more out of my life, even if I couldn't quite define what more I wanted. I knew, too, that I had to let these guys go. I would never be able to rise with them tugging at my heels. That was the last day I hung with them."
Many times, Davis saw achieving his career objective as an overwhelming challenge, but he added, "Throughout life I had been juggling challenges — family instability, financial struggle, the challenge of my surroundings. All three would come together sometimes, and it seemed like the volcano would erupt, and I'd start feeling like I didn't belong in medical school, this wasn't my arena. But I didn't want to return to home without having accomplished what I set out to do. I knew there was nothing waiting for me there."
Now Davis, Hunt and Jenkins are 30-year-old role models who were featured in People magazine and have appeared on national radio programs such as "The Tom Joyner Morning Show" and on CBS, CNN and TNT television. They've also established The Three Doctors Foundation (www.threedoctorsfoundation.org) , a nonprofit group that helps inner-city youth through scholarships, tutoring, mentoring and health-awareness programs. They also spread a message of hope through personal appearances at churches, schools and community centers, which they will do in Louisville when they address the Central High School student body before their book signing Friday.
Holly Atsvsdi, the Central High librarian who coordinated their campus visit, said, "We are an inner-city school, also a professional magnet with a medical program. And here we have three young men who decided they were not going to settle for less, and through their own initiative have become an example for every single student in this building.
"I pretty much jumped on the opportunity to invite them. We need role models who aren't NBA draft picks."
Pieces of 'The Pact'
"The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream" isn't all urban legends and burning midnight oil over medical texts. The trio contemplated a music career, formed a rap group, A.R.T. (Another Rough Tribe), made a demo, and through contacts at Bad Boy Records hung out with Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Biggie Smalls.
Sampson Davis writes, "I gave one of our packets to Faith Evans, my friend from elementary school. Through her, Rameck, Sam and I met some of the guys who would become rap megastars. One of them was Biggie Smalls, also known as The Notorious B.I.G., whom Faith had married in 1994. . . . "For a while she lived in East Orange and sometimes invited me to her house with them for Sunday dinner. Biggie was a huge dude who must have weighed more than 300 pounds. I'll never forget the image of him seated at the kitchen table with a mound of chicken bones piled high on his plate."
A hardscrabble past wasn't their only obstacle to success. One of Rameck Hunt's was an affair of the heart his junior year of college. After falling hard for a Rutgers' babe — the book called her "Kay" — whose head got turned by a handsome rival, Hunt considered popping the question to win her back, getting a job teaching to support them and abandoning his dream of becoming a doctor. He writes, "I wondered how I would tell Sam and George that I was about to break the pact. We had promised to stick together to the end, but I figured they would be all right without me. I figured they would understand. I had to live my own life. "I called Kay and asked to see her. She refused. I told her I loved her and needed her in my life. Then she told me what I had been dreading to hear: She was falling for the other guy, she wanted to try and make it work with him, and nothing I said could change her mind. I never even got to tell her about my plan.
"I was lovesick for months. I'm sure Sam and George noticed. But guys are proud. We don't even let our closest boys know if our heart is hurting. 'Naw, dog, I'm straight,' I said when they asked about the weight loss. I never told Sam or George about my plan, either. With my heart in pieces, I began preparing again for medical school."
By Larry Muhammad
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