By Jamie Williams, email@example.com
Two days each week, members of the UNC School of Medicine’s Minority Men in Medicine group spend their afternoons with fifth graders at Durham’s Eno Valley Elementary School. The group’s leaders, first-year medical students, Roman Blount, IV, and Andrew Alexander, say the students aren’t there to talk about science or lay out plans for high school courses and college majors. For now, Blount, Alexander, and the other members of the Minority Men in Medicine are just there to talk, play chess, shoot hoops, and, most importantly, set an example.
“We aren’t there to preach to them,” Blount said. “We try to get on their level, understand a little bit about who they are and then, as time progresses, reach them more deeply than we would have been able to otherwise.”
The students they work with are part of the Eno Valley Elementary School’s Men of Honor Program, an afterschool program that provides enrichment and mentorship for students who have been selected by the program’s leader, Eno Valley teacher Nashonda Cooke.
“These are the kids that need just a little push to make sure they get going in the right direction,” Alexander explained.
Both Blount and Alexander said when they arrived at UNC for medical school, the decision to seek out opportunities to mentor younger students was natural.
“For me, it always made a huge difference just having someone in my corner, pushing me and telling me I could do whatever I set my mind to,” Alexander said.
Now, they are doing the same for the students at Eno Valley. Alexander says many of the kids know UNC strictly from watching the Tar Heels play basketball on TV. Talking about their experiences attending medical school and plans for a future career as physicians opens a whole new world of possibilities to these kids.
“They’ve been so receptive,” Alexander said. “The minute we walked in and started to build a bond with these kids, you can just see that they want to make you proud.”
This May, the Minority Men in Medicine participated in the Men of Honor’s end of year program. Blount said that when they arrived “suited up” and in their white coats, they were immediately embraced by the students and their parents, a testament to the relationships that they had built throughout the year.
Alexander recalled the special moment during the ceremony when the students enthusiastically recited the Men of Honor’s creed. Playing the video on his phone several days later, Alexander still gets chills hearing the students proclaim positive affirmations of their talents, leadership abilities, and future ambitions. “I am a college graduate!” the students shout, punctuating the message.
“There is a lot of power in what you speak out into the world and these kids truly believe nothing can stop them,” Alexander said. “That inspires me and reinforces my commitment to be there for them.”
Flipping the Script
Blount and Alexander are the current co-chairs of Minority Men in Medicine, but they have benefitted as mentees from an infrastructure that was established several years ago by founders Kevin Gray, Michael Kelso, MD, and Seun Omofoye, MD.
Brown currently works with AHEC’s Health Career’s Access Program, Kelso is completing a fellowship at UT-Southwestern after his residency training at Brown, and Omofoye is a neurosurgery resident at UNC Hospitals. Claudis Polk, of the UNC School of Medicine’s Office of Special Programs, serves in an advisory role for the group, helping to inspire and counsel current members.
The program’s growing legacy is an important part of its work. In addition to providing mentorship for those elementary school students at Eno Valley, past and current members provide a support system for each other.
Blount explained that former members now in residency or in practice are invited back to provide guidance for members currently in medical school. Medical students are in contact with undergraduate students interested in applying for medical school, helping guide them through the process of studying for the MCAT and later through the application and interview processes.
“No matter where you are in your life, our goal is to be able to connect you with someone who has been through that experience and is able to guide you,” Blount said.
That includes the young Men of Honor at Eno Valley.
“I hope we can show them that it’s possible for someone who looks like them to have success at a place like the UNC School of Medicine while also being able to come back and be able to engage with them and have some fun,” Blount said.