a cancer survivor, Emory senior and Kenneth
Cole Fellow Christopher M. Richardson understands how people
in terrible situations can feel demoralized and believe their
problems to be insurmountable.
June 1996, when he was a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore
in Charleston, South Carolina, Richardson was diagnosed with
bone cancer. A tumor had spread through most of his right leg,
destroying his kneecap. Cancerous cells also were discovered
in his lung, a small portion of which was removed. He underwent
experimental treatments and intensive chemotherapy. He lost
the ability to speak because his tongue was swollen. His left
leg broke due to calcium deficiency.
was told that he had about five years to live.
had to come to a choice. If I was going to die, Id do
it on my own terms, says Richardson, who speaks with a
calm, measured determination. Id been spending a
lot of time sitting in bed moping. But I decided to put on my
clothes, go out and meet other patients and kids. It was the
right thing to do, it made me feel good, and it helped improve
my spirits, even though those were harsh and brutal times.
physical therapy, Richardson learned to use his legs again,
and went from wheelchair to walker to crutches to cane. You
have to have the drive and determination to improve yourself,
part of the inaugural class of Kenneth Cole fellows, Richardson
was able to bring that understandingand determinationinto
his work with the community. Growing up in a working-class neighborhood
that faced issues of gentrification and race, he has long been
interested in learning about the nature of poverty and why certain
neighborhoods are in such disrepair.
took a lot of pride and joy in doing this job, says Richardson,
whose Cole fellowship project involved preserving affordable
housing. I felt an affinity with the residents we were
setting out to help.
windshield surveys of some of the nine thousand
small, multi-family housing units in Atlanta, Richardson and
other Cole fellows evaluated the units conditions, rating
them as standard, sub-standard, dilapidated, and deteriorated.
The resulting inventory and assessment will be used to improve
these units and maintain their affordability, says Maxwell Creighton,
executive director of the Community Design Center of Atlanta.
things takes time, Richardson says. These problems
took decades to create, and will take decades to solve. But
every brick we lay sets the foundation for something greater.
president of Emorys Student Government Association and
a political science and history major, Richardson knows the
value of working within the system to affect change.
soon be applying to law schools, and plans to provide legal
help to low-income residents who have cancer. Richardson was
named a 2002 Truman Scholar, which prepares students for careers
in government or public service and will provide $30,000 toward
hes been in remission for six years, Richardson still
volunteers for the American Cancer Society. My illness,
he says, made me much more willing to be idealistic, to
have a vision and go out there and try to do something great.M.J.L.