‘A Dancer’s Heart’
Community honors loved ones and spreads joy through 5k
September 9, 2018
To all those that knew her, Imani Thompson-Twine was a strong leader and warm light in the Decatur community.
She was a tutor, the Class Treasurer, a member of the National Honor Society, and a ballet student with aspirations of becoming the next Misty Copeland. She was on the way to the Governor’s Honors Program (GHP) in June of 2010 just a couple of months before the start of her senior year, and she couldn’t be more excited.
This all changed when she mysteriously came down with a persistent fever just four days before leaving for GHP. Imani never got sick, so her mother, Stephanie Thompson, was quick to take her to the doctor for this seemingly harmless inconvenience.
“[The doctors] said, ‘Oh, it’s probably a virus, just give her some Tylenol and let it run its course,’” Thompson said. “On Friday, [the fever] still wasn’t gone so I took her back to the pediatrician. They ran some tests but said they wouldn’t have the test results until Monday.”
Imani was set to go to her temporary home at GHP on Sunday, so Thompson knew she had to do more to ensure that Imani’s experience started on the right foot.
“On Saturday, she still had a fever so I took her to the emergency room,” she said. “They did a battery of tests but could only find that she was dehydrated; there wasn’t really anything wrong with her.”
Her excitement ultimately distracted her from the trying fever as she embarked on her journey to Valdosta State University that Sunday. She got settled in and the Thompson-Twine family said their goodbyes.
“On Monday she called me and said, ‘Hey Mommy, I feel better. I went to the infirmary and they said I have an infection so they gave me an antibiotic and a muscle relaxer,’” Thompson said. “I knew that couldn’t be right. A little later, we got a call that she had passed out and we had to drive to Valdosta. It’s three and a half hours away and all along the way, they were calling us like ‘Where are you?’”
As the Thompson-Twine family rushed down the highway, worry continued to set in with each phone call. Each call had an incomprehensible, slurring Imani on the other end.
“When we got there, it was clear to me then that she had had a stroke,” she said. “Her hands were clenched up and her face was twisted. They told us that they had to move her to a hospital where they could perform surgery because they had to let the pressure out of her brain. Her last words to me were, ‘Mommy, what took you so long?’”
Distraught and confused, the family then had to ride an hour and a half to get to Gainesville, attempting to keep up with the helicopter that took Imani there. The family changed clothes at a nearby friend’s house and received a call from the doctor before they could leave for the hospital.
“He said he had to talk to us so we knew it wasn’t good news,” Thompson said. “We went to the hospital, we got sat down in a family conference room and the doctor came in and said ‘the Imani that you know and love is gone. 80 percent of her brain is damaged.’ So we had two choices. We could’ve taken her to a nursing home with a feeding tube and a breathing tube or we could not do that.”
What started off as a simple fever was later diagnosed as endocarditis, a bacterial infection in the heart. Unlike most teenagers who are often stricken with Group A Strep, Imani developed Group B Strep which affects less than five percent of teenagers in the United States, Thompson said.
On June 21, the family took Imani off of her breathing tube. Her big, compassionate dancer’s heart failed her, and the Thompson-Twine family lost their only daughter.
“It’s been really hard to adjust, but I knew she was an incredible young woman. She was a beautiful, talented, funny young lady and I wanted her legacy to continue,” Thompson said. “I wanted to help and bless other young people and help them achieve their goals since [Imani] wasn’t able to achieve hers.”
In 2011, Thompson founded A Dancer’s Heart, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young people, especially young girls, to succeed. Through the Decatur Education Foundation, Imani’s old dance school, Ballethnic Dance Company and other organizations, A Dancer’s Heart works to provide life skills lessons and scholarships to young girls and awards scholarships to homeless teens in need.
“In the past, we’ve done workshops on college access and how to get into college without getting a bunch of debt, financial literacy, safety, loving yourself, self-esteem, mental health and a lot of variety of topics,” she said. “One of my best workshops and panels I ever had was when I had a couple of Imani’s friends do a panel on how to succeed in college. It’s one thing to get into college, but it’s another to stay there and thrive and be successful and not lose your way. There are a lot of traps out there.”
Thompson’s whole philosophy is “pouring back into the community.” Whether it’s through the scholarship awarded to one female Decatur senior who embodies Imani’s qualities each year or finding subject matter experts to educate and resonate with young girls on whatever topics they share that they need help on, Thompson does whatever she cans to elevate the spirits of young girls.
On top of this, A Dancer’s Heart hosts an annual “Love Run” 5k to fundraise and spread joy to people of all ages and talents.
“We started the 5ks at [Decatur] in 2012 and have done it every year since except for last year due to construction,” Thompson said. “There are a lot of runners but there are also a lot of other fun things to do.”
With so many runners, children and activities to attend to, volunteers were greatly needed. Many Decatur students stepped up to the plate. Among them were senior Jackson Gambel and freshmen Lydia Witter and Isa Mucha.
Gambel didn’t know much about A Dancer’s Heart prior to his arrival, but after learning its history, he didn’t just volunteer for the hours, “but also to just do something for the better of the community,” he said.
Along with signing in runners, passing out water bottles, cheering on runners and even participating in Zumba class, volunteers got to experience the unique atmosphere found at the 5k.
As they looked around, Mucha and Witter were surprised by how much one person could inspire a community.
“All of this started because of [Imani] and that’s really cool to see,” Mucha said.
“It’s clear that [Imani] helped a lot of people and still gets to help people through this cause which great,” Witter said.
After an hour, the running portion of the 5k concluded and community members joined each other to talk, dance, eat snacks, watch as toddlers raced in a “Toddler Trot,” and even received awards for their efforts in the race.
After all of the events and fun, the group gathered for a heartwarming butterfly releasing ceremony. With their own purple envelopes, community members of all ages released a butterfly to commemorate a loved one.
“They can [release the butterflies] in memory of someone or just because they love someone,” Thompson said. “In general, I just wanted this event to bring people together in a positive way because I don’t think there’s enough of that.”
Contact the writer, Isis Amusa, at firstname.lastname@example.org
All photos by Isis Amusa.