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Chance Hawkins, Whose Inspiring Story Powered KERA's Series 'Class of '17,' Dies At 20

Lara Solt
KERA News special contributor
Chance Hawkins is crowned prom king at the Dunbar High School prom in Arlington on May 6, 2018. Photo/Lara Solt

For five years, KERA followed a group of high school students for a series called Class of '17. One of the students was Chance Hawkins, who graduated last year from Fort Worth's Dunbar High School. He had a rare degenerative muscle disease. Chance died last weekend; he would have turned 21 on Sunday.

Chance Hawkins didn't want people to dwell on his disease: Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Because of it, he was in a wheelchair most of his life.

“I know nobody in this world is perfect, and God didn't want it perfect,” Chance said during an interview with KERA in 2016. “Because if it was perfect, everybody would just feel like, ‘Oh, we all perfect, so we all don't have nothing to worry about.' ”

The teen with a big smile wanted to have as normal a life as possible. He wanted his independence. In November, he, his brother, Robert Hawkins, and sister, Kenya Hawkins, moved into an apartment together.

Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
Chance's family (from left): Brother, Robert Hawkins, 22; Mom, Clarice Hawkins; Dad, Louis Boyd; Sister, Kenyah Hawkins, 19; Sister, Le'Asia Boyd, 17

Robert laughs about it now. He'd try to order Chance to help around the house, but Chance had other ideas.

“He was demanding us. You know, keep the house clean. All that stuff,” Robert says. “Oh yeah, he didn't [want to] pay rent because he wanted to enjoy his money.”

Chance was Robert's best friend and his music partner. Sometimes, they'd go to a studio in Dallas to record music they composed.

But as the disease progressed, Chance needed more help – a machine that helped him cough and one that removed mucus. The rare genetic disorder affects one in 3,600 boys.

Chance's mom knows the toll of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Three of her brothers died from it. And a little more than a year ago, she and her husband lost their youngest son to the disease.

Robert says there's one day in February he won't forget.

“The very last time we went to the studio, I took his machines with him,” he said. “That just put a picture in my head [that] no matter what the problem was, he was going to do what he wanted to do; it's what he loved. We took breaks for him to use his machine. Nothing stopped him.”

Nothing seemed to stop Chance in high school either. Last May, just days before his senior prom, Chance nearly died after passing out in the nurse's office. He was rushed to hospital and spent a few days there.

He got out just in time to be crowned prom king. That night, his classmates gathered around and cheered.

“On the count of three, everybody say, ‘I see you Chance,'” the D.J. yelled out. “One, two, three.”

“I see you Chance,” the crowd responded.

“One, two, three,” the D.J. repeated.

“I see you Chance,” the crowd yelled back.

Chance's mom, Clarice Hawkins knows the toll of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Three of her brothers died from it. And a little more than a year ago, she and her husband lost their youngest son to the disease.

Chance understood what was ahead.

“He did warn me. He was like, ‘Momma this, it's gonna take me out,' ” she remembered. “We always joke a lot. He always tried to make me laugh about it. But he said, ‘I just don't' want to put my brothers and sisters through having to pack my machine around and just wait for the time to hit. I just don't want to burden them.' ”

Dad Louis Boyd said, by the end, Chance was at peace.

“He was really in a calm place. You know, he just kind of chilled, but he didn't miss a beat,” he said. “Wherever they went, he always made sure he told them he loved them before he left.”

This weekend, Chance's family and friends will have a chance to show their love, too.

There will be a viewing for Chance Hawkins, Friday from 12 to 6 p.m. at Tree of Life Funeral Home in Fort Worth. Services will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at Fort Worth's Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.