By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Canter Middle School students are in the process of planning their annual 3 on 3 Sickle Cell Basketball Tournament. The tournament, which will take place on June 7, is a testament to the care and support families receive at Canter, said the Powell family.
Every year around Christmas the students at Canter, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., are charged to give back through a community service project, said Elijah Powell, a Canter alumnus who attended the school from 2007 to 2009.
During the course of the school year, students witnessed Elijah Powell come and go taking long breaks in and out of school. When several students asked him why this was happening, Elijah Powell took the opportunity to tell them about his battle with sickle cell anemia.
Sickle cell disease is a disorder that affects red blood cells, which use a protein called hemoglobin to transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Normally, red blood cells are round and flexible so they can travel freely through the narrow blood vessels. Sickled red blood cells are stiff and angular causing them to become stuck in small capillaries.
“I explained to them that there was a lack of support for this disease,” Powell said. “They got together and decided that they would start a 3 on 3 basketball tournament to raise money for sickle cell awareness.”
Elijah Powell said what was supposed to be a one-year fundraising event is now in it’s fifth year.
“I still go over to Canter every year and help with the pledge sheets,” said Elijah Powell, who is a senior at nearby Kenwood Academy High School and is headed to Morehouse College in Atlanta this fall. “I am thankful to Canter and grateful that each new class of students still wants to help raise awareness for sickle cell.”
Elijah Powell’s mother Emon Powell said she was elated when she first heard that the entire school was going to help raise awareness for the disease her son was struggling with. She said as a single mother she also found that the school’s principal Coleen Conlan has helped her tremendously.
“Ms. Conlan is like family,” Emon Powell said. “She made herself available to me giving me advice and helped me through things I was going through outside of school matters.”
Emon Powell said because of the support her family received from Canter she makes herself available to volunteer at the school after work and on her days off.
“During report card pick up I sell chips, cookies and juice and give out thank you cut outs to help raise awareness,” Emon Powell said.
Emon Powell said she is going to start a fundraising page at indigogo.com in hopes that an even larger community will help with healthcare expenses for Elijah Powell once he goes to Morehouse.
Elijah Powell said he has been battling sickle cell all of his life but began to have bouts of severe pain, which are an affect of the disease, at the age of 10. When he has these attacks during the school year, school assignments are sent to him through a homebound teacher.
“It’s tough because I’m given morphine to stop the pain and I can’t do any work while that’s in my system,” Elijah Powell said. “When I’m well I go back to school so I have the homebound assignments and class assignments to complete.”
He said although it’s a challenge he’s glad he has sickle cell.
“I feel like God had a plan and I am being used for a greater purpose part of that is to raise awareness,” said Elijah Powell, who plans to study biology and minor in religious studies at Morehouse. “There is a lack of awareness and people need to step up and advocate for sickle cell.”
The tournament takes place in the gymnasium at Kenwood. Money is raised through pledge drive, snack sales and team fees of $15 ($5 per player).
The first year Canter raised $3,000 and donated the money to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, who used the money to take children to Great America, said Emon Powell. She said the association now uses the money raised from the tournament to send children to camp.
For more information about Canter’s 3 on 3 Sickle Cell Basketball Tournament, contact the school at 773-535-1410.