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Malieke Graham’s story as featured on WKYC

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GARFIELD HEIGHTS – Born three months early with congestive heart failure and chronic lung disease, 17-year-old Malieke Graham wasn’t expected to make it to his teenage years.

The sophomore at Garfield Heights High School survived the trauma of his birth and is now living with cerebral palsy, a physical disability that affects movement and posture.

His diagnosis isn’t stopping him from pursuing his dream of playing basketball.


“When the doctors said I wasn’t supposed to live, listening to it now and even thinking about it, I knew they was gonna be wrong,” said Graham.  “It was just my determination.  I always had that fighting attitude.”

Graham’s mother, Tina Hawkins, says she remembers the day his fighting spirit was born.

Doctors told Hawkins her extremely premature and extremely sick son wouldn’t make it through the night.

“He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t lifting his head,” says Hawkins on the verge of tears. “They let me put my hand in [the incubator] to touch him. I sang to him and I prayed.  After that he started to thrive.”


After spending the first eight months of his life in the hospital, the fragile baby boy was given the green light to go home.

“I knew we had a long road ahead,” said Graham’s father Fabien.  “The doctor had already told us there’s a chance he may not walk.”

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy impacting his muscles from the waist down, Graham spent a large amount of his time in physical therapy and various doctor’s appointments.

“It was hard for me walking,” says Graham.  “It was times I would be walking and I would take two steps and fall.  Everything I’ve been going through it’s been preparing me for life.”


What Graham currently wants in life is to play basketball. Achieving his goal would be challenging because the teen has undergone three surgeries to help him walk. He still moves with a slight limp impacting his ability to run as fast as the other athletes, a fact his parents didn’t sugarcoat.  They told him the truth about the obstacles he would face but encouraged him not to focus on what he couldn’t do, but what he could.

“In basketball, if you can shoot you’ll always have a spot,” said Graham’s father Fabien. “So that’s what I told him.  ‘Develop your jump shot.’”

It was Graham’s jump shot that led to his opportunity to show his school’s basketball coach he could play.

Each year the team held an event called ‘6 o’clock Madness‘ showcasing the talents of the team to the school and the Garfield Heights community.

Malieke’s spirit had already led the coach to put him on the team, but he hadn’t played in a game.

“The deal was the three-point shootout,” said Graham. “If I won, I would get to play in a varsity game.”

He won the competition sinking eleven three-pointers, one more than his closest competitor.

Graham’s first varsity game was this past fall against Bedford High School.  As if it were his destiny, as soon as he got his hands on the ball he attempted a three-point shot. The ball went in and the stands erupted in cheers.

“That spirit, that energy, that determination, it could rub off on everybody,” says Garfield Heights Varsity Boys Basketball Coach Sonny Johnson. “Malieke, he’s a great kid, He has a lot more heart than a lot of kids we have playing the game and more confidence.  That’s kind of hard to teach.”

Graham’s spirit is spreading through the gyms, the classrooms, and the hallways of Garfield Heights High School. A sophomore with cerebral palsy is taking and making shots no one thought he could.  In the process, he’s teaching those around him that if you never take a shot, you’ll never win.

(© 2017 WKYC)

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