Josiah Greene's fight for Shon Coleman 

April, 29, 2010

I'm midway through my swing through the Pacific Northwest schools in the Pac-10 and had planned on writing today about the Washington Huskies (I saw them two days ago). But another story came up that I'd really like to discuss.

I received an interesting note into my inbox Tuesday from an Auburn student deployed overseas with his Army Reserve unit on a peacekeeping mission to Kosovo. It's always great to hear from our troops. Josiah Greene's letter was especially intriguing. Here it is:

"I am currently stationed on Camp Bondsteel," the note said. "I will be making a 25 km road march hosted by the Danish Army called the Dancon. About a month ago when the initial news of Auburn signee, Shon Coleman, having cancer came out, I started a tribute fund with St. Jude with his mother's permission. In a matter of 3 weeks time I have raised about $7,600.00 in honor of Shon for research at St. Jude. I have been trying to spread the word around and set a goal of $10,000.00 for the fund. This has been a rather grassroots effort of me promoting to family, friends, auburn message boards, etc. I thought maybe with some bigger exposure to not just SEC rival fans but fans of college football around the nation we could make a huge, huge impact for children fighting against this terrible disease. This fund bears Shon Coleman's name, but the fund reaches far beyond that and I would really love to get any and everyone that I can involved."

This is obviously a moving gesture. Coleman, as you may recall, is the blue-chip offensive tackle recruit whom many analysts said was the top prospect in Mississippi in the 2010 class. Late last month, Tigers coach Gene Chizik disclosed that the 6-foot-7, 285-pound Coleman was dealing with a "medical issue," which his mom explained was cancer.

I traded e-mails with Josiah, a 25-year-old who has been in the military for six years, to find out about how the fund came about.

"I have a passion for being a positive influence in the lives of young people and hope to channel that into becoming a teacher someday," says Greene, an animal science major. "The older and more experience I can take with me, however, will allow me to make a bigger and better difference for kids in the future."

"I have been in Kosovo for six months. This will be the fourth Road march that I have flown the Auburn flag in since being in country. All three being in honor of something to do with Auburn, the first one was in honor of the Iron Bowl so I called it the Beat Bama Dancon since it took place the week of the Iron Bowl. Another was in memory of the Bataan Death March from WWII, so I marched in honor of Lt. Oel Johnson c/o '34. He was an Auburn alum and survivor of those horrific events. When news of Shon's diagnosis came out, it only made sense to give him some encouragement and support by flying the flag for him. I have shared the past marches with the Auburn family back home and wanted to do something to get them involved, so I researched ways to raise money and support for cancer research which brought me to the St. Jude Tribute site."

"I knew through Caringbridge and various Auburn message boards that Shon's mother was active on Facebook, so i took the time to look her up and make sure it would be okay to do this in honor of Shon. She approved about a day later, so I set it up so that all donations received would put an e-mail in her inbox letting her know about it. My parents told me that cards have been showing up at the house from St. Jude for this same purpose so I am having them collect those to give to Shon and his family upon my return home."

To say Shon's mother was touched would be an understatement. "When I originally was contacted by Josiah several weeks ago regarding his plan to honor Shon I was really moved," says DeKeisha Tunstall, Shon's mother. "His original e-mail actually brought tears to my eyes."

Greene said because he wasn't sure how the fund would be viewed in regard to NCAA regulations he tried to keep things are "grassroots" as possible, so he circulated it via message boards, Facebook pages and Twitter. "I did, however, receive an e-mail back from Coach [Gene] Chizik thanking me for rallying people in support of not just Shon but other kids," Greene said. "To me, that e-mail was meant for not me, but everyone coming together to show love and support, so I posted that publicly to various message boards."

"Once I posted it to the Auburn family, it went pretty viral. There have been donations and support from Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Alabama, Kentucky, and people who have no affiliation to any school or even care for sports. I've really been amazed at how it took off. There was almost $2,000.00 in the first 12 hours of existence. I have to commend the folks back home for all the help and support. A lot of former Auburn football players had it on their Facebook pages, Ben Tate, Jerraud Powers, Quentin Groves, Marcus McNeil. All I did was copy and paste the link. Folks back home made it successful."

Says Tunstall: "Josiah is a very special young man, and for him to do this is truly amazing. Neither he nor any of the St. Jude donors have ever met my son or family, but they care enough to donate to ensure that Shon and other St. Jude patients continue to receive the best care available. That just means so much. Every donor is literally saving a child's life.

"Since Shon's diagnosis several weeks ago there has been such a huge outpouring of love and support from across the country, and that support is what helps us face this devastating disease head-on every day. It is really amazing that everyone is lending a hand. St. Jude has received donations from our Auburn family, and other schools who would normally be fierce football rivals to AU. In this situation rivalries have been set aside to meet a common goal. It's a beautiful thing, and we are so grateful."

For updates on how Shon is doing, you can go to this journal his mom is keeping online at the CaringBridge site.

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