It was the 1980s on the streets of Newark, and Rameck Hunt and some of his friends were in a fight with a drug addict. The fight escalated, and Hunt pulled out a knife. He didn’t want to stab the man, but he didn’t want to look weak in front of his friends either, so he compromised. He would later describe giving the man a “poke” with a knife, while the others beat him savagely.
That “poke” was enough to land Hunt in jail on charges of attempted murder, having confessed on behalf of the entire group.
After this point, Hunt’s life could have ended up like that of so many of his peers: that could have been the first of many arrests leading to a resume that included multiple incarcerations, no education, and no job prospects. No one, least of all Hunt, would have guessed that he would set down the knife and one day take up the tools of medicine.
As for the legal case, Hunt got lucky: the victim never showed up to testify, and the case was dismissed. And just like peer pressure had led to Hunt’s arrest, it would be peer pressure that set his life on a better path. As he describes in the 2002 book, “The Pact,” two friends he met in high school, George Jenkins and Sampson Davis, were they keys to his success.
Where his previous friends had goaded him into committing crimes, Jenkins and Davis would pressure him into studying harder.
After hearing a high school presentation on careers in medicine and dentistry, the three of them made a pact to all become doctors. Today Hunt is an internist at the Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center and assistant professor of medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The others are also doctors. Together, the three run a foundation called The Three Doctors, which helps kids who are in similar circumstances to theirs growing up.
The Three Doctors will be part of a presentation at the Pascale Sykes Foundation’s Working Together for Working Families conference on Thursday, February 13, at Rowan College of South Jersey’s Luciano Center in Vineland. The conference will also include a talk by broadcast journalist and “60 Minutes” co-founder Lesley Stahl. For more information on the event, visit www.pascalesykesfoundation.com.
Hunt has also written a book on weight loss, “No Guess Work,” scheduled to be released this May.
Hunt was raised by his mother and his grandmother in the midst of what he describes as a blighted community. He says he never would have succeeded at becoming a doctor without the help of his two friends. But even growing up seeing people in his community struggle, he had an inkling that he wanted something better.
“I think I started out knowing that I wanted more,” he said. “For some reason, there was enough hope left in me to keep fighting until I met my two friends that I made the pact with, and that made all the difference. Once we made the pact, it was one of those things where it seemed doable.”
According to Hunt, the reason the pact succeeded was because it turned peer pressure from a negative force into a positive one. The three attended University High School, a magnet school. “There were times when you were around some friends, and they might do something like steal something or beat somebody up or whatever. Overall they might not have been a negative person, but those kinds of things were what we grew up with, and if you were in their circle you might find yourself being involved with it too. When I wasn’t around those guys I didn’t do that,” Hunt says.
With Jenkins and Davis, it was different. Hunt recalls that if you got an A on a test, you were considered a “nerd” and would be bullied, but cheered if you got an F. He, Jenkins, and Davis pressured one another to succeed instead. “It wasn’t cool to do dumb things around them,” he says. “If you ventured out to do something, or wanted to impress others, they would look at you, like, what are you doing? You have a future. The pressure not to go out there and do something silly was real with those two guys.”
One of the three didn’t know how to tie a tie because he didn’t have a father at home. Another didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, so they taught him. They became one another’s family. “We helped each other grow and become men,” Hunt says.
The three were different ages, but they all ended up attending Seton Hall University. The college environment took some getting used to. “It was a big adjustment when we all first started,” Hunt says. “We had a tough time with simple things like having cable and air conditioning and heat regularly, and meal plans. All those simple things that everybody else took for granted, for us felt like a luxury.”
The three friends had to learn how to behave in their new social environment. “We came from tough backgrounds where the way we dealt with conflict was to argue or fight. We had to quickly realize that’s not the way to do conflict resolution when you’re in college or beyond that. It was a big adjustment.”
On the other hand, people from more privileged backgrounds turned out to be more welcoming than they expected. Still, they had some catching up to do. Some of the other students had better education going in, so the three had to work hard to catch up. Just as they had in high school, the three friends helped each other. “One person wouldn’t let the other person do poorly on a test,” Hunt says. “You didn’t want to be the only one to walk across that graduation stage. And you didn’t want to be the one in the audience while the other two graduated … it was an unspoken thing for all of us, and we did what we needed to do to make sure we succeeded.”
They didn’t stop at graduation. All three attended University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and achieved their goal of becoming doctors. When they finally earned their degrees they ended up on the front page of the Star-Ledger, above the fold, for their achievement.
At that point, the pact had succeeded, and they could have celebrated and gone their separate ways. Instead, they decided to keep their partnership together and use it to help young people. Today, the Three Doctors Foundation sponsors kids aged 12 to 18 to form their own pacts. Over the past 20 years the foundation has sponsored students who became doctors, dentists, psychologists, scientists, and lawyers.
The Three Doctors’ Foundation’s mission overlaps with that of the Pascale Sykes Foundation, whose mission is improving life for working, low-income families. Hunt says that family played an important role in his own story, both in how he and his two friends essentially became a family, and in how his grandmother and mother encouraged him to succeed.
Hunt’s family is an example of the “Whole Family” approach that the Pascale Sykes foundation takes in supporting families. The foundation emphasizes the importance of having two adults in charge, even if they are not necessarily mother and father.
Most tellings of Hunt’s story end with him becoming a doctor. But he has done a lot since earning his medical degree. He has come to specialize in the field of weight loss. Hunt says he was inspired to do so by one particular patient whom he saw in his regular internal medicine practice.
“Every time this patient would come in, I found myself adding a new medication,” he says. “Most of it was because of her weight. And a lot of the medical issues I was seeing in patients, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol, have a lot to do with excess weight.”
He watched as the patient gained more than 100 pounds. When he asked her if her children were also obese, she cried.
Hunt dedicated himself to learning the science of weight loss, and over the next two years he helped the woman lose 100 pounds. Today his weight loss clinic is dedicated to helping people lose weight and maintain it.
In his new book, he distills his weight loss program for readers:
You’ve heard it many times before: the way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. Right? It’s all about will power and discipline, we’ve been told.
Well, not exactly.
I’m a medical doctor, and before I began studying obesity and practicing obesity medicine, I thought that way, too. Quite frankly, changing that mindset is part of the reason I am writing this book. Much of what we as a nation have been fed through the years about how to eat and how to lose weight has been based on lies. The truth is people can eat until they are satisfied if they understand what to eat. That is far more important than portion size. And people tend to think that “move more” means going to the gym or signing up for a killer boot camp-style workout regimen, when there are much more simple ways to maximize their activity throughout the day to get the same or even greater benefits.
This book introduces my No Guesswork (NGW) plan, which will teach you exactly what you need to know to embark on a lifetime of good health and wellness. For too long, we have been misinformed about which foods make us gain weight, and which don’t. We’ve been cutting calories and starving ourselves to shed the pounds, only to gain the weight back again, wondering if we have to be hungry all the time in order to maintain a healthy weight. We’ve had to guess — is there any diet out there that will help me stay slim and healthy for good? My plan takes the guesswork out of healthy living, and it will change your life. No more diet confusion, no more shooting in the dark. You will lose weight, but most importantly, you will learn how to keep the weight off for life.
Obesity is epidemic in this country. About 100 million adults in the United States (about 40 percent of the adult population) and 13.7 million children (nearly 19 percent) are obese The problem is most severe among Hispanics and African Americans, and predictions are that the obesity crisis will continue to grow. To change, Americans need to understand how we got here and how to get out. My book offers both.
My goal is to change the perception of how Americans think about people with obesity. I want the fat shaming to stop, even among those who live with obesity. I want to educate people that obesity is a real disease with real causes and consequences. When I say that obesity is not the fault of the people who are struggling with it, I’m not just making excuses for them. Science has proven the battle of the brain that they fight every day, and I explain that within these pages. Yes, they have some responsibility in making better choices, just as a person who suffers from, say, diabetes or high blood pressure. But for too long people have not been told the truth about what the best choices are.
I wrote this book to tell you the truth and to provide you at last with the No Guesswork plan for weight loss and healthy living. If you need inspiration and coaching, you will find it here, too. I’ve been told that diet books are just supposed to tell you what to do, and that’s it. We just want a quick fix, I’ve heard repeatedly. There is certainly no shortage of those kinds of books out there. You read them, lose weight, and then gain it right back. Why? Perhaps we didn’t know how the food we were eating affected us. Perhaps we didn’t know that the foods we eat ignite a swirl of hormones and cravings in our bodies, or that cutting calories would slow our metabolism. I am here to arm you with the knowledge you need to change your eating habits for good. I dare to trust your intelligence, to trust that you not only want to lose weight but that you want to know the hidden truth about what really causes us to gain weight. When you know the truth, you can make different and better choices.
My clinic at Penn Medicine Princeton Health focuses on weight maintenance because that is truly the goal: to help our patients achieve a healthy weight and maintain it for the rest of their lives. Our team has helped dozens of people lose hundreds of pounds. We are so full that we cannot accept any new patients. But I lay out my plan for you in this book. I know it works. If you’re ready to change your life, this is the book for you.