Why We Give
Growing up in the small Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago, Kafi Friday saw firsthand the negative effects of medical misinformation and lack of proper medical care. When her grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer, she’s the one who took him to his check-ups, and she remembers the extreme amounts of radiation that was used to treat him.
Friday didn’t know her father well growing up, and her mother left the country with her siblings when she was 6 for the United States to better financially support the family. So her grandfather helped raise her, and when cancer took his life, the loss was devastating. Watching him struggle with his health and experiencing the lack of access to first-world health care had a huge impact on Friday’s life.
“My grandfather would always tell me, ‘Whatever happens, it happens for a reason,’” she says. “And I truly believe all the experiences I’ve had — growing up how I did to everything that led me to Campbell, where I’m now studying oncology [cancer research] — everything happens for a reason, and I believe this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Friday’s story was told in a five-minute video presentation at the Campbell Leads Gala on April 1, a celebration of the $105 million campaign that funded more than $45 million in scholarships, both current and future. Scholarships have helped make it possible for her to attend Campbell and work toward her doctor of pharmacy degree, which she’s on pace to receive in 2023.
Her inspirational story has come to symbolize the importance of giving and how one scholarship can make a difference in not only one person’s life, but to the community (and even country) that they serve.
Friday was an 18-year-old recent high school graduate when she began working for the United Nations in Trinidad and Tobago and its International Organization for Migration. Two years later, she received her green card and left her home country for New York City to join her mother and two siblings who moved there 14 years earlier. New York was a different world to her — for one, she left a Caribbean climate that rarely got below 60 at night for the northeast U.S. in January. Walking off the plane that day felt like walking into a freezer.
The move was the easy decision. What was more difficult was choosing a career path. Friday worked in clothing stores to earn some money and landed scholarships to attend Brooklyn College, where she found a program called Minority Access to Research Careers, which helped her work toward Ph.D. programs in public health and research fields.
A cousin living in the Raleigh area told Friday about Research Triangle Park and the opportunities in a growing city with a slightly warmer climate. She did move to North Carolina, but her career took an unexpected turn — middle school science teacher in Roanoke Rapids.
“Some of them really thought I was a doctor,” Friday says. “They’d come up to me and ask about their ADHD or bipolar medication. They’d tell me these medications were making them too sleepy or these were making them lose their appetite. And I’d do my best, based on what I knew, to give advice, but I’d tell them I wasn’t a doctor. But it occurred to me, then and there, that pharmacy might be something I’d like to do. Something that I’d be good at and something that I’d love. I already had the prerequisites and the chemistry degree.”
Friday “put it all in God’s hands” and applied to one pharmacy school — Campbell’s College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences. Three years into this four-year journey, she is thankful for the opportunity and the future that’s before her.
“The coursework is hard, and it requires a lot of dedication. And there are times when it’s gotten really difficult, and I’ll ask, ‘Lord, is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?’ But then he always shows me something that tells me, without a doubt, ‘Yes.’ I’ve had such a great experience at Campbell, and the faculty here know my story, and they’ve allowed me to focus on an area that’s near and dear to me.”
Cancer took Friday’s grandfather, and her younger sister, who is 22 now, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was 9. Oncology is personal to Friday, and Campbell University has afforded her the opportunity to learn more about cancer. As a student, she founded a local chapter of the National Community Oncology Dispensing Association, a nonprofit group addressing the growing need for dispensing cancer clinics to improve operations at the pharmacy level in the U.S.
“I’ve gotten so many opportunities here at Campbell … I was talking to a friend recently about all of this, and they said, ‘You know, they really see something in you,’” Friday says. “I really do feel like Campbell sees my potential — they want to build me into something great.”
When Friday officially earns the Doctor of Pharmacy title, she hopes to work in the pharmaceutical field “on a global scale” — she’s already been in contact with an organization in her home country, and she would one day love to return and be the person who makes access to cancer medications easier for everybody.
“So I also want to open a clinic in my country, because we have health care and we have hospitals, but the service in these places isn’t always very good. That’s why a lot of people are scared to go,” Friday says.
Her education is already having a domino effect on her family. She’s gotten to know her father more as an adult, and he’s noticed the opportunities she has at Campbell, and he’s reached out to ask how he can help make improvements at her old primary school. “He never valued education, because he didn’t really get one himself,” she says. “But seeing how it’s impacted his daughter, he wants to give back.”