“Compassionate, adventurous, and outgoing.” This is how Kahlid Fowlkes, a 2020 Morehouse College graduate and Baltimore native, describes himself. However, he would not be the same person he is today without the instrumental guidance of the MERIT Health Leadership Academy.
MERIT, the UHI’s 2019 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Awardee, is a program geared towards providing high school students from underrepresented backgrounds with informative classes, college admissions guidance, summer internships, and long-term mentorship beginning in their sophomore year.
Despite the incredible opportunity that MERIT offers its scholars, when a guidance counselor approached Kahlid, a then 10th grader at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, about joining the Academy he was nervous about getting out of his shell and becoming involved.
“I was afraid to apply because it was my first time going after something outside of my normal routine,” says Kahlid.
This feeling of hesitancy did not last long though, as Kahlid quickly became captivated by the numerous opportunities made available to him through being a MERIT scholar.
From working alongside his cohort to bring awareness to diabetes at a conference in Washington, D.C., to finding internships through MERIT every college summer, MERIT has been by Kahlid’s side through it all.
“Since 2013 up until today, every achievement has been because of MERIT.”
One thing that has stayed consistent about Kahlid, an interest that has been fostered by MERIT, is his unwavering passion for surgery and medicine. He comes from a family of caregivers, but expresses his desire to reach the position of physician.
“I wanted to be the person to break a generational norm and change the narrative. I wanted to show my siblings that you can accomplish any goal that you set out to accomplish,” states Kahlid.
For the future, he plans on attending medical school, seeking out a program similar to MERIT aimed at helping prospective medical school applicants through the process, and either completing a master’s or post-baccalaureate degree.
However, as of now, the support and mentorship that he has received from MERIT for years has inspired him to give back. In September 2020, he joined the MERIT team as a Scholar Support Coordinator and plans on spending two years in this role.
“I wanted to always give back to my home city… and the staff here has given so much to me, so why not come back and do the same for the next student?”
One of the aspects of the program that sticks out to Kahlid is how it has highlighted alternative career paths for Baltimore youth.
“Growing up in Baltimore, being a young Black man, I was only really exposed to the success factors of either playing sports or going into music… After joining MERIT, I realized there is different pathways that you can take.”
He plans on taking on this same role in life for others and becoming a mentor to students in Baltimore who have an interest in healthcare, but need help charting their path in the field.
No matter what the future holds for him, Kahlid will always remember his personal mantra that MERIT helped instill in him.
“The biggest risk I can take in life is not taking any risks at all.”