From tribulation to transformation: The William ‘JR’ Norfleet III story

| February 23, 2014
JR Norfleet

William “JR” Norfleet III passed away Wednesday, Jan. 22. (Courtesy photo)

By Chasiti Falls
Frost Illustrated Exclusive

Fort Wayne native Beverly “Granny” Elkins had to bury her 19-year-old grandson William “JR” Norfleet III on Jan. 27. I attended this wonderful Homegoing Celebration at Greater Progressive Baptist Church where we celebrated the life and courage of a young man who was an inspirational figure to the Fort Wayne society.

Mrs. Elkins did not have to bury her grandson due to inner city violence, however to another but oh so common villain of humanity. JR had lung cancer, and to disbelief that lightning can’t strike the same place twice, Mrs. Elkins also had breast cancer and is currently in remission. This is how JR became involved with Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do, which is a camp for young cancer survivors. JR, 16 and Mrs. Elkins simultaneously received chemotherapy treatments, which was the inspiration for JR’s book “Captain Chemo,” which was just the beginning of his writing career. JR was an inspirational poet, and will continue to inspire others long after he is gone

Jim Casaburo, vice president of Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do, and Casa Restaurant owner read this poem, “No Pain No Glory” at the Homegoing Celebration. This early work explains how JR’s battle began with cancer:

No Pain No Glory

By William L. Norfleet III

Lend me your ears so I can tell you my story
When I was seven and in the second grade
Things started to happen that I couldn’t explain
I started to feel sick; started to feel weak
But the doctors couldn’t tell
what was wrong with me
They finally told that I had Lung Cancer
and I was sick
But they couldn’t tell me how I got it
But to me it didn’t matter, I didn’t care,
I just wanted the doctors to make it disappear
After years and years of trying new things,
they still couldn’t find a cure for me
So I turned to my Father, My God above,
and asked him to send me a white dove,
And God heard my cries
So he sent an angel, to open my eyes
And then I finally realized
God was using me to change others people’s lives
He was using me to make people think
That it doesn’t matter what’s wrong
don’t give up, don’t give in, work hard, keep the faith
Stay Strong.


Jim said he considered JR his best friend. They met for the first time when JR faked a seizure one day at camp. With great reverence Jim said, “He helped me more than I helped him” and shared that JR’s favorite scripture was Ephesians 6:10-11. Most people would approach JR thinking they were going to help him, but it would often end up he help them.

JR was not only a participant to Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do, he was also a financial contributor. Half of the proceeds from “Captain Chemo” are allocated to the camp. The one-week resident camp was started in 1992 to provide social support to young cancer survivors.

Mrs. Elkins, from a family of six children herself, took custody of her grandson to ensure that he stayed with family and received proper care when JR was in the sixth grade. She told him, “Let’s find out what’s wrong with you then we’ll find out what’s wrong with me. One of the many Elkins family acts of altruism.

JR’s lung cancer was found when he was undergoing scoliosis corrective surgery. It was a blessing that the surgery was being performed because JR had been experiencing unexplainable pain spells for some time. It had been a difficult diagnosis for JR due to the fact that generally cancer in children and teenagers is uncommon, accounting for less than one percent of all cases in the United States.

Mrs. Elkins’ condition was confirmed shortly after, when she went to have a lump she detected in her breast examined. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer, thus she underwent chemotherapy to shrink her tumor and make it operable. She had a mastectomy and 33 sessions of radiation. One cannot stress enough the importance of a self-breast exam for early detection.

Pastor Anthony R. Pettus Sr. of Greater Progressive Baptist Church while delivering the eulogy stated, “God knew he would touch the world.” JR generally touched those around him because he did not allow his tribulations to limit how far he would go to live.

Many of his friends expressed how JR would down play his occasional pain spells and never complain. Mr. Edmond explained how he met JR in the cafeteria at Paul Harding High when Edmond first arrived as assistant principal in 2010. He told how he and JR were riding in the car and he began to have a pain spell. When he asked was JR all right he responded, “This is between me and God, you just keep driving”.

Despite his years, he was wise. Mr. Edmond also shared how JR told him once, “You can’t make everyone happy with the decisions you make—just make sure you are happy in yourself and your decision.”

Many conveyed how JR’s courage at times was overwhelming. Pastor Pettus Sr. expressed when he departed JR’s house after giving him his last communion that he drove 20 mph in a 40 because he was so taken back from a 19-year-old saying to him, “…when God comes to get me, I’ll be ready.”

Everyone vouched that JR had a ton of faith. Jay Leonard, fundraiser chair of Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do, said that when he received the phone call of JR’s passing he smiled because he knew he was ready.

“He had more faith in his pinky than I have in my whole body,” Mr. Leonard explained.

JR had a way of leaving you with a “WOW” feeling. Dr. Dennis O’Brien Jr., a pediatric oncologist, gave account of one particular day when JR was in his vehicle and he needed some air, so he simply rolled down the window. Dr. O’Brien said, “That window hadn’t worked in three years and has not worked since.” All JR had to say to his surprise was, “I got the magic touch.”

JR was the kind of person that knew his purpose, and understood he was a spiritual being having a human experience. He lived life to his fullest writing, eating pizza, flying planes, and helping his fellow man all while putting God first. This type of character is one in a million, and should be used as a civil example of how to encounter adversity.

JR enjoyed doing what he could for his loved ones, and always worried about them and their accomplishments. Unbelievably, when JR was asked his wish by the “Make a Wish Foundation,” he did not ask to go to Disney World or Cedar Point. This beloved young man asked to go to Wal-Mart so he could reciprocate the love that had been bestowed unto him.

I was inspired and honored to do this piece on a positive, courageous young man and his “Granny” to ensure that the tribulations of William “JR” Norfleet III were not in vain, now that he has made his transformation.

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Category: Local, Spiritual Matters

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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