Northside’s Annual Leukemia Awareness Day
by Coraima Camacho
Students of all ages and grade levels packed the auditorium the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 29, to witness Northside’s third annual Shave to Save Event. The Jama’ah and Mediclub-hosted event featured several members of Northside’s staff and student body shaving their heads to show solidarity with those suffering from leukemia. Whether one was were there for extra credit opportunities or to witness teachers and peers have their heads shaved, it was a memorable event for many.
Samir Al-Ali, class of 2017, now a freshman at Yale University, founded Shave to Save in Oct. 2014, when he was a sophomore and president of Jama'ah Club. The event began in honor of his sister and Northside alumna, Annesti, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. Since then, the entire Northside community has banded together to donate all proceeds to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in order to support those like Annesti who are fighting leukemia and other forms of cancer.
The afternoon began with emcees, Guy Lohoua, Adv. 808, and Joshua Aladesuru, Adv. 808, welcoming the faculty, staff, and students, followed by Ibraheem Khan, Adv. 810, providing a brief history of the significance of the event and its founder. Mediclub representatives, Sahithi Gangavarapu, Adv. 907, and Emmanuelle Williamson, Adv. 908, provided statistics and background information on Leukemia as well as introducing guest speaker, Benjamin Morris, Adv. 807.
Morris rendered an emotionally charged speech about his grueling battle against blood cancer after being diagnosed with Primary Lymphoma of the Bone stage four on January 13, 2017, following months of excruciating pain and a suspected torn meniscus. Morris detailed his 24/7 dependency on painkillers leading up to his diagnosis, undergoing numerous exams, and a failed visit to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, among other anecdotes. “I just wanted them to find something,” Morris said regarding his frustration at not knowing what was causing his pain, prior to diagnosis. Following his diagnosis, he underwent four pain-inducing chemotherapy cycles at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital located in downtown Chicago. Concluding his speech, Morris proudly stated that he is currently cancer-free and continues to schedule monthly check-ups, which prompted the crowd to erupt into a loud cheer.
Steve Jaimes, Adv. 911, who works at Tigrillo’s Barbershop, was once again in charge of shaving the heads of students and staff members who volunteered this year. Jaimes describes the experience as humbling and feels that events such as these should occur more often, “not only at Northside, but everywhere in the world.” He said, “It’s always good to give back to society and this is a good way of doing it. It takes a lot of courage to shave all your hair off and I really give props to those who volunteered.”
The faculty members who volunteered include Mr. Greg DiFrancesco, Science Department, and Mr. Michael Myers, Social Science Department, who both volunteered last year, as well as Dr. Andrew Loria, Science Department. The students who volunteered were John “Jack” Mullen, Adv. 906, Vasim Patel, Adv. 904, Melanie Marquez, Adv. 906, Rodrigo Knutson, Adv. 801, and Jadd Oweimrin, Adv. 803.
During the first few head shavings, the auditorium was relatively quiet except for the occasional back and forth joking commentary between students getting their heads shaved and crowd members. In an attempt to further enliven the atmosphere, emcees passed around the microphone in the crowd for questions to be asked, as teachers had their heads shaved. This prompted students to ask Mr. DiFrancesco and Mr. Myers to curve an exam that their class had not done “so hot” on, to which they respectively answered “yes” and “no.”
Second to last to get her head shaved was Marquez, who the crowd had eagerly awaited for. As she took a seat center stage, the atmosphere seemed to liven as Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” began to play and the now hyped crowd sang along. Expressions of anguish and nervousness across Marquez’s face slowly transformed into a smile as Jaimes began to shave her head and the crowd cheered. When asked why she chose to participate, she responded “I wanted to donate my hair when I found out about the event… [because] some people [cannot] have any…” Marquez says that afterwards she felt “good and kinda new in a way.” As for Jaimes, he considers shaving Marquez his favorite part of the event, stating “As I cut her hair off, I admired everything she was doing because… I knew that that hair will be used for someone in need and that we would be able to bring a smile to their face.”
Whether students most enjoyed Morris’ inspirational speech, singing along to “Bodak Yellow” and “Bad and Boujee,” or the crafting of Mr. DiFrancesco’s goatee, the event once again demonstrated that Northside is a close-knit community willing to spread awareness of vital issues affecting its students, but moreso willing to support one another in a time of need.