Growing up in Gastonia, North Carolina, Namon Byers ’23 and his older sister used to watch "Trauma: Life in the E.R." That was his first exposure to medicine and what would ultimately spark his interest in pursuing a career in healthcare. But discovering that passion didn’t happen immediately.
Byers started his educational career as a business major with a concentration in marketing. After taking a biology course, which he thoroughly enjoyed, and being sucked into watching "Grey’s Anatomy," which triggered his memory of watching "Trauma: Life in the E.R." with his now wife, he realized his longtime love of medicine.
While in school, Byers landed a job as a portfolio manager at Bank of America. With degree in hand and feeling as if he wasn’t fulfilling his purpose, Byers searched for an avenue into healthcare.
He was introduced to the occupational therapy profession after witnessing his nephew, Keeon, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, develop and advance after working with an occupational therapist (OT). Keeon faced difficulties early in school but working with an OT increased his love of learning.
“This gave me a chance to see the growth in his confidence toward class assignments and positive attitude in attending school. That’s the type of impact I want to make on people,” Byers said.
As a portfolio manager, a second-class petty officer religious program specialist in the United States Navy, a husband and a father, Byers decided to follow his calling. Knowing it was going to be a tough road, he turned to his support system, his faith and his upbringing.
“My parents are both blue collars. My dad is not even a high school graduate, and my mom did maybe a semester at Gaston Community College. So, a hard work ethic is instilled in me,” he said.
Byers enrolled in the Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences with the goal of becoming commissioned as an officer in the Navy; eventually working toward a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT).
“I want to start my career as a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) to develop as a well-rounded therapist. I believe the opportunity to learn from practicing OT professionals provides a greater potential to influence the field of OT,” he said.
When Byers graduates, he plans to work as a COTA in the Navy, working with veterans at the VA Medical Rehabilitation Center, before enrolling in the MOT program.
Once he becomes a registered occupational therapist (OTR), Byers hopes to develop his own rehabilitation and wellness center within the Charlotte metro area.
Being an African American male in the OT field, Byers is not blind to the gap in his profession. “When I walk in a room, I’m still only 3%,” he said. But he has a desire to break barriers and to set a standard.
“I want to make this profession a little bit better for the generation of African American young men and young men of color behind me. It’s a lot of weight to bear, but I think I have broad shoulders, so I’m good,” Byers said. “I think a lot of my legacy is watching the OT field become a little less of one person or one demographic of persons being seen at the forefront and seeing people of all colors, creeds, backgrounds and genders. That’s where I want to make an impact.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Byers wants to commission in the Navy as an occupational therapist and become the first Black male OT in naval history (at least he thinks he would be the first).
And as a true family man, Byers wants to leave a legacy for his two children.
“I am Namon Byers Sr. My son is Namon Byers Jr. And whether he chooses to be an OT or whether he doesn’t, he can always hang his hat on the fact that his dad decided he was going to do something he was passionate about, and he held on to that passion because it was going to help a lot of people and inspire a lot of people.”