The Freedom Award winning and nationally acclaimed "Three Doctors" – Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt – established residence for a day (April 30) at Frayser High School as part of Teach for America Week.
In addition to the Three Doctors' appearance at Frayser, the FedEx supported and sponsored week included FedEx executives, city officials and other notables spending time as guest teachers in classrooms throughout Memphis.
At Frayser High, students got the "real deal" from the three brothers who transcended the hard streets of "Brick City," aka Newark, N. J. Each shared his story of coming up without a father in the home, difficulties and bad decisions. Collectively they detailed the "Pact" that helped propel them to better lives through education.
Following their talk to the student body, a special book signing and a photo session with honor students and invited guests, I talked with them about myriad aspects of their journey(s), including their careers as physicians and their passion to help young people succeed.
Bernal E. Smith II: About two weeks ago, Dr. Rod Paige (former U.S. Secy. Of Education) spoke here in Memphis, and earlier this week our executive editor interviewed (bestselling author) Dr. Dennis Kimbro ("Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice." They both made a similar point: While certain groups and individuals have made remarkable strides, the evidence suggests that the African-American community desperately needs to do more, and in many cases has lost ground. What is your view of that assertion and does it mesh with what you see? What must we do differently to see greater change, particularly for young brothers?
Dr. Sampson Davis: I think on many levels it is true. The issue is that there is a dichotomy that exists in the African-American community. There are those who are progressive and educated that are moving up the corporate and professional ladders and they are bringing their families forward with them. Once one person in an African-American family makes progress, the whole family tends to benefit from that. The problem is the community isn't graduating and moving forward. So there's that separation.
So there's still this battle. That's why we are here today, we feel like we are talking to those that need to hear it the most. We try to reach those that need to have that light turned on to see a different possibility for their lives because we know the potential is there. We have to reach a level in which we as the African-American community take charge, take the initiative that everyone in the community has to step up to the plate and make a better environment for our kids, while also raising the bar for them and expecting more from them.
I put it in medical terms: When a patient has an abscess, which is a collection of pus or infection underneath the skin, I cut the abscess open to let the pus drain out, but I leave it open so it can heal from the inside out. Likewise, we have to start to heal, plan and galvanize from the inside so that the community can heal. Ultimately, once a person begins to feel better about him or herself and have higher expectations they begin to work to meet those higher expectations and that changes the complexion of the community.
Dr. Rameck Hunt: America's youth in general are very entitled and much different in work ethic and values than when we were growing up. It seems that those issues have impacted the African-American community even more, disproportionately. As much as I love music and sports, it seems our kids are stunted in their growth thinking that they snap their fingers and they are going to be rich and successful because they are going to have the biggest rap album in the world or they'll be the next LeBron James when that's actually not reality.
And the reason that they feel that way is the same reason that people play the lottery, thinking one day they are going to hit it big. When all the while we know that that is not the way to success. The way is through consistent hard work and diligent efforts doing the right things the right way. We have to show them what those things are and how to establish the success work ethic. I agree, we have to be more cohesive as a community and revitalize our togetherness as a community on those things that are critical for our survival and then our ability to grow and thrive both individually and collectively. We have to help ourselves first.
BES: Would it be safe to say that you feel the influence of popular culture, music, television and the Internet has driven in us this destructive sense of individualism versus the sense of community that we used to share?
Dr. Hunt: Yes! Absolutely! We have to combat that to get to more positive outcomes.
BES: In looking at your three books, you continue the theme of "the Pact." It brought to mind for me that today many of our kids are making pacts, just the wrong kind. They are making pacts in street gangs, pregnancy pacts and other destructive behaviors. How do you guys see the messages in your books and your experiences being able to help today's youth flip the script with the pacts that they are making in gangs and translating those into the kind of promise and success that you guys have had?
Dr. George Jenkins: We try to encourage teachers and school leaders and the students themselves to model the principles that we have formulated, because we realize they represent the flip side of the gang. Just like we talk about negative peer pressure and negative influences, we flipped that and used positive influences on each other to reach the positions we currently have. Our pact represents what can happen when young brothers in the hood uplift, uphold and challenge each other in a positive way despite any obstacles that might lay in the way.
'Three Doctors' – getting personal
Bernal E. Smith II: You guys do a lot of traveling, a lot of events and speaking engagements. I see you have your foundation as well, so there is quite a bit of work that goes into all that. Are you actually practicing physicians? (Lot's of laughter from the three!)
The Three Doctors: Yes, we are practicing physicians, practicing every day!!!
BES: So what are your disciplines? What sort of medicine do each of you practice?
Dr. Sampson Davis: I practice emergency medicine, so I'm allowed to schedule my shifts at the hospital around speaking, traveling and foundation work. It's really a full time commitment on several levels, but obviously this is a passion of ours and we are dedicated to making it happen!
Dr. George Jenkins: I'm dental faculty at Columbia College of General Medicine. So I primarily teach and do research and things along those lines. We basically take vacation time to do this work. So the time most people use to travel and do family things, we use to go spread this message to kids. We have fun, but it's certainly not on the beach. Our institutions are certainly understanding at least within reason. Despite (the) obstacles, we are determined to do this work. We just know that it's always at the expense of something else.
Dr. Rameck Hunt: I'm an internal medicine physician and assistant professor of medicine at Robert Woods Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J.. Same thing for me, I see patients 60-70 hours a week, but the days I take are my vacation days.
BES: So on a personal note are you guys married, families, etc?
Dr. Jenkins: Well, that's one of those things that all this is at the expense of, but it's been that way all along. However, we've found ways to work it out. I got married three years ago and was lucky to find someone that I connected with and understood my work. I've also have two stepchildren. So after I knew, I went from just me in my one-bedroom apartment to a home with me plus three other people and a dog! (All laughing)
Dr. Hunt: With those 60-70 hours a week, that's something I'm still working on. So I'm still single.
Dr. Davis: I have a family. I have a four year old and one on the way.