Aaquil Madison was in his North Philadelphia home last month, working on a laboratory project for his Physics II class at Temple, when he received the devastating news that his brother had been shot.
He immediately dressed and headed to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where his brother had been taken. But before he got there, his aunt called with the sad news that his playful, lighthearted older brother, Zykeem Thomas, was dead. Instead of studying, Madison, 26, spent the night with his sister, mourning their loss.
Trauma from losing a loved one like that can really throw you. Some people go into revenge mode. Others sink into depression. Some just give up. Not Madison. His brother’s slaying on July 13 made him more determined than ever to keep pushing to achieve his dream of becoming a physician.
That’s been his goal ever since he read We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success at Young Scholars Charter School. The book is about three underprivileged Black childhood friends from Newark, N.J., who made a pact that instead of following their friends into gangs and drugs, they would go to college and become doctors. All of them beat the incredible odds.
Their story inspired Madison, who is from a similarly disadvantaged background. That’s why he stuck with that Physics II class despite everything going on around him.
“I had to get right back into it because the class was over July 31,” Madison told me. “I had to take my midterm on the 15th of July, which was the day before my brother’s funeral. It was hard.
“I really had to pray,” he added.
Madison managed to get an A in the class.
That’s quite an accomplishment under the best of circumstances, but earning that sort of grade after a loss like the one Madison suffered speaks to a whole other level of aptitude and determination. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m super impressed.
A 2021 Temple graduate, he works as a rehabilitation aide in a local hospital while taking courses in preparation for medical school, hopefully for the fall of 2022. Madison also serves as a youth mentor with 100 Black Men of Philadelphia Chapter. I learned about him from a board member of that organization who also suggested Madison set up a GoFundMe account so people can help him with his tuition payments. (Checks can be sent to Madison via 100 Black Men, 1324 Clearfield St., Philadelphia, PA 19132.)
“Here’s a young man who’s aspiring to be a doctor — not a rapper or an athlete,” said Weller Thomas, a 100 Black Men board member and owner of Pathfinder’s Travel Magazine. “He is busting his butt. He’s serious about what he’s doing.”
I hope so. America desperately needs more Black doctors. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, only about 3% of all medical doctors are African American males. That’s a number that hasn’t budged much since 1940, according to a recent study. Implicit bias in health care is real. Studies show that Black patients have better outcomes when their physicians have a similar racial background. But when it comes to increasing the number of people entering medical school, money too often is a factor.
“We need the village to pour into this young man right now. We’ve got one that’s worth pouring into,” said Arthur J. Wells III, who mentored Madison through the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program after his father was killed when he was just 7 years old.
“If you want to help somebody, help somebody who’s doing the right thing,” urged Wells, a.k.a. “Max the Barber” and owner of Maxamillion’s Gentlemen’s Quarters at 20th and Chestnut Streets. “He’s not only going to be a blessing to himself but to other kids he comes into contact with.”
His is a cause worth supporting.