CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - I'm stopping everything this morning to write you about Elijah Clark -- one of my favorite 20-year-olds in the world. He leaves Sunday for DC to advocate before Congress. He has a heck of a story to tell.
Elijah (who recently got this emotional support dog named Jayla) will stand before lawmakers next week and talk about beating childhood cancer.
We've followed Elijah's battle for almost ten years. He is a positive, cool, absolute survivor. We jumped for joy when his cancer was finally declared in remission... we rejoiced double when he then got accepted to college.
And that's where we last left any public update on Elijah. College.
Turns out that once he started living independently, late effects of his many years of treatments ended up sabotaging his life. The college system wasn't set up well to help kids with special circumstances and invisible battles.
Elijah, an incredible athlete, first got accepted into a local university on a soccer scholarship. His mom, Alishia, cites multiple reasons why it didn't work. She snatched him out of that school and enrolled him in a college in Salisbury.
"I am proud of my son," she said. "No ifs, ands or buts about it. He's a great, responsible kid, but he needs a team of people to lean on when there are problems. We quickly found the typical collegiate program makes it almost impossible for those with medical disabilities to succeed."
Alishia says they ultimately found similar issues at the second school.
"Elijah wants a college education and has worked hard to get to this point," Alishia said. "All those years of harsh treatments left him with extra side effects and still lots of doctor appointments. His new dog, Jayla, has been helpful, but there are added restrictions around the dog as well. Overall, higher education seems really unforgiving and thoughtless when it comes to special needs."
She has reached out to multiple organizations without any luck.
"We're not giving up," she said. "We'll keep turning over every rock. We aren't willing to tell Elijah he can't go to school."
If you know Alishia – and I do and have now for six years – you know she's not a complainer. She doesn't say this as a negative. She says it as motivation.
"My whole goal in speaking about Elijah's journey is to find people who can help kids living with invisible diseases," she said. "No one should have to fight like this to get an education. Sometimes I wonder if the world would be satisfied for him to sit back and draw disability. That's not what we want to do."
For well over a year, Alishia has been writing me updates on Elijah (and sometimes Elijah sends them as well) about trying to make college work. I want to be clear, she's not writing me to ask for help. There's no Go Fund Me or individual link to raise money. She's just using her voice to point out a problem she says they've, sadly, stumbled into.
"We want to help colleges be able to help kids like Elijah," she said. "Lots of kids have special circumstances. We're excited to speak in DC next week advocating for childhood cancer warriors, and maybe even help equip schools to handle various situations. We're excited to see where the conversation goes."
We're excited to hear, too.
If anyone has any specific ideas on groups that might be a good connection for Elijah, feel free to comment below or email me at email@example.com. I can forward emails directly to his mom.
Go get 'em, Elijah. Speak your truth and be proud of what you've overcome. Definitely, let us know.