To some people, the month of September represents seasonal changes from hot summers to earthy fall atmospheres or birthdays, but to others it represents a well-deserved month of life-changing awareness. September has been declared as National Sickle Cell Awareness Month since 1983 by the Federal Government. Sickle Cell Anemia is “the most common form of an inherited blood disorder that causes the production of abnormal hemoglobin," a protein that provides oxygen in blood throughout the body. It effects approximately 70,000 to 100,000 Americans, and it is most commonly found in African Americans.
Elijah Powell, a junior at Morehouse College from Chicago, is one of these 70,000 people suffering from sickle cell anemia. He was diagnosed as a 2-month-old infant, and took matters into his own hands by the time he reached his 7th grade year of middle school. He started a fundraising system in the form of a 3-on-3 basketball tournament that was hosted every May until his senior year of high school. Each team was charged $15 to participate. Elijah managed to raise more than $9,000 that was donated to the Sickle Cell Disease of Illinois – Chicago every year. That money managed to send sickle cell patients to a support group camp for three or four summers in a row.
As Elijah began his matriculation at Morehouse College, he expanded his initiative and formed his own organization on campus in Fall 2013. Elijah named his organization Sickle Smart, which encourages awareness of sickle cell anemia to the Atlanta University Center (AUC) and the surrounding community.
Elijah and some students of the AUC also diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia
When asked what persuaded him to begin his own organization, Elijah replied, “We hear about a lot of other reoccurring diseases in the world on a daily basis like cancer and diabetes, not to discredit the seriousness of those diagnoses, but we rarely hear about sickle cell and that bothers me. When something bothers you, you take action! You stop talking about it, and you be about it!” Elijah also referenced the low amount of funding sickle cell organizations receive, since they are nonprofit.
One of the hardest things sickle cell patients have to deal with is their ability to cope with school, a social life, and their illness. Elijah described it as “always playing catch-up” because he would always miss a week or two of school due to hospital visits. Those who live with sickle cell have constant episodes of swelling hands and feet, pale skin, random excruciating pain, and sometimes stroke. These symptoms can be caused by dehydration, fever, infections, or even drug and alcohol use.
Elijah also recounted some of his own emotional battles associated with sickle cell, as well as those of many other patients. They often feel depressed and stressed because it’s a never-ending battle of treatment with no cure. Some, who have adequate access to healthcare, are often put in clinical trials with experimental therapies which includes medications, such as pain relievers and hydroxyurea (Hydrea), and sometimes blood transfusions.
The events Elijah hosted through his organization have featured testimonial occurrences of AUC students, encouragement, and awareness sessions. He recognizes the importance of these sessions because “people don’t believe it until they actually see it.” “People didn’t believe a black man could be president until Obama did it. Therefore, people won’t believe they can beat this race until people like me show them that all things are possible,” Elijah said.
Elijah's first Sickle Cell event on Campus, Spring 2014
His goals this year are to continue to spread awareness of sickle cell all year, for people to leave his events with greater knowledge of what sickle cell is, and to let people know how relevant it is in the African American community.
Elijah can be reached on Instagram @eli_suave or via email Epic24@gmail.com. Elijah encourages all to become members of his organization, Sickle Smart. His next event will be on September 29, 2015. The time and location will be available closer to the event date via social media and emails.
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." --Mahatma Gandhi