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Travis Thomas, Destined Dentist Speaks about Past and Future

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Interview with Travis Thomas (Future Dentist)

 

Travis what year were you born?

I was born April 30, 1983.

What Schools did you attend starting with elementary, middle and   Sr. High School?                                                                                                                

I attended F.S. Tucker Elementary School, Ponce De Leon Middle School and Coral Gables Sr High School.  I was attending at Gables for two years; however, I got my high school diploma from American Academy.

What year did you graduate from High School?

I graduated in 2001.

Are you married; how many years have you been married and do you have any children?

Yes, I’ve been married for 4 years, and we have a son named Travis.

Where did you grow up and what was it like in your community?

I grew up in Coconut Grove, Florida – I’ve been here for about 27 years.  During the early years, the environment was really rough.  There was a strong presence of violence and drugs in the community, but it didn’t seem abnormal; it was just a part of everyday life in Coconut Grove during that time.  My aunt did a great job keeping chaos outside of our gates.  Our house was always in order and she took me along with her to church every Sunday.  I would describe my childhood as fun times.  I played football in the streets with my friends; most of us were the age as me.  We played together, went to school together and went to the corner store – together!  It was fun, looking back at it.

Do you have any siblings? If so how old are they?

Yes, I do have siblings.  I have three brothers and one sister from my mother, and two sisters from my father.  I’m the oldest of my mother’s children.

Who is Mrs. Evans and what role has she played in your life? 

Mrs. Willie Ruth Evans is my great-great aunt – she’s my ROCK, my foundation!  She has played a significant role in my life since my birth.  She stayed across the street from me while I was living with my grandmother and mother in a one-bedroom shack on Frow Avenue.  At that time, I was going to a Head Start program, similar to Princeton Preschool, at the Human Resource Center in Coconut Grove.  My mother struggled with a drug addiction and my grandmother worked as a cafeteria server, but they didn’t have much; we lived poor.  My grandmother is very kind hearted and her door was always open for family and friends.  At any given time, several people would be sleeping over and maybe five kids, including myself, would be running around the house.  I moved in with my aunt Ruth because my mom wasn’t taking me to school regularly.  My aunt Ruth’s mother told her to take care of me, and that’s just what she did.  She played the role of my mother and father, providing me with everything I needed.

 Travis, what was the name of your foster big brother? When you were a kid there was this young adult male that used to come by and pick you up on the weekends.

Dan Gelber – he was my mentor from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  A school counselor recommended me to the program after she noticed I had a difficult time behaving in school – but I always excelled academically.  I was six years old when I met Dan, and he was in his late twenties.  Our relationship grew from our first meeting – it just took off.  We are still great friends and he continues to be a person of importance in my life.

What was it like to have a white person show interest in you?

It was different, but it was cool.  I was only six years old; I wasn’t old enough to understand the racial differences.  The best part for me was I knew an older person who shared similar interests, wanted to hang out and make sure I was doing the best I could in school.  I didn’t have a father in my life, and I’m my mother’s oldest child.  I didn’t care what color he was, if he was going to pick me up every Saturday in his convertible, take me out and show me things that I’d never seen, I was all for it.  I am glad that I had that experience as a child because it exposed me to different people and cultures.

What type of activities would you do with your Big Brother?

Dan would take me to the movies, we’d watch football games and sometimes we would make television appearances.  He cofounded a cancer camp for kids, and often he would take me along with him to events.  I would meet the kids and hang out with them for an entire day.  I was always confused about their sicknesses because we were close age most of the time – I didn’t understand, but that didn’t stop me from being friendly and treating them like any of my other friends.  Dan made sure that I was around for those types of things.  He also would always buy me books; he never bought me things I really wanted – like JORDANS.

So, Dan made a positive impression in your life?

Yes, a very, very positive impression.  When I was younger I wanted to be a lawyer because he was a lawyer.

Tell me a little about your past rough neck image and why you did a 180 degree turn around.

Like I said earlier, it’s hard coming up in an impoverished neighborhood.  As I grew older, the influence of the streets started to reflect in my actions – it really affected me.  My Big Brother would still stop by one day out of the week; however, during the other six days I was in my community with people who weren’t like Dan.  So, there were things I saw and people who interacted with that weren’t so positive.  As a teenager, I was really into Rap Music; I wanted to become a rap superstar.  I wanted a flashy lifestyle, or at least I thought I wanted that lifestyle.  At that time, I thought rapping was the only way I could be successful.  I didn’t have the knowledge that I have now.

There is a confluence of factors that made me want to change my lifestyle.  For one, Dan never failed to ask me what I was doing with my life. “What are you going to do with your life?” he’d ask.  Furthermore, while my wife and I were dating, she introduced me to her friends and family, and most of them were young black men and women with college degrees.  My wife’s brother, Walfsty, and his friend, Geden, a medical student, were very supportive while I considering attaining my bachelor’s degree and attending dental school.  I wanted to show people what I could do.  I wanted my son to be proud of me!  I’ve been told one of my biggest strengths is my ability to bounce back in the face of adversity.  I don’t remember meeting my dad until I was 13, but I didn’t let that bother me.  It just made me want to be the best dad I could be for my child. With all of that said, I just wanted to do the right thing.

Going back to the rough image, what was the reason for removing the gold teeth grill and the tattoos you once had?

I think the universe has a strange way of making things happen (laughs).  I didn’t take them out. There wasn’t a definite point where I decided that I didn’t want gold teeth anymore – I actually lost them.  I lost them right around the time things were starting to change in my life, and I just never wanted to pick them up again.  I wanted to be a leader; I was tired of following the “wrong” crowd.  I decided to take the lead in my life and my future started to look promising.  I also wanted to look presentable.  You know, when you put out negative energy, you have to deal with negative consequences and I didn’t want to deal with those.  So I said, I am going to live my life the right way,  and as soon as I did, things started to change for me, doors opened up and I took advantage of my new opportunities. I like to think about my journey like this.  I’m in an uncharted jungle and on the other side of the jungle there is a reward for me.  I want that reward, so I have to swing my machete and make my own path.  I want to clear the way for my son and the youth in my community.  If they choose to go down the path I’ve cleared, they can.  If they choose to pick up their own machetes, I’ll support that too!

Let’s talk secondary education; tell me about the colleges you attended along your journey and your academic performances.

I can’t talk about my successes without sharing a few failures. I attended Daytona Community College after I graduated in 2001.  I didn’t do well. I thought I was cool; besides, I was the kid from “Miami.”  That didn’t last long.  I returned to Miami where I worked as a telecommunication technician for the next few years.  I always thought about going back to school while I was at work.  So I went back to school a second time. I missed several classes rushing to school from work.  Long story made short – that didn’t work out either.  A year later, my wife and I were pregnant and I was laid off of my job due to the recession.  Desperate for work, I accepted a job as a pest exterminator.  I worked for about a month, resigned and decided I was going back to school.  I enrolled in Miami Dade College, but I was dedicated to be the best student.  I sat in the front of the classroom, and I did every homework assignment.  I ended up doing very well – I graduated with Honors from Miami Dade College.

During that time, I developed an interest in dentistry.

I attended Nova with the intentions of exceeding my academic success at Miami Dade College.  I earned A’s in most of my hardcore science classes. I graduated with a BS degree from NOVA in December, 2012. I took the dental admissions test, and I scored above the 93 percentile.  The rest is history!

 Which dental school will you be attending?

Tuft University College of Dental Medicine, I start in the fall of 2013.

What made you decide to choose dentistry as a profession?

There are many things that brought me to this point.  I come from a community where many adults and kids don’t go to the dentist.  You don’t have to walk far to see someone with poor oral hygiene.  I would like to bring a dental practice to the community.  Furthermore, I know what it’s like to be teased as a kid because you have a large space between your teeth.  I want to help out. I want to be a leader in my community and country.  I want to wake up, put on my white coat and appreciate the privilege I have as a trusted oral health care professional.

What can you say to those young teenagers that are a reflection of your past adolescent life?

I would say, follow and explore that “thing” that makes you unique.  Let it lead you.  I believe that within any large group of people there is a “ton” of unexplored talents.  There is something unique in every person.  Find your uniqueness – the sooner you find it, the happier you’ll be.  There’s nothing like the comfort of your own skin.  I would say education is definitely important.  You don’t have to become a dentist, physician, or a lawyer, but you should be educated in the field of work YOU choose.

Who is your role model?

I have a few role models, and Dan is definitely one.  Barrack Obama, Jay-Z, my aunt Ruth… I take a little bit from everyone.

 Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

First, I want to be alive. I recently lost a great friend of mine, Ingrid Thelismae.  Ingrid was a beautiful person, so full of life, but she’s gone now…With that in mind, ten years from now, I’ll be a practicing dentist delivering high quality oral health care to a diverse patient pool and promoting good oral hygiene in underserved areas like the one I was raised in.

Travis, I have watched you grow up from a kid to a strong, intelligent, family oriented, black male. I am pleased to say that you make me proud. Don’t put yourself inside of a box. Let your light shine. Sports Elite thanks you for sharing your life journey with us. I hope that this story will inspire others to pull out the good in them.

 

Worrell C. Troup 79

Sports Elite Mag