Making a Difference and Keepin’ it Real

High School Intern Pursues a Path to Racial Equity

You might say that this fall’s Minority Medical Mentoring Program intern, Seth Bellamy, is one of a kind.

Seth is a senior at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville High School, but his long list of accomplishments would lead you to believe he is far older than 17. His passion for community service has led to numerous leadership opportunities including student government, Asheville’s youth leadership academy, Buncombe County’s substance-free youth movement, and North Carolina’s Governor’s School. Seth was recognized for these and other efforts in 2019 when he was named the state’s distinguished finalist in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Seth participated in his first MAHEC pathway program when he was in the seventh grade, joining other WNC students for a health careers residential summer camp at Western Carolina University.

“Every now and then, you get an absolutely amazing kid that moves the needle to infinity. That's Seth!” notes Jacquelyn Hallum, MBA, MHA, director of health careers and diversity education at MAHEC.

Moving Beyond One of a Kind

Being one of a kind is not always a good thing, however, especially when it comes to issues of equity and inclusion. Shortly after entering high school, Seth realized he was the only African American male in his class. This awareness inspired him to start a school club to support other students who might feel similarly alone. Keepin’ It Real student volunteers work to turn “tension into intention” by raising awareness and taking action to address racial and social inequities.

“Volunteering is imperative for youth because of its ability to widen perspective and highlight the importance of selflessness,” Seth explains.

This selflessness has taken many forms over the years. Seth and fellow students meet weekly to explore racial equity issues. They have met with school administrators to discuss bridging the performance gap, and they’ve organized two clothing drives to support Asheville’s unhoused population. This past spring, Seth surveyed middle and high school students about their mental health as part of the Uplifting Youth Voices – COVID-19 Survey.

Seth has also worked with UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC researchers to develop a shared decision-making model to help engage adolescents in opioid treatment. He co-authored a paper on this model that was presented last month at the 18th International Conference on Communication in Healthcare in Vienna, Austria. As an MMMP intern, Seth is learning how to make his passion for community service his future career.

Why Health?

“Health is a matter of life or death. And it’s one of the best ways I can give back,” Seth explains. “I want to work on the upstream factors that impact people’s health on a day-to-day basis, 90 percent of which are outside of the clinic.”

His substance use prevention and racial equity work has given him a jumpstart. The former taught him the best way to address addiction is to understand it is a disease that can be prevented. Racism is another form of disease.

“Racism doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” he explains. “It’s more than being called a derogatory name or not getting a job because you are Black. Racism is dehumanizing.” It also impacts the kind of care you receive or don’t. He cites research that shows Black and Brown people are more likely to be arrested for activities related to substance use than White people, even though they have similar usage patterns.

Seth looks forward to exploring these issues and more during his semester-long internship, where he’ll have the opportunity to learn from a variety of clinical and public health professionals here at MAHEC and in the greater community. He’ll also join 78 former interns who are pursuing health careers to ensure equitable care is easy to find instead of one of a kind.