Dr. Bill Releford, Podiatrist
Charles Drew’s University of Medicine & Science, Dr. Keith Norris
Local barber and soon-to-be doctor, Donte Kelly, gets a check-up at Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program
As a barber, Inglewood native Donte Kelly has made his community feel and look good. He now aspires to do the same by becoming a doctor.
Donte Kelly is not only the barber of the legendary, Dr. Bill Releford, but also his partner in their Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program. In 2007, Releford pitched to Donte his new idea: to create a program that served (medically) Black men in a place where they felt comfortable. Releford and Kelly agreed what better place to do it in than the barbershop! It was during this “aha moment” when Kelly shared that he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Grambling State University. Suddenly, it became very clear that the two shared a passion for medicine that would fuel great success.
Inspired, Releford began to organize health programs, materials, sponsors and more to participate in their grand initiation. The Pilot Project took place in December 2007, affording excellent community service in screening over 30,000 men for diabetes and high blood pressure. This turnout and immediate victory would strengthen the already burning flame within Donte to pursue his dream of becoming a physician. While Kelly was confident in his goals, the road to get there wasn’t always so clear.
From Monroe and K-Anthony Elementary Schools to Washington High and Grambling State, Donte’s path would be a testament to his tenacity. “I’d always wanted to go to a HBCU and I knew that I wanted to play football.” Upon visiting Grambling University, Kelly knew this was the place for him. However, after trying out for the football team and being told he would have to red-shirt, Kelly made a few changes to his overall plan. Returning home to attend Santa Monica City College, Kelly played football and gained his Associate’s Degree in General Science. Next, Kelly returned to Grambling where he earned his Bachelor’s in Biology.
After this completion, Kelly returned to Southern California where he attained his barber’s license and embarked on this profession. Hoping to pay off his student loans accrued as an undergraduate student, Kelly continued along his journey. However, his life would be forever changed by a few concurrent experiences. The passion rekindled would prepare him for a trip to New York that would serve as both a career and personal accomplishment. Reaching out to the community in New York aligned with the goals of the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program; Kelly also discovered that the liaison for American students to travel to and attend the Cuban Medical School (CMS) was in the same area. In visiting the program, he discovered that his background made him the perfect candidate for the program.
Although his age of 30 years was right at the brink of the 18-30 age group of students admitted, the science classes taken throughout his education sealed the deal. Entering the program, Kelly began his first year where he learned conversational Spanish as well as the translations of the medical terminology. This would prepare him for a distinguishing opportunity at Releford’s office: translating for Spanish -Speaking patients as well as medical information provided. In regards to this newfound skill, Releford mentioned, “Donte was phenomenal!” This also resonated with Kelly in his obligation to serve the people.
Similarly, with close friends and their family being affected by the diseases targeted by the BBHOP, Kelly shared, “I should be in the position to do something about this. We’re all family so this matters to me.”
Embarking on this six-year journey, Kelly will soon begin the “3-step program,” also in preparation of the MCAT. From learning the Spanish language to soon completing residency, Kelly embodies community service and wellbeing. When asked how the barber and doctor fields relate, Kelly stated, “You build relationships, you gain their trust and you make them feel and look good. So they’re pretty similar.” With so much passion to fuel both talents equally, Kelly is inspired by his connection with people, most recently the students with which he will complete the program. “You have students from Paraguay and all the way from Tanzania. Their views and values impact my learning and that’s something that I appreciate.”
Kelly hopes that his passage and background will inspire those like him to stay on board with those things that they want to accomplish. “I want to open doors for them and show them that there is a way out. Peers and media can be distracting but if you stay focused and determined then you will get to where you want to go.” In regards to Kelly’s financial setback, he shares that lack of money didn’t affect his general desire to become a physician. And in making a pledge to serve his community, (a part of the CMS Program requirements), Kelly firmly believes that he is doing what’s best for him, his family and community.
“I hope that people will do their own research about Cuba, that they too will discover how resourceful they are and how much community outreach means to them.”
Along the same lines, the renowned Dr. Keith Norris shared his first impression and overall experience in visiting the CMS. “It was a great opportunity to gain a firsthand experience as to how the CMS approaches training students from around the world…” While much of the curriculum within American Schools and the CMS are similar, Norris declares that the CMS spends a little more time on students gaining clinical experience and conducting community outreach.
“For many Americans who have to learn Spanish and live in a country that doesn’t have the extras of the United States, this gives them a different outlook on life that also helps in preparation for working in underserved communities.” Although many students that participate have also lived in areas where outreach is dismal, Norris asserts that some students haven’t and they get to engage in this experience together. “CMS is definitely a place to consider for anyone who feels strongly about serving their community,” an element that Norris confirms isn’t as common amongst most American Medical Schools. “While, like others, their healthcare system isn’t perfect, there are some structural and philosophical elements that are outstanding!”
For more information on the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program and Cuban Medical School please visit www. blackbarbershop.org.