Andre Christie will receive his associate of science degree from Bronx Community College next month, days after returning from South Africa, where he is currently doing health care fieldwork under the International Scholar Laureate Program. The day after commencement, he will fly down to Bethesda, Maryland, to participate in the National Institutes of Health Diabetic and Digestive and Kidney Diseases summer medical research programme. A month after that, he’ll transfer to New York University, the next step in his dream of becoming a doctor.
Up to four years ago, Christie was living in Grant’s Pen, the community off Shortwood Road in St Andrew which was once classified one of the most dangerous communities in the world; and was constantly told he would amount to nothing.
“In my childhood, I saw people getting shot. They were helpless. That’s really how my passion for helping people came about,” he recalls.
He realised, however, that to realise that passion he would need something he could not get at home — psychological and financial support.
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“I am from a poor family; where education is not valued,” the Oberlin High School graduate says.
“Attending elementary and high school in Jamaica was always an academic struggle. I was always in the lowest class because at that point in my life I wasn’t accustomed to what it is to study. My father did not believe sending me to college was essential because I was considered to be the child who was intellectually deficient. I remember being beaten because at age 12 I was still not able to say the complete timetables. I always cursed at saying, ‘You will never come out to anything good’.
“Their words made me more determined to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and drove me to form my intellectual drive. I didn’t become bitter by their words. They only made me stronger. I was determined to prove them wrong,” Christie tells the Jamaica Observer via e-mail from South Africa.
And so, in 2012, he emigrated to the United States. Arriving in Chicago, he spent his weekends cleaning a ship that plied the Great Lakes, and devoted his weekdays to getting a US high school diploma. That in hand, Christie moved to New York City. While working there as a home health aide, he learned about City University of New York’s Bronx Community College (BCC) and started as an evening student in the Fall of 2013. His 3.6 GPA, extra-curricular involvement, and an array of awards and scholarships the college describes as “impressive”, speak for themselves.
Among the scholarships he has won are: the New York City Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, the Bronx Health Opportunities Partnership-Einstein Scholarship, and the Mavis and Ephraim Hawthorne Golden Krust Foundation Award. In the spring of 2014, he earned BCC’s President’s Award.
“My major here is diet and nutrition, but I have so many advanced classes I might as well be a science major,” observes Christie, whose courses run the gamut from biology to microbiology, math, pharmacology, psychology, and a particular favourite — medical ethics.
“I enjoy exploring the moral dilemmas often experienced in the medical field. The struggle to determine what is right and wrong in that arena is exciting,” he says.
In addition to scholarships, Christie, 24, pays his way through school by tutoring college chemistry, biology, statistics, and pharmacology. In terms of extra-curricular involvement, he mentors freshmen, is a member of the Sustainability Committee, the STEM club, and was president of the Food and Gardening Club last year.
Christie is the first BCC student to be awarded under the International Scholar Laureate Program. He is also its first to be selected for the National Institutes of Health’s 10-week summer research programme in Bethesda, which awards students up to US$20,000 per academic year and employment upon graduation. He was one of 10 students out of 350 to be awarded.
“You come in contact with patients with different diseases. It’s kind of frightening, but as a medical professional you cannot be afraid to take up the challenge,” he says of the summer medical research programme.
Christie has two career goals. One is to become a cardiothoracic surgeon — a specialist in the heart, lungs and other organs in the chest. The other is more personal.
“A lot of men die of prostate cancer in Jamaica because of homophobia. They don’t believe the doctor should be examining the prostate. My grandfather had that type of mentality,” Christie recalls.
“The death of my grandfather was one of the factors that propelled me to become a physician. Though he was somewhat affluent, he did not visit the doctor for annual check-ups. During his last days on Earth, I remember asking my mom “Why is grandpa getting slim?” She said, “because he is not eating and he won’t be with us for long.” When the doctor entered I asked, “Is there anything that you can do in order to save my grandfather’s life?” He said it’s beyond his control. When my grandpa passed away later that month, I made a promise at his graveside that I will find the cure for prostate cancer,” Christie said.
His plan is to establish a prostate cancer research centre in Kingston.
As for the rest of his family — his mother Angella Lewis, father Kirk, sisters Marsha and Ashanti; and his brother Kurtis — Christie hasn’t seen them since he left the island.
“I’ve made this promise to myself: I will go back when I accomplish my bachelor’s degree.”
From the looks of things, that’s a promise he is well on his way to fulfilling.