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Doctor’s story resonates with students

 the pact


Similarity in the names of JFK PACT high school and the book “The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream” is what Principal Richard Reynolds calls a happy coincidence.

But over the past three years, the high school and one of the authors of that book have developed a bond based on the shared experiences of inner-city teenagers and a message of resilience.  

At the beginning of ninth grade, students at PACT (Problem-based Academy of Critical Thinking) are assigned to read the autobiography of doctors Rameck Hunt, Sampson Davis and George Jenkins. The three physicians grew up in the streets of Newark, N.J., where they had firsthand experiences with crime, drugs and even jail. The trio of teenagers made a pact to overcome their environment and become doctors -- a pact they all fulfilled.

Fittingly, this year’s freshmen met Hunt in the auditorium at the Cleveland Clinic’s South Pointe Hospital for a presentation and conversation. The doctor's appearance was paid for by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. 

“I got voted last year the best physician in New Jersey,” Hunt began, referring his 2015 Healthcare Professional of the Year Award. “And I was arrested for attempted murder when I was 15 years old.”

Hunt said he got caught up with the wrong crowd as a teen, leading to his involvement in the beating of a man. The charges were dropped when the victim didn't show up for court, but Hunt said his short stint in jail made him want to change his ways.

The students listened to Hunt's stories about struggles he faced growing up in a single-parent household with a mother addicted to drugs. Hunt said he was the first in his family to go to college.

The doctor was candid during a question-and-answer session when students asked him about everything from the length of medical school to what it was like in jail to how he dealt with his mother's addiction. Hunt described taking care of his little sister and the pain of having to leave her behind when he left to attend Seton Hall University. 

“I think young people, particularly the inner-city kids, they have a tough road ahead of them, and I’d like them to know that they can do whatever they put their minds to,” Hunt said. "They’re smart, and they just need to know that they have to navigate their way through life. There are going to be some hardships. I had a lot of hardships.”

Reynolds says he strategically plans for ninth-graders to read the book at the beginning of the school year because it’s a time of change and instability for some students. Many of the situations that the three doctors find themselves in are not far from what his students experience, Reynolds said. He also hopes it will encourage more students to read and help them become better readers.

To have Hunt develop a bond with his students is especially meaningful, Reynolds said. Hunt is familiar with the goals of JFK PACT and some of the personal challenges the students face. Hunt even dropped by the school the day after the presentation on his own time, just to check in with students he had met in previous years.

“He knows our kids, he knows the situation, he knows how to share with them how to get out of their situation,” Reynolds said.

Hunt plans to continue cultivating relationships with JFK PACT students in the coming years.

“When I walked in this room, I just felt the energy from the kids, so it just all came out naturally,” Hunt said in an interview after his speech. “I’d love to come back. This is like a second home almost.”

Hunt also offered a glimpse into his job in internal medicine focusing on obesity treatment.

JFK PACT student Mykaela Thomas said that because of Hunt’s powerful story, she was considering a career in healthcare.

“When he said he went to college, that’s what inspired me, because he made it through after all that happened,” Thomas said.

Before they met Hunt, the students heard from a coordinator of the Aspiring Doctors Precollege Program, offered through the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The college partners with JFK PACT and Warrensville Heights High School, targeting students from historically underrepresented backgrounds to foster their interest in pursuing careers in science and health. Students visit the Cleveland campus for lectures, hands-on clinical activities, case-based lessons and college and career readiness workshops. The program is entering its first official year after a successful test run last year.

Hunt says he was excited to hear about the opportunity and encouraged students to sign up.

“Our young people sometimes shy away from sciences,” Hunt said. “They’re really smart kids, and they just need to immerse themselves in it.”

After hearing from Hunt, 25 students, including Mykaela Thomas, signed up for the program.