Yoga and love in a school that helps children of color excel

Uncategorized

*Original Publication, The Seattle Times, May 31st, 2019*

Who is most likely to thrive in a yoga class? Can you imagine it just might be a 10-year-old African American boy?

In the heart of North Portland, a modest one-story school named KairosPDX is putting this question to the test. Using a model built on love, inclusivity and mindfulness, this school warmly welcomes students of all ethnicities and backgrounds with a particular emphasis on increasing black excellence.

As an African-American physician, I know that excellence comes in all shades and from all backgrounds. However, for some children, the starting line is further back. KairosPDX is keenly aware of how stress, trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can be damaging to a child, even limiting their potential. An ACE score is a “tally of different types of abuse, neglect and other hallmarks of an [embattled] childhood.” A higher ACE score may result in an increased risk of health disparities as well as social and emotional difficulties such as: low life potential, substance abuse, heart disease, lung cancer and diabetes.

However, KairosPDX knows that children cannot be reduced to their obstacles. I was first introduced to KairosPDX by a Nike senior manager and soon decided I wanted to be more involved through mentorship to the young students, recognizing that early guidance and exposure are key elements to success. One of my physician mentors once mentioned to me that we as physicians must commit to society, and this commitment should come within the halls of a school.

Mekhia Johnson caught in a moment of self-reflection in between classes at Portland’s KairosPDX school. (Courtesy of KairosPDX)Mekhia Johnson caught in a moment of self-reflection in between classes at… (Courtesy of KairosPDX) More 

Children are inherently capable, brilliant and curious, and the environment in which they submerge themselves (outside of the home) can have a profound impact on their outcomes. Proudly emblazoned inside the school is the sign Kairos Calming Center: Home of Kairos Love. The floor lined with yoga mats and their desks with mental exercise work sheets, it is uncertain to me which is more impactful to the students there. Is it the yoga or the love?

The mats rarely go a day without use as a counselor teaches students yoga, which helps them to improve resiliency, mood and self-regulation skills. This therapeutic practice is based on research that shows the harmful impacts of stress on the brain, specifically on the area responsible for problem-solving, decision-making and self-control. When trauma occurs, the memory center is affected, leading to difficulty in learning new concepts. In this way, this school’s loving and caring environment has a restorative impact on young students who have faced obstacles in their life shifting the narrative of trauma to resiliency. Through these actions, executive director Kali Ladd claims that children and young people require such tools to listen inwardly to their bodies, feelings and ideas. This capability to look within increases the potential for outward excellence.

Outward excellence can be developed by any person regardless of race, sex or economics. I was fortunate to grow up in a loving two-parent home. Yet I remember a time when I was considered a disruptive young boy at one of the elite private schools in Washington, D.C. My youthful enthusiasm and energy combined with reduced self-control often resulted in me standing outside of the classroom while my classmates continued to learn. The many times I found myself in the hall with zero help for resolution were not only valuable educational opportunities squandered but missed occasions to build emotional intelligence. Worsening the situation was the idea that I, like many other young, hyperactive, energetic African American boys, had undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I was tested. The results returned negative. As I glance in the rearview mirror of my life, my elementary school appeared unprepared to receive negative results — no ADHD.

They simply did not know what to do with me.

Thanks to family and friends, I was able to channel this energy into athletics and the arts, transforming my enthusiasm into a personal benefit rather than detriment. Those learned lessons of work, resilience and encouragement became the steppingstones toward my life as a physician. Other young African American boys are less fortunate than I and never receive the guidance, mentorship or outlets for building emotional intelligence.

How many children, particularly boys of color, grow up to never see their potential turn into accomplishments the way I have? If more places of learning like this existed in Seattle, Portland and the country, what might the result be? Within those school walls exists a simple brilliance — an undiscovered gem — at the crossroads where vision and opportunity intersect. There are small gems in the Pacific Northwest such as KairosPDX that need watering as any rose growing through concrete.

From Beacon to Shadow: The African-American Community is Waiting…

adversity, medicine, politics, Race, Uncategorized

“‘More blood! Stat!’” I read. The first line in “Gifted Hands.” As a 15-year-old African-American student aspiring to one-day practice medicine I could barely put down the book my mother gave me. The story of Ben Carson MD—many believed to be the guiding light if you were poor or African-American or academically challenged—was the beacon illuminating a journey from adversity to achievement. The first words in “Gifted Hands” by Ben Carson, MD sets the scene within an operating room in 1987 at the Johns Hopkins Institution in which a medical milestone occurred. Two 7-month-old conjoined twins requiring copious amounts of blood, twenty-two hours of procedure time, a seventy-member team led by him and gifted hands resulted in a successful separation of two Siamese twins—Patrick and Benjamin.

 For Dr. Carson—one of the most academically impactful members of the African-American community—the fall from grace has been anything but subtle. When questioned on May 21st, 2019 by Congresswoman Porter he was asked to define a basic housing term—an REO (Real Estate Owned)—a term used to describe a class of property owned by a lender after an unsuccessful sale at a foreclosure auction. Seemingly unknowing of the term he responded with “Oreo?” at first to which he needed clarification—a surprising response in his position as Secretary of the United States Department of Urban Housing and Development (HUD). Dr. Carson once pillared his accomplishments on the power of knowledge. Now—dismissivae of a fundamental term a person in his position should use commonly this is in stark contrast to the image the black community grew up honoring. One contemporary of the once-esteemed surgeon noted he knew firsthand what Dr. Carson went through and it was nothing short of incredible. But watching his devolution has been a pitiful sight to see.

This playbook has not changed and still illuminates the story of a poor black kid from Detroit overcoming multiple barriers—poverty, academic strife, and a system constructed against him—to become director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and perform the successful separation of 7-month-old Siamese Twins when others said it could not be done. Few African-Americans, in any field, have come from very little to achieve such success. In the last chapter—entitled “THINK BIG”—Dr. Carson writes how each letter illustrates an important piece to success. The ‘K’ stands for ‘Knowledge’ which he defines as “‘… the key to all your dreams, hopes and aspirations. If you are knowledgeable, particularly more knowledgeable than anybody else in a field, you become invaluable and write your own ticket.’” Where have these words now gone? Once so important he wrote them in a book to inspire generations to come.

A man who once changed lives with words and saved lives with actions has now perished to an online trend seemingly devoid of the basic knowledge required in his current position. The surgeon who changed history in 1987 in that operating room in Baltimore, Maryland will forever be remembered by the African-American community, but the man we see today appears to be a shadow of his former self—at best.

This is a perpetual discussion intertwining history, race, culture, politics and medicine. Some of my colleagues may not agree but I desire a return from the former Ben Carson MD.

I declare to you Dr. Carson it is never too late to give a young woman of color, who once wrote to you because her mother like yours was a maid, hope and promise that she too can make something out of very little. I declare to you Dr. Carson that there is a young black male facing academic hardship who needs you now. I declare to you Dr. Carson that the African-American community is waiting…

 

Why not you? Young minds can dream big beyond sports

Uncategorized

*Special to The Seattle Times published March 15, 2019*

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Most boys of color are given sports playbooks. My books were different.

I relentlessly trained and practiced with my science textbooks, not on the fields or courts, but in libraries and laboratories. The hours of memorization drills did not always lead to mastery. I experienced countless failures big and small that shook my resolve and amplified my doubts.

If I could encapsulate the mantra that allowed me to overcome all those years of doubts and adversity into one phrase it would be, “Why not you?” the pillared phrase of the foundation created by Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seahawks.

Now the years of hard, lonely work are paying off. Recently, an older man silently stared at me with a glimmer in his eye. After a few long moments, he said, “It is so good to see you.”

I knew what he meant.

This 60-year-old African-American man in Portland, a city with few African Americans, had never seen someone who looked like him in a long white coat with an MD badge hanging from the lapel.

Since I was a child, everyone in my life told me I mattered on and off the athletic field. They told me I could be whomever I wanted to be, whether a professional track and field runner, firefighter, sports analyst, lawyer or even a physician!

I wish other boys of color had that support and guidance. I offer them this playbook outline to becoming more than an athlete:

  • Excellence comes in all shades.

As a young boy, I would chase after my mother’s powerful stride in the hospital. She was director of the Howard University Cancer Center, one of several researchers, physicians, nurses and staff who were all different shades of black. Each were esteemed leaders and honored caregivers. They walked with their heads held high, eyes clear and purposeful, and voices that commanded respect. Each came from different social and economic circumstances. Some had fortunate, even privileged backgrounds, while others had financially insecure beginnings. Whatever their start, they each had to go through the same rigorous training, mastering their own adversity along the way.

  • Dream big.

I had minimal awareness of the elevated pressures of being cool and athletic over studying and being associated with the nickname “geek.” One evening I sat with track and field teammates, a tough workout in our rearview mirror. They began speaking about college with the consensus the only way they could attend was with their athleticism. In that moment, I wanted to challenge their beliefs — pushing them to see they could dream big and strive for more — but their thoughts were deep-rooted. I wanted them to believe a successful trail lay ahead of them off the athletic field. In that moment, I learned doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.

  • Find a mentor who believes in your vision.

Mentorship in communities of color has been sparse because numbers in positions to mentor are far fewer. However, foundations such as Russell Wilson’s give hope to despair. With the right direction and guidance, the same excellence and discipline used to excel at sports can be transitioned into the libraries, research laboratories and writing workshops.

As a third-year medical student finishing a long day, I began questioning my pursuit. My resolve was dwindling. I contacted a mentor. Dr. Ebony Hoskins — a guide of 10 plus years — reminded me: “It’s worth it. You’re going to change someone’s life, to save someone’s life, to heal someone. A road that leads to these opportunities should never be easy.”

Now as a young physician, I still have many dreams of my own, but the most important is that a young boy of color uses this playbook to become more than an athlete.

When doubt creeps in, remember excellence comes in all shades, dream big and find a mentor who believes in your vision. And ultimately, ask yourself, “Why not you?”

From Wait-Listed To President

Uncategorized

“You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.” – Tim Hiddleston

I remember thinking that now was a good time to check. I had just dismissed my students for recess and was sitting in one of the fifth-grade classrooms at my lower/middle school alma mater. Instead of slightly paying attention to the words streaming from my-then teacher’s mouth as she busily wrote on the chalkboard, I was laser-focused as I began signing into the Ohio State College of Medicine applicant portal. This portal is where I was going to learn one of three possibilities: accepted, deferred or rejected. An eery flashback began at the moment: an eighteen-year old version of myself signing into the Emory applicant portal in the library to determine whether or not I was going to spend four formative years in Atlanta, GA. On that day, I was accepted. On this day, however, there was a different result—deferred. If I was a sail boat some of the steam had certainly come out of my sails. I slowly crept out of the classroom and headed towards the gymnasium where my students were. I was in a bit of shock but still enthusiastic that I had not been rejected as I knew a rejection left no hope, but a deferral left at least a glimmer. In the following days, I went on other medical school interviews. And, ultimately received my first acceptance on March 14th, 2014 from Indiana University School of Medicine.

Regardless, my heart was set on The Ohio State University College of Medicine for multiple reasons. I wanted to be a Buckeye Student Doctor; to train in the almost newly-finished James Cancer Hospital; to relocate to the Midwest (a geographical location I had yet to live in) and I cherished the opportunity to become a physician at one of the top medical schools in the country. As May approached I was hopeful for a call from Ms. Georgia Paletta or Dr. Capers. One evening, while at GDS High School, I was tutoring my dance instructor’s daughter. We were reviewing chemistry when my phone started to vibrate. The screen was facing down as not to disturb me, but I took a quick glance and saw with a Columbus, OH area code. I quickly excused myself and answered the phone to the wonderful tone of Ms. Paletta saying, “Hello Jason! Are you still interested in Ohio State Medical School?” to which I ecstatically said, “Yes!” As they say the rest is history, but I think the rest is what makes it so sweet. I arrived to freshman orientation, nervous and anxious, wishing that my future at Ohio State included one of many friends, mentors and colleagues I would be able to go to for support. Moreover, I knew that God gave me this contagious personality I would be able to use to help others and to create an inclusive environment if I was ever given the opportunity to lead. I joined the student council at OSU COM as a first-year medical student. I continued to work hard and diligently creating Q-Zip Nation with my good friend, Tim, and demonstrating a commitment to others and the College of Medicine through other various activities. When I got elected President I could only think back to the aforementioned quote at the top of this page; you may not know what’s around the corner but one foot after another and you look back and it’s a mountain!

It was a blessing outlined by honor and humility to have been a leader amongst leaders.

And I hope this will serve as a testament to WHERE you finish truly matters more than WHERE you start.

I’m a Black Student-Athlete Turned Physician: What Colin Kaepernick and Nike Really Mean

Race, Uncategorized

Please see below for my Op Ed published on 9/14/18 in THE OREGONIAN.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I sat in a football stadium for the Ohio State Buckeyes vs the Nebraska Cornhuskers game on Nov. 5, 2016, three days before the presidential election. About 108,000 screaming fans surrounded me, but I only remember three.

To my right were two white gentlemen wearing “Make America Great Again” baseball caps. This was the first sporting event I attended since Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers player began kneeling during the anthem in protest against police brutality against African-Americans.

I stood up. I removed my hat. These actions were done not because I didn’t vehemently stand against police brutality, but because I felt standing for the anthem was the ‘right thing to do’ for me.

Yet all the while, I could imagine all eyes on me.

As I stood, there came laughter from behind, a few seats to my left. An older white gentleman, likely in his 50s, yelled over at one of his buddies, “Hey, hey, look at me. I’m going to kneel,” mocking me and all of what Kaepernick represented. I suddenly felt alone and exposed, maybe even a little afraid. Being there, supporting a team and university that had given me so much, no longer felt like home. The sporting event took a new form as my attention turned from the football game to the underlying game.

The same man who mocked Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling cheered for each move the young black male athletes made. The same men, celebrating their support of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, clapped enthusiastically as the young black male athletes scored point after point for their beloved team.

Supporting and voting for President-elect Donald Trump is not supposed to be incompatible with supporting black athletes, but with recent events, one naturally must question the growing disconnection. The truth is, many of us black males cannot feel calm as we have to constantly look outside of ourselves in order to visualize how our present and future actions might be perceived by others. It’s part of growing up as a black male in America.

Growing up as a black male athlete in America adds more complexity — and becoming a black male physician even more.

As a black male I am unnerved by the stories I read about current or former athletes sustaining injuries leading to a fall from grace. That leads to a harsh realization that they are no longer “needed,” with little to account for all of their hours of dedication. Basketball courts, tracks, football fields and athletic arenas are bursting with black men excelling every day, rain or shine.

The time has come for us to redefine our own values and to focus our potential in different ways. With the right direction and guidance, that same excellence and discipline can easily transition into the libraries, research laboratories and clinical rooms where we are currently sparse.

The beauty lies not in the fact that we have to choose one over the other, but in what I believe and personally know to be true: Black men can excel in both realms. It is time that we stop letting others limit us as we move forward.

That’s what Nike and Colin Kaepernick mean.

 

 

 

 

sanc·tu·ar·y

Uncategorized

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” 

That quote hangs on my wall in my childhood bedroom.

I first started running with my mother as “punishment.” I don’t know if I thought, at the time, it was a form of punishment but looking back I think that is the most accurate classification. I truly only have one distinct memory of running with her although I know it happened multiple times (I guess like other heinous acts, I have blocked those other times out). I was attending one of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conferences with my mother in which, like most research scientists and physicians, she used these annual 4-day conferences as a family vacation. We were in Orlando, FL and my mother and I left the hotel setting out to glide under the hot blue sky. If you’ve ever been to Florida, you know how long and incessant those black roads are lining the roadways in this never-ending fashion with the sun of the sunshine state glaring down. A few minutes into the run I was tired, frustrated and annoyed by the pace she had set troubling my short-legs and untrained lungs. I remember a school bus driving by and I thought, “They’re going to think I’m slow behind her.” As a result of my despair, she quickly became irritated with me as I was disturbing her peace. She always used to articulate how running was her escape from the perils of life—it was her sanctuary. I didn’t understand that then.

Not until one night when I walked out the doors of the Emory Athletic facility—The WoodPEC—onto the track. A cool spring Atlanta evening greeted me after a long day of medical training. Before I even stepped onto the track to begin warming up for my workout, I went into the bleachers and just sat there. My eyes circled around the red track, from curve to straight to curve to straight away. I can’t remember what I thought about but I know I was calmed. From that moment on I always viewed the track as a safe haven, a place where, even if everything was wrong in my world, the track was always right.

A few minutes from my present home, there’s a track here in Portland at the Under Armor Satellite Headquarters. I always drive by it on my way home from the hospital. It is not the most direct route, but it soothes me after a long intern day. The track represents so many memories—joy, sadness, humor, accomplishment, and defeat. Whether it was my mother pinning my racing bib on my 14 year old self at my first official race as my on-looking teammates teased me from afar, or watching the University of Michigan relay team run 16:04 with a 3:52 anchor leg for the 4xMile or running third leg on the 4x400m relay team that led us to a comeback conference win for our Emory’s Men team or being named captain of the Emory University team or being a part of the coaching staff for the first Ohio State Men’s Track and Field Big Ten Championship since 1993. The memories flow as I do when I am on the track.

One of the greatest races of my career came at a Junior AAU meet in Florida. The night before, I had run a 1500m time, slower than some of our 11-12-year-old girls, that resulted in me finishing second to last. I didn’t know how to “hurt yet,” or maybe I didn’t want to experience the pain and agony that is necessary to race the middle-distance events well. The next morning, I woke up ready to respond. As I began my warm-up today felt a little different. I spoke with Mikias Gelagle, one of my teammates at the time, who went on to be one of the best high school runners out of the state of Maryland in the 2004-2006 era. He gave me a game plan of which mostly I do not remember but I remember him distinctly telling me if I started out way in the back that’s where I was going to end up. He urged me to “go out near the front and to believe in the training I had under my belt.” This was a 3000-meter race I was lining up for, and most of my teammates were still back in their hotel rooms. As the gun sounded, I shot to the 5thor 6thposition and found my cadence. Lap after lap I was in it and as the race began to thin out I found myself running alongside a runner from another DC track club—The Pioneers. In his all-purple uniform, his crowd, situated opposite my contingency, would cheer him on as we ran past, giving him the motivation to pull a step ahead of me. As we rounded the track, I would do the same as my DC Redwings’ coaches implored me to “do what I knew I could.” Three laps later, this dance routine continued, but the only difference was that most of my teammates had now arrived from the hotel. Probably to their astonishment I was in the race, and to my delight they began cheering for me as we closed in with two laps left. Our cadences had become one at this point, synchronous like the Olympic swimmers, but I knew only one of us could cross the finish line first. As we approached 200 meters to go I started quickening my stride and using my arms to drive my tired legs forward. Down the straightaway we came, and I barely crossed the white line before him. I think I finished fifth in the race. The glory was all internal, but externally, the congratulations from my teammates and coaches, was the prize I needed. I finally felt like I belonged—one of the sacred feelings in life. It’s the emotions, the coaches’ turned fathers and the teammates turned brothers and sisters that make me proud to call myself a runner.

“Once a runner, always a runner.” For me, that motto transcends time. Whether you’re an Olympian or a has-been/never-was, if you’ve spent time lying on the ground in exhaustion, eyes closed, swallowing your saliva because there was no water in sight, then you’re a runner.

Interviews Make You Anxious? Don’t Worry, It Takes Two To Tango!

Uncategorized

You’ve saved dolphins on the moon, speak 7 languages and have been destined to be a physician since you were in-utero. You’ve applied and now is the time for the interview. I’m no stellar standardized test taker and I certainly haven’t saved dolphins on the moon like some of my colleagues but I can interview well. That’s my cup of tea, if you will. Interviewing can be frightening. Like any great competitor who’s been successful many times before, butterflies still creep into my stomach moments before I step into an interview. I think that’s the 1st lesson to be a successful interviewer— treat every interview like it’s the most important one of your career. Act as if without this interview you’d never be successful even if this is your 19th interview and you have 7 more.

  1. Treat every interview like it’s your first
  2. Be humble in your discourse
  3. Find a connection & run with it!
  4. Talk Less, Smile More
  5. Have Fun!

Anyone who’s met with me about interviewing knows I have made the analogy that interviewing is like doing the tango. It’s a dance with you and your interviewer. Your interviewer is leading so you have to gracefully allow them to lead. Answer their questions in a short and succinct manner because long answers will hinder the flow and inevitably lead to you tripping over their feet. If you’ve never danced with a partner, know that no one likes to have their foot stepped on and repeated occurrences will certainly result in an annoyed dancer/interviewer. And like a wonderful tango, if the interview goes well, it leaves both persons thinking about it long after the interview has finished.

As you’re speaking about your achievements, it’s important to acknowledge all that you’ve accomplished but recognize the person in front of you has accomplished much more! Your feats are impressive but let the interviewer be more impressed by someone who is still hungry to accomplish more despite already having done more than most.

When I was interviewing at Ohio State University College of Medicine, the fourth-year med student interviewing me asked me about my time in City Year and AmeriCorps. As I was beginning to answer, she chimed in that her husband worked for AmeriCorps, so a fire sparked in my head. I answered her question but also added in another few lines illuminating my thoughts about this opportunity.  I watched her tirelessly jot down my comments. Stay honest. But if someone throws you an alley-oop, ‘Be Like Mike,’ and slam it!

I’m going to borrow a line from Hamilton—The Musical. If you haven’t seen it you’re missing out! It’s much more than a play; it’s an eye-opening three-hour artistic masterpiece. In Hamilton, one of the main characters frequently says, “Talk Less. Smile More.” Musical characterization aside, in any interview, if you’re talking more and smiling less, you’re losing. Winning in an interview is as much about your appearance and body language as it is your responses. Understanding who’s leading the conversation is a sure sign that you understand how to act and interact in different social realms.

And have fun. My high school Cross Country/Track coach, Anthony Belber, always said this each time before I raced and I never quite understood how I could have fun when there was so much pressure on the line… until I got older. An interview is an opportunity to show someone that your accomplishments have a human being behind them. It is a chance for you to prove that you are who they think you are. Nothing more, nothing less.

What I Learned From A Two-Time Olympian

Uncategorized

What I learned from a two-time Olympian…

“Mom, the Olympic trials are on!” I yelled upstairs. When you combine my mother, sister, and I, almost 30 years of running track fandom avidly stared at the screen. “Bang,” the gun sounded on the tv, and there appeared Khadevis “KD” Robinson, 4-time U.S. Olympic Champion, out to set the early pace. Prior to the start of the race, the commentator announced his 8-month-old son, Zion, was in the crowd watching. That pressure didn’t seem to faze him, as he took the pace out hard with his unique upright stride and robotically pristine form. 50.33, the clock read, as the crescendo of the bell rang signaling the commencement of the second and final lap. KD made a strong move to increase his lead as his fellow Nike teammate, Lopez Lomong, began coming up on his shoulder. 200 meters to go before the finish, KD’s powerful stride crushed the track underneath him. Strong finisher—Nick Symmonds—in the back of the pack had now found some room to maneuver. 100 meters to go—a straight away to decide who would be representing the United States in Beijing, the pack began closing the gap on KD. First, Nick Symmonds flew by, and then six-foot-five, Andrew Wheating, a University of Oregon product, galloped pass Khadevis. As the line approached, it was between KD and Christian Smith, another Oregon Duck, for the final USA Olympic team spot. At the line, Christian Smith hurled himself over as he crashed to the ground.

Symmonds.

Wheating.

Smith.

Those were the ones going onto Beijing. It was an Oregon sweep—1.2.3.

Years later, I read out the name “Coach Khadevis Robinson” on the door. A smile began to form from my lips. My standing in front of that door was thanks to one person. Coach Karen Dennis, one of only 5 female Directors of a Power-5 Track & Field conference program, became a mentor and mother figure from the moment we were first introduced four years ago. She knew more than anyone my love for track, coaching, and mentoring, and so, she gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. She spoke with Coach Robinson and he agreed to bring me on as a volunteer assistant coach in my last semester of medical school. I had dreamed about this over and over—the opportunity to coach at The Ohio State, to run alongside the young Buckeye athletes, to tell them I believed in them right before their darkest moment and hardest set. However, the dream never dared to include working with one of my track and field idols. I remember our first encounter like it was yesterday. Two enthusiastic men embracing as we began sharing our experiences about the sport we treasure. I asked him multiple questions about his training philosophy which he returned with answers followed by questions revolving around what type of doctor I wanted to be. After that meeting, I knew he respected me as a man, a former student-athlete, and a medical student but I wasn’t sure he fully trusted me as his new assistant coach. Early on, during a workout, when one of our athletes seemed to slow her pace down prior to the expected finishing point he thought I had told her to stop. I mentioned to him that I had not, and we moved on. As I reflect, I realize he was taking quite a risk bringing me on-board because if we had not had a harmonious relationship the student-athletes, the team & the coaching staff would have suffered from a potentially negative environment.

Whatever my past achievements were before, he taught me that success is non-transferrable. I don’t mean you can’t be successful in multiple fields because you can. But just because you are successful in one field, it doesn’t automatically transfer over to another. You have to earn respect in any fresh sphere with which you enter, with each promise fulfilled, one step at a time. Despite having garnered All-American Collegiate accolades, being named captain of my university team and being an assistant coach at my high school alma mater, I had to prove I could be successful at this level—to him, to the athletes and just as importantly, to myself. My greatest asset to the team and my student-athletes was my energy and enthusiasm as evidenced by my 6:00 AM boisterous yells booming across the infield covering all four sides of the track. If the student-athletes weren’t awake when they arrived to practice they certainly were by 6:10AM. But, in conjunction with my blaring voice I had a softer, gentler voice I used to encourage athletes dealing with adversity, reassuring them that their goals were just on the other side of their adversity. As the season continued, Coach Khadevis & I continued to grow closer. It wasn’t only the time on the track that transformed our relationship. It was the casual conversations during meals, the track & field team trips together and the jokes we created that made all the difference. Whether it was from our back & forth taunts about whose fraternity was better, to Coach KD’s incomparable dance moves to Coach Karen having to yell at us both to not run alongside our athletes during competitions due to our mutual excitement, a unique bond formed.

Two Big Ten Championships, many laughs, and two seasons later I sat in his office a few weeks prior to leaving for Oregon to start my medical residency. Talking casually, Khadevis brought up that Olympic race from 2008 which was the very race I watched 10 years ago with my mother. “I had to come back,” he said. “There was no way I could let my son see me fail. No way was my last race going to be anything less than me making another Olympic team. So, I let my setback set the stage for my comeback…

And I made the Olympic team in 2012.”

KD & I

Three Men, 1 Goal

Uncategorized

“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” 

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

All the success I’ve had in the past, present, and future, could not and cannot be done without the love and support of my family and friends. The special ones who have guided me are true mentors. Here’s how I met one of them.

I could barely make out the back of his shirt that read, “Princeton Track & Field,” but I didn’t need to read it to know this gentleman was a runner—his telltale build and strut as he left the track were clear as day. Unsure if I’d see him again, I slowly jogged behind him until I was within hearing range. “Hey, did you run track for Princeton? I’m an 800 guy here at Emory!” He responded, “I did. Now, I’m a med student here.”

I’ve learned many different things in my life, but one thing I hold to be true is there is no such thing as coincidence. Immediately, I asked if we could meet up as I told him he was exactly where I wanted to be in a few years. How rare is this? To have a future you stand in front of you willing to meet, and as I would find out in years to come, equally willing to help. But what if I hadn’t chased after Alexis (Dr. Tingan) in that moment? What if I had hesitated? One slight moment of doubt could have closed the path to a guide and friend, one never to be crossed again. My strong desire and willingness to become a physician may have led me there alone, but as the parable goes, ‘a man once believed he’d survive flood waters because he prayed to God to save him. After turning down a boat, a canoe and a helicopter he sadly died and when he arrived at the gates of heaven, God told him that he sent those people to save him.’ God puts people in our life with a purpose. Lex was one of those for me. Our shared interest in running and passion for medicine established a natural relationship, and he has been able to help me choose the appropriate undergraduate class schedules, select medical schools that would be a good fit for me and to navigate the medical school application process. Having run the same events in college, we shared in our perils, our accomplishments, and our goals.

For success meeting a mentor: establish a relationship first, know your weaknesses and your strengths, be cognizant of the schedule of your potential mentor and be clear in outlining one’s needs.  Fast forward…

The lessons I learned from Alexis were put in practice for someone else. Preparing for a lengthy heart physiology and anatomy study session at the library, I couldn’t help noticing a young African-American undergraduate student intensely studying at the adjacent table. It was about 9:30 PM on a Saturday night and it was obvious he had been at that table for quite some time. Peeking over his shoulder as I walked to the bathroom, I saw him writing down notes from an organic chemistry book. Before I returned to my seat, I excitedly approached this young gentleman and through our conversation, learned that he aspired to attend medical school. Without hesitation, I offered to mentor him through the long and arduous process from the pre-medical courses to the application and interview process. He hesitantly gave me his email and a few days after, I emailed him to which he eventually replied. I am not sure if he was shocked by a stranger approaching him or by the idea of having a stranger offer to mentor him. As we grew closer, he admitted to me that he had never had a mentor. I don’t know if he was afraid to ask before, lacked the self-confidence or simply had never had someone offer their assistance? But I knew if he had made it this far “alone” then, within, lay had an incredible self-drive. Growing up in Houston where he attended public school and then matriculating to The Ohio State University where he earned merit-based scholarships, he progressed without anyone in the form of a mentor. How many others feel this way? Black? White? Male? Female? Mentorship is hard to obtain, but easy to bestow upon someone if it’s in your heart. As the application cycle approached for Phil, he showed me his list. There were good medical schools on the list, most of which were in his home state of Texas, but after seeing his stellar GPA and multiple leadership/volunteer experiences, I looked him in the eye and told him, “You’ve got to apply to Harvard School of Medicine! Whether or not you go there, there aren’t many of us who have ever been granted an interview at such a prestigious institution.” I also added other schools to his list opening his horizon, reminding him to believe in himself and to believe in his potential. Phil has just finished his first year at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine—a renowned and highly regarded medical school.

Phil emphasized, during a recent conversation: “Jason, without you, I never would have applied here…” I could only reply “Phil, together we go farther. Remember that!”

 

Sent From My iPhone

Uncategorized

“We have reviewed your application once again for admission to our school of medicine and we regret to inform you that you have not been granted an interview at this time.” I scrolled down & it was signed by the Director of Admissions—a name with M.B.A behind it. And then I scrolled down further and read the signature…

“Sent from my iPhone.”

A tear streamed down my right cheek. I felt like a volcano that had erupted—full of frustration, anger & sadness. I was devastated. The words, “Life is hard for those who dream” kept scrolling through my head. I was in the downstairs bedroom of my parent’s home. At that moment, it was very likely that my mother was upstairs above me, just a few feet away. I don’t know for a fact, but I felt like there was a mirror image of myself upstairs at the dining room table in the form of my mother. Of all people in the world, she was the one I did not want to disappoint desiring so badly to carry on the legacy she has scuplted.  The first African-American woman in the country to receive a Ph.D. in Epidemiology. Despite her many accolades, at that point in time I think the only care in the world she had was for her son to be accepted into medical school. When I had graduated from Emory and was enthusiastically off-track, if you will, she spoke with one of her colleagues; a medical school advisor she knew well asking that he bestow upon me guidance and direction. And was it too simple to think the University that she works so hard for so many hours of the day, leading their mission of improving health disparities would at least offer an interview to her son? By title, She is the Associate Dean! If having one’s parents as alumni can help secure legacy status, what was going on here? Was that not customary? I rolled back onto my bed in the fetal position. What’s next? What could be next? This is the institution where I envisioned my white coat ceremony, match day ceremony and graduation occurring. But all I can remember is the thoughtlessly blasé “Sent from my iPhone.”

I was like many other pre-medical students at the time. I felt that since I had gone to a stellar, well-known undergraduate institution, the same would occur for my medical school education. But one thing I had to recognize was that your undergraduate institution doesn’t automatically lead to the medical school you enter—nothing is guaranteed. I have learned many things as I approach thirty years old, but nothing as sincere as the notion that entitlement is precarious, perhaps even dangerous. We fall into these easy expectations and if they do not come to fruition, we fall apart & don’t know how to pick ourselves up again. The moment you feel like you deserve something is the moment it slips through your grasp. In that very moment when you look up wishing & praying a leaf falls that was meant for you to catch, it may or may not but let me tell you about my leaves. I interviewed at Ohio State on January 22nd. Heading to the airport, I looked back at the large OSU Wexner Signage feeling as though I was actually leaving my home rather than my interview. A few weeks later, I signed into my newly-created Ohio State portal only to find a “wait-listed” next to my name. Many months later as I was tutoring a high school student, my phone began buzzing on the desk. I quickly uncovered it and saw a number with a 614-area code. There it was, the call I had been waiting so impatiently for. The director of admissions at Ohio State College of Medicine asked me, “Jason, are you still interested in Ohio State?” “Yes,” I exhaled. I felt like I had been holding my breath for 5 months and finally I could breathe again.

I drove home one breath at a time.