Story by Sherry Mazzocchi
When William Alicea stopped appearing in the neighborhood, people noticed. After a while, they were downright concerned.
Better known as WiLL TeeZ, Alicea is an unofficial mayor of Inwood.
Charming and gregarious, he’s generous with his kindness and his time. Tall, slim and instantly recognizable with long rebellious hair, he’s known and loved all over Northern Manhattan.
Artist M. Tony Peralta said that when Alicea stopped coming to the 207th St. Farmers’ Market to sell his t-shirts and art, he was worried.
He asked around but no one had seen him.
Justine Diaz, who works at Indian Road Café, noticed too.
Alicea is a regular and his work is for sale at the café.
Alicea wasn’t feeling well. He didn’t want to burden people with it, so he stayed in. He thought if he just stayed home, took really good care of himself, he would eventually feel better.
At 39, he was in the prime of life. A cyclist, he led group bike rides from Inwood to Brooklyn and other far flung parts of the city.
He was strong, lean and a vegetarian.
Alicea didn’t know how sick he was until June 29, when he was admitted to Mt. Sinai Hospital.
Four days later, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
A common form of leukemia, AML starts in the bone marrow. It turns healthy blood cells into abnormal ones, reducing the body’s ability to fight infection.
As an independent artist, he had no health insurance. He started a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to pay medical bills. He asked for a modest $5,000—a fraction of the ultimate cost of chemotherapy and an extended hospital stay.
When community members found out, help flowed in.
After a link to Indiegogo’s Help WiLL TeeZ page was posted on Facebook, the donations grew, surpassing his goal within hours.
The generosity moved him to tears. “You have to spread love to get love,” he said, explaining that he believed that when people are genuinely kind, caring and compassionate, it makes it easy for others to reciprocate.
“That is the spirit that I try to embody in everyone I meet. I guess that’s come back.”
It seems to have come back in spades.
Inwood residents are finding creative ways to help and inspire Alicea on his journey to recovery.
Peralta will design and sell a limited edition print, inspired by WiLL TeeZ art, with proceeds going to support his friend.
Residents who bought Will TeeZ limited edition INHOOD sweatshirts will don them in extreme heat and pose for a big group get well photo. People who have never met him are doing research, finding foundations that assist with medical bills. Others are simply praying, sending love, light and good energy his way.
On Sunday, the eve of his chemotherapy regimen, he was in the hospital with his mother, Elizabeth, and friend Jason Clairborne. He was in good spirits, even though he was eating hospital food and hooked up to several IV drips.
He praised friends, including one who’d brought a dish of vegetable lasagna. He didn’t have a lot of body fat before becoming ill, and has even less now. He’d been trying to eat more. The next day, he said, he would get a blood transfusion and start chemo.
His hospital room has a view of the sky. Looking out, he told visitors he was born at Mount Sinai Hospital, but didn’t expect to die there.
“I’ll be re-born here,” he said.
To hear from WiLLTeeZ, and his commitment to positivity, no matter the circumstance, please visit http://bit.ly/MT_46 and http://bit.ly/MT_47.