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A Promise Made, A Promise Kept

by Sheila Smith Noonan

It's a story ripe for Hollywood: Three young friends from the inner city rise above the temptations of the streets and poverty to achieve their dreams of becoming doctors.

Except Tinseltown will probably never capture the true essence of Dr. George Jenkins ('99) and his friends, Dr. Rameck Hunt and Dr. Sampson Davis, both '99 graduates of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Their perseverance, exuberance, and character made them the favorite sons of Newark last spring, a time when the city was in need of true heroes.

Dr. Jenkins has known Dr. Davis since seventh grade; Dr. Hunt met his two friends while they were freshmen at University High School in Newark. While some of their peers turned to crime or drifted in uncertainty, these three made a promise to each other at a Science Career Day: stick together, support each other, and enter dental and medical school. Dr. Jenkins's interests were in dentistry, fueled in part, he says, by his visits to New Jersey Dental School as an orthodontic patient.

Growing up in Newark was not always easy for Dr. Jenkins, who as a youngster lived for a time in public housing. "It was hard to feel special then, but my third-grade teacher always did just that," he says. "And my mom has always been there for me. She always made a way for things to happen."

As a teenager, Dr. Jenkins relied on the "positive peer pressure" he received from his friends, Drs. Hunt and Davis, and his mother's love and support to stay true to his goal. "It was a matter of doing what I knew I should do and keeping focused," says the dentist. "I saw the nice cars that my other friends had. I couldn't help but see them. But I didn't want to get my car the way they got theirs."

After high school, the trio attended Seton Hall University. Living on campus helped them "stay away from everything we were exposed to in high school." The motivation and camaraderie that began at University High continued at the Hall. At exam time, when Dr. Jenkins didn't feel like studying, the sight of his friends immersed in their notes would prompt him to hit the books.

Because of his long-held interest in dentistry, Dr. Jenkins "never thought twice about applying to dental school. It was a given." At NJDS, he says he found a staff that was always helpful and a faculty that went the extra mile. "The faculty really listened to me," he said. "They talked to me as a colleague, not just as a student."

On May 26, 13 years after three friends made a vow, that promised was fulfilled. "As I watched Rameck and Sampson receive their diplomas, that helped me appreciate what we accomplished."

After a front-page story about the young men appeared in the Star-Ledger, they became instant celebrities. School children wrote essays about them. Newark Mayor Sharpe James lauded their achievements in a letter. They became sought-after speakers and the topic of church sermons. "People are excited for us," Dr. Jenkins says. "We've shown that not everyone living in an inner city is a bad person or destined to fail."

Cynics might say that Drs. Jenkins, Hunt, and Davis have just about used up their 15 minutes of fame. That's where they've got it wrong. Fame was never a part of the plan. And there's a sequel to their story currently under way. Dr. Jenkins is completing a general practice residency at UMDNJ, while Dr. Hunt does his internship at Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center and Dr. Davis works through his at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. Afterward, they plan to work together in Newark, providing much-needed medical and dental care to inner-city residents. But they offer something else as well: A success story that Dr. Jenkins and his friends hope will be repeated over and over again, maybe by a few kids who have a dream, make a promise, and stick by one another.

 

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