Did you know that African-American women die from breast cancer at a rate 40% higher than white women, even though they are diagnosed at the same rate?
Well, neither did I.
While attending the annual Komen Greater NYC’s Young Professionals Committee (YPC) summer celebration and the Komen Greater NYC Race for the Cure kick-off event, I heard this alarming statistic, as well as other information that shocked and confused me. In 2018, how is a statistic like this possible? How much more didn’t I know? How many lives have been lost because of someone’s skin color and location? How many myths and misconceptions are killing my community?
As an African-American woman and someone who has dealt with breast cancer in my own family, I didn’t want to just wonder about these questions, I wanted to provide a platform to share valuable resources to rectify these disparities. Though it is not in my personality to purposefully push people’s buttons or shout from the rooftop, I felt obligated to walk the walk and thus, the Sisters for the Cure Brunch was born.
Determined to get the ball rolling immediately, I sought out Komen’s CEO at the event, Linda Tantawi and approached her about scheduling a lunch to discuss the idea. Without skipping a beat, she said yes, and I was on her calendar the following week. In the days that followed, I brainstormed multiple themes, envisioning an event that combined style and substance and, of course, gift bags that would make anyone not in attendance suffer a severe case of FOMO.
In my discussions with Linda, I explained to her that Sisters for the Cure would break the mold in that it would be designed to specifically address the disparities in diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer in African-American women and how we can connect community to action. Women would be invited to wear culturally significant head gear—everything from fascinators to brim hats to head wraps—and be prepared to share in a supportive, community-focused environment. I wanted this to be a can’t-miss event that I’d want to attend with my three sisters on a Saturday.
The next steps included narrowing down a borough, establishing a host committee and rallying the troops to breathe life into the inaugural Sisters for the Cure Brunch. Josie Thomas, EVP, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, CBS Corporation and Komen board member, and I met with Linda Tantawi before pitching the idea and PR plan to Peter Dunn, President, CBS Television Stations, and President and General Manager, CBS 2 New York and with his support, we went about putting the plan into place.
Focused on the mission of creating an event that was informative and inspiring, I crafted a strategic plan with clearly defined tactics to ensure success. CBS2’s Janelle Burrell, Elise Finch and Dana Tyler eagerly answered the call to action and joined the sisterhood to promote the event, while creative services designed engaging invitations and PSAs to build the buzz and spark sign ups. All the efforts paid off, with women calling the station to find out how they could attend or be involved. Sisters for the Cure built on the synergy of CBS Corporation by bridging together various divisions such as CBS Television Stations, CBS Entertainment, Simon & Schuster, the CBS Diversity Employee Networking Group.
After months of planning, meetings, phone calls and site visits, on Saturday, June 30, 2018, we held the inaugural Sister for the Cure brunch in Harlem. A diverse group of more than 200 women ranging from breast cancer survivors, advocates, assemblywomen, mothers and daughters showed up and showed out. A sisterhood filled with love and excitement was on display as women flaunted their personal style, sharing personal stories of tragedy and triumph.
Beverly Bond (Founder, Black Girls Rock!), Dr. Donna-Marie-Manesseh (Chief of Breast Surgery, Maimonides Cancer Center), Tiffany Dufu (Author, Drop the Ball) and Erika Stallings (Attorney and BRCA Awareness Advocate) all delivered powerful, informative messages; celebrity makeup artist and cosmetologist Ursula Augustine led a headwrap tutorial; and Janelle, Elise and Dana moderated discussions and introduced speakers. Attendees also received free access to a mobile mammography unit for onsite screenings, gift bags with journals, books, hair care products and other items and—most importantly—a safe space to discuss the importance of prevention, care and treatment in a supportive environment.
Women that I didn’t know thanked me for the brunch and stressed the importance of living their best lives and continuing this event. As additional resources and research become available, we are given the motivation needed to push harder to victory for the family members, neighbors and colleagues we have lost to the disease. As many of us prepare to participate in the Race for the Cure in September, we are reminded that this is a race to save lives, and we need to pick up the pace so that race is won.