Normally during this time of year, Dwight Powell and his associates would be putting the finishing touches on a huge charity event named A Night Of Hope.
It’s a night where cancer survivors would gather and mingle and share their stories. It’s also a fundraiser to raise monies toward finding a cure for cancer, and, in addition, helps numerous families in need.
But COVID-19, Powell said, “kind of threw a wrench in some of our planning,” because he was unable to have A Hope Of Hope last year or this year. However, that hasn’t stopped the Dallas Mavericks’ center from getting behind a cause which he is so passionate about.
“The first two years we did that event and it was great, but we have to kind of figure out some other things with social distancing and the whole pandemic situation,” Powell told Mavs.com. “We’ll probably do something in the winter or spring.
“We obviously want to make it as COVID-friendly and safe as possible for everyone. We also want to draw as much attention as we can to the fund and get some help in terms of making sure that we’re continuing to provide for those families in those times of need. I’m looking forward to that, and there will be more info I can share with that as we move forward.”
The main reason Powell is adamant about keeping A Night Of Hope alive is because his mother – Jacqueline Weir – abruptly died of breast cancer on Sept. 13, 2012 in Melrose, Mass., at the age of 53.
Powell had just begun his junior season at Stanford, and his mom never told him she was sick because she didn’t want him worried about her. In the aftermath of his mom’s passing, Powell stepped up and created the Dwight Powell Children and Family Support Fund in partnership with UT Southwestern Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, which helps patients and their families deal with the hardships of cancer.
Through all of his accompanying events and in conjunction with UT Southwestern, Powell said A Night Of Hope has raised around $900,000. But more funds, he noted, are always needed.
“We have obviously enough to maintain for quite some time,” Powell said. “But the goal is obviously to keep the fund going in perpetuity.
“So, continuing to try and find ways to raise funds moving forward in the safest way possible is the next thing on our agenda.”
Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer among women in the United States, and Powell wants women to continue taking charge of their life through screening and testing. And he has a comforting message for the breast cancer survivors.
“First and foremost, I’m so proud of the effort and the fight, and it’s a beautiful thing to know just how powerful you are, because it’s not easy,” Powell said. “There’s a lot of challenges.
“A lot of the most difficult parts about fighting a cancer diagnosis go unseen. A lot of the emotions you have to face and the difficult decisions you have to make – just the change in lifestyle – the way cancer tries to break you down, to be able to fight through that shows so much power and so much strength. I admire anyone who’s survived, fought and failed – whatever you want to say. Either way, to put up that fight is huge.”
Indeed, Powell’s emotions run deep as he offers words of encouragement to cancer survivors. He’s been on the front line of this insidious disease, so he’s fully aware of its devastating impact.
“A lot of the hardest parts about it — the most intense struggles — you don’t really see them on the surface,” Powell said. “For those survivors out there, I encourage you to share your story, I encourage you to reach out to other people fighting.
“Yeah, hold your family close. I admire all the survivors at such a high level. I draw a lot of motivation from them in the things that I do because I’ve seen how difficult it really can be and not make it. So, I know that there’s a special place in my heart for all of them.”
There’s also a special place in Powell’s heart for his teammates who were on the Stanford basketball team at the time of his mother’s death. That’s because Stanford arranged for all of them to attend Powell’s mother funeral, which was held in Toronto.
“Looking back, now I think I appreciate it way more than I did in the moment, because to be honest, that type of situation is kind of a blur,” Powell said. “I think everyone deals with (death) differently, and for me, I shut down a lot. I don’t think I was able to really fully express how grateful I was for those people that came out and held me up.
“And my teammates especially, flying to another country. It’s a weird situation I’m sure, too. A lot of them knew my mom and it’s an emotional experience for them as well.”
“They were able to stay strong for me and hold me up and support me when I came back, and just kind of kept that space for me so when I arrived it was kind of as if I’d been there the whole time, which was really good for me because this sport is obviously a big part of my life,” Powell said. “It’s something that I’ve always loved and I’ve always expressed myself through.
“But after that experience, it became a sanctuary for me and they helped protect the sanity of the court and not allowed it to be different. They allowed me to really get a lot of my emotions out and frustrations out and love out. We shared a lot of very important experiences on this court in the short time right afterwards, especially with those guys. So, it’s super important.”
Also super important to Powell was the coveted NBA Cares Community Assist Award that he won a year ago. The award was given because of Powell’s exemplary work advancing social justice and providing COVID-19 relief and support, reflecting the longstanding passion of NBA players to give back to their communities and stand up for the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion.
“That award is a huge honor,” Powell said. “I know a lot of people have won it before me and after me. I’m honored to be kind of in that same conversation, but I think the most excited part about winning it here in Dallas is just the motivation for my teammates to step up in the community.
“I know it brings some attention to me individually, but hopefully that the results of that is guys on the team seeing that it is important to partake in this conversation about how to improve the city we live in and the communities that we grew up in and how to help our neighbors, because at the end of the day without them we can’t play the game we love every day, and we can’t provide for our families in the way that we do. That’s one of the most important things and one of the greatest opportunities we have as NBA players with the platform and with the resources we have. So, it was a huge honor, and thankfully and hopefully a huge motivating factor for myself to continue and for my teammates to continue as well helping the community.”
Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this month has a special meaning to Powell and has a certain circle of life vibe to it for him.
“It brings a lot of attention to something that I think affects just about everyone in some way,” Powell said. “Maybe not at one degree of separation, but pretty close. But the one thing this fund has taught me is we can’t take time for granted, we can’t take anything for granted any more. We never should have.
“It’s great that we have this attention right now this month. But like I said, the fund runs year-round and we try to do everything we can on a daily basis there at UT Southwestern to help these families.”
And in helping those families stricken with cancer, for Powell it’s more than just providing a safe haven, or putting on A Night Of Hope event.
“The night is one thing, but it’s the check-ins that I have with the hospital on a regular basis that are really the shining moments for me,” Powell said. “To hear how the fund has been affecting people’s lives on a daily basis, to know that there are people that are dealing with some very hard times and maybe have questions and don’t really have solutions for some of the problems that they have — and present those problems to the people at the hospital or their counselors or whoever it is — and they make them aware of the fund, it’s a really cool feeling to know that some of those needs that may not have been met in the past are now able to be addressed.
“So, I think that’s something very special. And I’m super grateful for all the friends and people that were involved, and even strangers that found it in their heart to help contribute to building this fund because it’s really affecting a lot of people’s lives in a positive way.”