10-year-old Leah of Highland
10-year-old Leah of Highland, with her artistic Power, Peace, Purpose sign. (Josh Schwartz/Arjo Photography)

The kids are participants of the Kids Kicking Cancer’s Heroes Circle, created for pain management in children with chronic or acute life-threatening illnesses

This summer, just like in years past, celebrants of the Kids Kicking Cancer’s (KKC) belting ceremony were treated to dinner, laughter and special gifts.

Unlike in year’s past, the July 22 honorees enjoyed the revamped aspects of the annual event from inside their vehicles at a stop-and-go pace, pausing at various outdoor stations. More than 100 children and their parents were greeted by waves, cheers, horn blasts and the presentation of merited martial arts belts.

9-year-old Markus of Detroit
9-year-old Markus of Detroit looks out the window of his car, displaying an important message. Josh Schwartz/Arjo Photography

The kids are participants of the KKC’s Heroes Circle, created for pain management in children with chronic or acute life-threatening illnesses. The program strives to empower them to heal physically, spiritually and emotionally, through martial arts therapy.

They are taught traditional karate moves along with the mind-body techniques of meditation, breathing, relaxation and visualization to lower pain levels.

A unique element in the program is the inclusion of siblings, both in classes and in the earning of the belts, which are distributed based on KKC’s individual grading system.

“They participate equally, right alongside each other and support one another,” said Cindy Cohen, KKC’s global program director. “In turn, they teach the techniques to other children with challenging illnesses, and even to adults.”

For the past 10 years, belting ceremonies took place in donated space at Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills.

This year’s pandemic variation, organized by the KKC program team, took place in the parking lot of the Charach KKC Global Center in Southfield. Along with their belts and belting certificates, the children received ice cream sandwiches donated by Cool Jacks, a pizza dinner-to-go and KKC Heroes Circle T-shirts to wear as part of their martial arts uniforms.

6-year-old Camila of Pontiac
6-year-old Camila of Pontiac, in her KKC T-shirt, holds onto her new yellow belt at the drive-through.

The drive-through followed months of online martial arts classes that began this past March after in-person programs were canceled.

“We already had digital Zoom in place because of our programs around the world,” Cohen said. “We also do camps and other cross-programming in our various regions. One of our local senseis, Michael Hunt, even woke up to be a guest teacher at 4 a.m. in our South African KKC program, alongside our South African instructors.”

Hunt was present, in person, to boisterously greet children with pride at the belting ceremony.

“The day we started our face-to-face program online the kids all showed up — in uniform,” Cohen said. “All of our programs are now virtual, including those our martial artists had been conducting in schools and hospitals.” Individual Zoom support is provided for those who need it and videos are recorded for kids to take with them during medical procedures.

Ready and Waiting

Thirty minutes before the start of the drive-through, carloads of kids — some in their uniforms — were already lined up in anticipation. On hand were KKC staff, including martial artists and a slew of volunteers wearing gloves and face masks. “We created a real party celebration and even had students from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine tie balloons onto each car,” Cohen said.

Some of the vehicles were colorfully decorated with messages of congratulations and gratitude drawn with car markers supplied in “summer in a bag” packages, distributed at an earlier curbside pickup.

Many of the kids called out the KKC mantra, “power, peace, purpose,” from their open car windows.

6-year-old Amanuel
6-year-old Amanuel of Detroit gives a big two-thumbs up. Josh Schwartz/Arjo Photography

“Every belt is a sign of power, but (the kids) are not just powerful martial artists,” said Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, the founder and global director of KKC known to kids as “Rabbi G”. “They are breathing in light, pushing out darkness. So that’s peace. And what’s purpose? Ask any kid here and they’ll tell you: to teach you to teach the world.”

The international nonprofit KKC, serves more than 7,000 children, some as young as 3, in seven countries. Here in Michigan, approximately 2,100 children are served by the organization. Worldwide, kids are involved at 93 hospitals, and through community classes, family support involvement, illness-based camps and school-based teaching programs, including at Farber Hebrew Day School.

Funded by private donations, there is no cost for KKC martial arts classes and uniforms along with other programs, events, healthcare-professional workshops and individual and family counseling.

In a collaboration with KKC’s new virtually-shared programming, the drive-through was recorded on video, with Ned Specktor, the organization’s on-the-spot digital reporter, leaping from car to car, individually encouraging, chanting with and acknowledging the achievements of the kids.

In his role as social media and digital content director, Specktor has created new creative content that is shared online. “This is especially important during this time of COVID-19 where so many of us need ways to reduce stress and find ways to calm ourselves,” Cohen said. “Our Heroes Circle content can help anyone with breathing and relaxation techniques.”

Even with the benefits of KKC’s virtual component — including podcasts, video interviews with kids, sensei and Rabbi G., and a TikTok presence — the staff found great value in the face-to-face drive-through.

“Knowing the kids were dealing with Zoom fatigue, we wanted to make the connection in person,” Cohen said.

“The kids overcome a lot day-to-day. They were excited and really, really wanted to be there to celebrate each other…

“The event exceeded all of our expectations. This is a really strong community with really strong connections and seeing them all come together was heartwarming.”

For information on KKC, go to: www.kidskickingcancer.org. To join the Heroes Circle program, access KKC’s social media links on the website.

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