Sunday, July 21, 2002
Newark, N.J. As friends and family fell to violence and AIDS, three boys struggling to survive the mean streets of their inner-city neighborhood made a pact: Stay out of jail, stay in school and become doctors.
Their lives were chaotic. They were poor, had shaky school opportunities, few role models. But they drove each other to succeed and earned their degrees three years ago, becoming Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt.
And they never forgot, writing a book about their shared dream and setting up a foundation to offer health education to the underprivileged. They speak to youth groups and others regularly, squeezing it in between hectic jobs at New Jersey hospitals.
"Kids come up to me and say, 'I want to make a pact,"' Davis said during a break from the emergency room at Beth Israel Medical Center, where he was born 29 years ago. "To them, we represent hope."
Davis and Jenkins, who stayed in Newark, met in seventh grade at University High School, where students must be recommended and pass a test for admission. Rameck (pronounced RA-meek) Hunt, who grew up 18 miles away in Plainfield, met them when he came to the school several years later.
All are black, and all grew up without their fathers at home. Davis and Hunt had drug-related arrests as juveniles. But they stayed in school.
"We went against the grain. We got some ribbing from friends," Davis said.
"I know we wouldn't have done it if it wasn't all three of us," Jenkins said.
In high school, Jenkins heard a presentation for Seton Hall University's Pre-Medical/Pre-Dental Plus Program, aimed at students who could succeed in college but lack money and educational background. He convinced the others they should attend Seton Hall and medical school together.
"We just took each other at his word and headed back to class, without even a hint of how much our lives were about to change," Jenkins wrote in the book, "The Pact," which was co-written with Washington Post reporter Lisa Frazier Page.
Seton Hall's grassy campus in South Orange was several miles but a world away from their homes in Newark. Their adjustment was eased by an intensive six-week summer session on campus, and counselor Carla Dickson, who is now interim director of the program.
The Seton Hall program, which closely monitors its students and offers some scholarship money, has produced about 60 doctors and dentists in 13 years, along with several Ph.D.s, Dickson said.
"The major task is getting them to believe this is possible for them," she said. "It's working, and it has been working, every year."
Jenkins, Hunt and Davis graduated from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in May 1999.
Jenkins, 29, got his degree in dentistry and is in the final year of a three-year oral medicine fellowship at his alma mater, where he is an assistant professor. His fascination with dentistry began when he got braces at age 11.
Hunt, also 29, is a general practitioner with a residency in internal medicine. He lives in South Brunswick, where he is an assistant professor and directs an outpatient clinic at St. Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick.
All three describe their college years as an awakening amid a constant financial struggle. They speak regularly about the need for more minorities in medicine and hope their Three Doctors Foundation will one day be able to assist their mentoring efforts with scholarships.
"The sky's the limit; we're big dreamers," Hunt said.
"We're still in it together. We got our degrees and now it's time to do something with it," said Jenkins.
He noted that blacks are 12 percent of the U.S. population yet comprise a far smaller portion of medical professionals. Few black doctors come from the inner city, he said.