Obi discusses the influence of one teacher in his life, and how that teacher influenced not only his future career goals, but also his work ethic.
Obi: So when I was a kid, gonna say sixth, seventh grade, I was definitely in the wrong crowd. Did not work hard, played too much, skipped classes. It was all slowly accumulating and it really hit seventh grade. Seventh grade is when I stopped caring about school, it was when, um, I was emailing professors - teachers at the time - “How can I bring my F to a C? Or how can I bring my D to a B?” two weeks before the semester ended. So, and I didn’t really think of my future like that. Like if someone asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I wouldn’t know what to say.
Eighth grade hit, the beginning of eighth grade, I had an engineering teacher, named Mr. Dawes. And I really liked engineering class for some reason. It just made sense to me. And, there was one time during lunch, mind you I was in the rambunctious group, you know. So in lunchtime we’d be making noises, you know, throwing stuff, all that stuff. And I was in lunch with my friends, and Mr. Dawes came out of nowhere and was like, “Obi, can I talk to you?” I was like, “Sure, yeah, what’s up?” So he pulled me aside in the hallway and was like, “Obi, if I could be - you want me to be completely honest with you, I could see you as a really great engineer in the future.” And in my mind, I'm like, “Is he serious right now? Like, is he - you’re telling me this?”
I come from a place that’s predominantly white and doesn’t really give any second thoughts to African-American kids, other than sports. You know, the only compliments I had growing up was football-related, or sports-related. Never academic. And the other kids that looked like me never had any compliments academics-wise. It was only sports. So this was the first time in a school setting where a teacher approached me and said, “You can do this.” And it wasn’t had to do with sports. It doesn’t have to do with a game I had last weekend. It has to do with academics. So that really changed my perspective on life, honestly.
He said, like, “Yo, I want you to be connected with me for the next couple of years, and we can talk about this. I can hook you up with people.” And I’m like - I was starstruck. I was starstruck because a person that’s older than me, who’s not my immediate family, who looks different than me, who’s a teacher in my school, really genuinely thinks I can make it in academics.
My life really changed academics-wise to like - I gotta kill it. Not just for myself, but for the people that believed in me. My parents, this engineering teacher, who really took the time and told me - you can do this. So for the past like - for the next two years, I wanted to be an engineer. Like, engineer, engineer, engineer. I don’t care what I’m doing.
You know, then I fell in love with biology. And that faith that my engineering teacher instilled in me, it carried on to my new profound love for medicine and my goal to become a doctor. And I’ve been riding that ever since. Of course I’ve found multiple reasons and multiple passions and multiple motives of why I want to become a doctor after that, but that one moment in the lunchroom. That one interaction I had with that engineering teacher, really propelled me to be great in this.