By Edward Donnell Ivy, MD MPH
Director of Community Outreach and Education
It is my pleasure, as Director of Community Outreach and Education at Possibilities, to introduce the new Possibilities Clinic Assessment Award. Each year, three students will receive the clinic’s most comprehensive psychoeducational assessment, called a Signature Assessment, at no cost to their families, to help support learning. Students with learning challenges who are unable to access an assessment privately due to financial need while on a waitlist for a publicly-funded assessment can be nominated jointly by a school principal and social worker. Principals and social workers from public schools across Ontario are eligible to nominate up to two students per school with family permission. I am proud to be part of this initiative—and to be a part of the Possibilities Clinic where science, support and synergy are the guiding principles. These principles have helped me tremendously in my own life, and I hope they can help students eligible for this assessment award, too.
I grew up in rural North Carolina. My family was very poor—our lives shaped by poverty more than possibilities—and my parents warned me that the world could be very cruel to those who looked like us. My school picture, shared here, is one of the few photographs I have from my childhood. The oversized glasses are courtesy of US Medicaid—not the most stylish, but the support I needed from a government-sponsored program that enabled me to see clearly. I might look like an upper elementary student in this picture, but I’m actually in Grade 11. I was born with sickle cell disease, a genetically inherited blood disorder that produces serious, life-threatening complications and painful crises throughout life. Sickle cell disease also compromises growth, so I was much smaller than my classmates, and I began walking with a severe limp in high school when the disease started to erode my hips.
Sickle cell disease was, and is, painful, but I’ve never let it stop me from pursuing my dreams. I have always chosen to see the exciting possibilities in life, rather than the barriers. This perspective has served me well. Even as a young child, I knew that education was going to be a key factor in shaping my future. But my family was frightened for me. My grandmother told me stories from her own life about brutalities against Black men and women who shared bold and smart ideas. And my parents and grandmother were distrustful of science, again from incidents very prevalent in African American history that were more hurtful than helpful. I was not taken to hospital when sickle cell pain clawed through my body and threatened my life. I was discouraged from sharing thoughts my family perceived as smart. I was prevented from studying—my grandmother throwing my books and homework into our wood burning stove. I went to school every day unprepared but never discouraged. My family did what they thought was right to protect me, but my brain continued to learn, and I never stopped believing in the promise of education.
I was the first in my family to attend college, enrolling at North Carolina State University. There I absorbed as much as I could about biological sciences. I loved listening to lectures and sharing my ideas with university students. I met professors who were experts in the science of sickle cell disease. I received care from university hospitals that saved my life on more than one occasion, allowing my dreams to continue. After graduation came exciting synergy, giving me more possibilities and bigger dreams. I attended East Carolina University School of Medicine on a full scholarship—financial support that was critical for creating more opportunities for me. When I became a doctor, I earned a Masters degree in Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. For the last 10 years I worked as a Medical Officer with the US government, helping create programs so individuals with sickle cell disease can access expert care, no matter where they live in the country.
We all have wondrous potential. The Possibilities Clinic Assessment Award will be helpful to elementary and high school students in financial need who are struggling to learn, and who have much to offer the world. Recipients of this opportunity are deserving of support, possibilities, and very big dreams! And in the end, the students themselves will shape their own success stories with grit, courage, and determination in ways that are meaningful to them. We look forward to receiving nominations and meeting students across Ontario who will inspire us.