by John Wallace

Edward McKay, Jr. is seen with a framed letter from President Barack Obama. (Photo: Cathleen Hannah, RN)

Making the most of an opportunity while giving back to the community isn’t something most people do. It’s not easy and it doesn’t happen as often as it should. Edward McKay isn’t like most people.

McKay, the surgical technician in the pediatric operating room at Johns Hopkins University Hospital who was featured in the January/February issue of OR Today, is no stranger to powerful individuals. He works with surgeons and that includes working alongside presidential hopeful and surgeon Ben Carson for almost a decade earlier in his career.

McKay grew up in the Latrobe projects of East Baltimore and was one of the few people in his group of friends to complete high school. From there, he was able to obtain a job in the Johns Hopkins University Hospital’s environmental services department. He later found out about a program that helped with education costs while he continued to work. He applied and, through dedication and hard work, was able to obtain a degree from Baltimore City Community College. It was that degree that empowered him to become a surgical technician.

A biographical video on McKay that is used as part of the hospital’s orientation program has been seen by thousands and prompted the OR Today feature story that ran earlier this year.

The OR Today story written by Matt Skoufalos was well received by McKay and the hospital staff. It also received recognition from President Barack Obama. McKay, interested in the My Brother’s Keeper initiative started by Obama, emailed the President of the United States, Vice President Joe Biden and the White House to share his story because of his interest in the program and a desire to get involved.

“It’s a program where you mentor young black men from the inner city. I thought it would be cool to join the Program and share my story of overcoming my obstacles growing up in the projects with the program,” McKay said.

I used to watch Ben Carson do speaking engagements every year and he also had the Carson Scholarship Program to help get more children to read and think big. I would like to do the same thing.

“I was reading online and I saw President Obama talking about it in a couple of different interviews. One was with Charles Barkley and the other one was with Kendrick Lamar,” he added. “I was interested in joining it while I was listening to them discuss what the program was about. I felt like it is a program that was needed. I like sharing my story with young people from different backgrounds to show them that you don’t have to be a product of your environment.”

McKay was shocked when he received a response from one of his emails.

“When I first started sending emails, I never thought that I would get a response. I had just begun sending them the week before and I’m sure that the White House gets thousands of emails and letters each day,” McKay said. “I was sending emails to Joe Biden, President Obama and the White House, itself. The day that I received the email, I had just finished working out at the gym and I stopped to check my messages before I left. It completely blew me away. I never thought that I would see my name and the president’s name on the same piece of paper.”

“When you send the email you can choose your heading,” he continued. “You can choose from civil rights or health care or education, but the My Brother’s Keeper campaign wasn’t an option. So, that tells me that somebody really did read my article and watch my video.”

The letter from Obama has motivated McKay to do more outreach to youth in the community.

“My plans now are to move forward and help out with programs like this as much as I can. I’ve been doing speaking engagements with fourth-graders, high schoolers and some community colleges. I love talking to young kids and telling them about my background and taking questions,” McKay said. “My ultimate goal is to write a book and further tell my story to help inspire the youth of America. I used to watch Ben Carson do speaking engagements every year and he also had the Carson Scholarship Program to help get more children to read and think big. I would like to do the same thing.”

Knowing that Obama has his back helps. McKay said even the adults in attendance at his talks have a positive reaction to his letter from the Oval Office.

“I bring that letter from President Obama with me when I speak to children and they love it. The adults get goosebumps when they see it, too,” McKay said. “That video that I did opened up a lot of doors for me and now the magazine article has helped take things to a new level.”

Letter from Barack Obama to Edward McKay, Jr.