Beat your circumstances. Dr. Sampson Davis and Sharlee Jeter’s new book lights the way
Published June 1, 2018 | Kenneth Miles
Dr. Sampson Davis and Sharlee Jeter, co-authors of The Stuff.
With their new bookThe Stuff: Unlock Your Power to Overcome Challenges, Soar, and Succeed (Simon & Schuster, $27 hardcover/E-book, $12.99) New York Times best-selling author and Newark native, Dr. Sampson Davis, (The Pact, Living & Dying in Brick City) teamed up with Turn 2 Foundation’s President, Sharlee Jeter, to write an inspirational book that highlights eleven core principles that will help readers survive life’s complexities, hurts, and disappointments.
Both authors have had to face their own challenges in life. As a teenager, Dr. Davis spent time in juvenile detention for a robbery charge that changed the course of his life. For Jeter, who is the younger sister of New York Yankees World Series champion Derek Jeter, life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with cancer her senior year in college. Brick City Live’ Kenneth Miles recently caught up with the authors in the midst of a multi-city book tour to find out how they overcame the challenges in their own lives–and how you can too!
Brick City Live: Can you tell me where did you get the idea to write The Stuff?
Dr. Sampson Davis: The concept began when my Three Doctors Foundation honored Sharlee’s Turn 2 Foundation. It was during a plane ride when I spoke at a baseball clinic, and I was sharing with Sharlee the concept of some of these individuals that I’ve come across who overcame insurmountable obstacles without feeling defeated, challenged or limited. [They] pretty much looked their situations dead on and said, ‘I’m going to beat this circumstance!’ whereas other people that I’ve come across in my medical practice sort of surrendered to situations when they are told they have three months to live.
It was just amazing to me how some people just overpower their situation whereas other people just obey their circumstance. I was like, there has to be some sort of gene out there, some sort of science behind all of this. I just wanted to put something out there to help everyone, because I feel we all sort of have this inner fortitude to be our best. When I first started talking about the science aspect of the book, that’s when Sharlee sort of jumped in and was like, ‘No way!’
Sharlee Jeter:[Laughs] I had basically told him that he had this amazing idea, and I thought that he had a way of explaining really difficult concepts and key messages to young people in a way that they could understand. So I said, ‘Instead of making it a medical book, what if you find out if there are common core qualities that people you interview have. If there is a common thread, that would be something you could package, get it out there, and everyone could understand it.’ That’s how the concept of The Stuff was born.
BCL: Can you give me an example of a common quality that people who have the ability to overcome obstacles share?
Jeter:Sure, one of the qualities we found in people is choosing to hope. Each of the eleven core elements we found are elements we already possess. It’s not something you have to have money to be able to obtain. It’s more about you knowing that you have these qualities and that you can utilize them to overcome anything.
The one we start out with in the book is choosing to hope. I think it’s one of the most important because we need to tell ourselves that we are capable of tackling different challenges or obstacles that may come our way. We all know that we are all going to be faced with something and it doesn’t have to be a major tragedy. It can be something like, ‘I’m not happy with my job, I would really like to go after this other job, but I’m just too afraid to do it.’
Dr. Davis: We have eleven elements that we speak about in the book and there were many more, but based upon the interviews we did and the people we had the opportunity to speak with, we chose fifteen amazing stories—ordinary people like you and I who overcame extraordinary odds, so these eleven elements were the most common we found that resonated with these stories. Developing your team, which I found to be an element that is true to the stories from the people that we spoke to, but that’s very true and resonates with Sharlee’s story and my story. We all have to have a team that supports us, and that we support as well in order to show this inner fortitude to overcome and live our maximized life.
BCL: Sharlee, it’s been reported in the media that you were diagnosed with cancer in your senior year at Spelman College, but you didn’t let the diagnosis prevent you from completing your degree. What got you through that difficult time?
Jeter: At the time, I could say that I was young and dumb, but when you’re young, I thinks sometimes you don’t realize the magnitude of what you’re dealing with, which makes this journey of doing this book so important to me.
At the time I was going to school, I was almost done. It was two days before my twenty-first birthday that I find out that I have Hopkins Lymphoma, and I’m sitting there thinking, “I’m like a semester and a half from graduating from college with my friends, and I’m down in Atlanta saying, ‘I don’t want to stop going to school.’” I spent all of this time trying to be independent and moved out of my parent’s house. I lived in an apartment with my two roommates I was like “I’m not going back home and live in my parent’s basement!”
I was fortunate, too, that I had a doctor who was very supportive, and who spoke to my parents as well, because they were ready for me to come home like any family would be for the twenty-one-year-old. I was fortunate I was able to go back and forth every other week. I would take a flight out on Thursday night, do my treatments in New York on Friday morning, and then fly back to Atlanta on Saturday morning. I did that every other week for six months, and luckily it was successful. I’ve been in remission ever since.
Dr. Davis: Sharlee thought it was very common that someone would be diagnosed with cancer and stays in school and hang out with her friends and still have a college life. I was like “Sharlee, that is not normal.” Most people would go home feel sorry for themselves and fall into the fetal position.
BCL:Sharlee, do you [attribute] your fortitude to coming from an athletic family? Your father was an athlete, your brother is a World Series champion, and you played sports yourself.
Jeter: I would connect it to my family. I don’t necessarily know if it would be from my athletic background. I don’t know…it could be. I never really thought of it that way. I’ve always been a pretty competitive person. My entire family is pretty competitive in everything we do. We are really a driven family too; it’s not just in sports. We were very driven in school and in anything that we do. We are all driven individuals; that’s how Derek and I were raised.
BCL:Dr. Davis, what were some of the challenges you faced as a young man growing up in Brick City?
Dr. Davis: The Newark today is different from when I grew up there, which is great. You don’t understand, the renaissance has been coming for a long time. So it’s great to see Newark be known as the “renaissance city” and to see the renaissance unfold.
You take a look at the Hahnes building. I remember being there as a child when it was a department store and we would go there for holiday photos. I grew up in an era where the crack epidemic was part of the backdrop and challenges of the city. For me it was tough being in a single family home. Imagining my life becoming what it is [was difficult].
Yes, there was good [in Newark], don’t get me wrong. I saw teachers, I saw post office workers, I saw police officers, fireman, firewomen, but it was tough becoming a doctor, because I didn’t see physicians at all. I would see people nodding on the corner. I would see young men hauled off to the police department for stolen cars. I knew that I always wanted to become something in life at a very early age and I was not going to allow that hope to die out.
BCL: You were veering down the wrong path as a teenager, [getting] in trouble with the law. How did you make it through?
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<Dr. Davis:Events developed in my life that I did not plan for. I was arrested as a juvenile twice. My last arrest, I realized that I had to make a conscious position. I didn’t know how I was going to get there. I didn’t know if I had all the necessary tools to get there, but I was going to fight and I was going to fight until someone told me that I could not be wherever I was going.
I made a pact with two of my buddies to become doctors. We went off to college together and then we applied to medical and dental school and were accepted. I went through four years of medical school and then had the opportunity to practice and train in emergency medicine in the same hospital I was born in, right in Newark Beth Israel. It was a conscious decision to stay in the community and to give back, because I knew when I was a kid how it really would have helped my consciousness if I would have seen these positive images of professionalism walking the block that I lived in.
BCL: Sharlee, can you give the reader an example of how they can turn a negative into a positive picture?
Jeter: When I was going through chemotherapy, towards the middle I was really sick. I didn’t want to go back. It was hard to get on the plane to go home because right when I would start to feel better, I would have to go back for another treatment. I would call my parents crying because I didn’t want to get on the plane.
What got me through was that I didn’t want to disappoint my parents on the other end when they came to pick me up from the airport. At one point I had to be moved from the adult floor for chemotherapy to the children’s floor so that I could have a private room. People knew us in New York—this was the prime of Derek’s career—and so we started to see that [me being there] was distracting to other families, that people would recognize us. We felt that they should be able to go through chemo without people hovering around them while I was in the room.
Being on the pediatric floor, I would go in and see these families with young kids that would decorate their IV poles and they would have these big smiles on their faces, and these kids were basically living in the hospital. I was going in for a few hours doing chemo and then leaving. I remember seeing the kids’ smiles and then saying to myself, “I get to go back home and get to go back to school with my friends. Who am I to be complaining about anything?” It didn’t make getting back on the plane any easier, but it was the motivation that I was able to use to get back on the plane. I was able to be open to unforeseen inspiration, which is another element [in the book].
BCL: What is The Stuff Movement?
Jeter:When we started this project everybody had a story to tell us. It didn’t matter—an agent, a friend, a family member. We would mention the idea around doing this project. Some people we say, “OMG, my wife was battling breast cancer and I watched how she went through it and raised our kids. It never slowed her down from being a wonderful wife and a great mother to our kids.” Hearing all of these things we were like, “We’re on to something!” because everyone has that story that really inspires them, so we thought that it would be great to start an online platform for people to share their own stories or stories of someone that they know so people would come on there and it would be a community of inspirational stories, and maybe there would be one that will resonate with you and inspire you to move forward.
For more information about the The Stuff Movement, visit www.thestuffmovement.com.
Kenneth Miles is a graduate of Bloomfield College whose work has appeared in Interview, Paper, Black Enterprise, and The Source magazines. Miles is currently working on his first book. Follow him at @mrmiles2you on Instagram and Twitter..