By Vickie Evans-Nash
Editor emeritus of Essence spreads words of inspiration
As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this past Saturday, October 23, the Minnesota-based African American Breast Cancer Alliance (AABCA) celebrated its 20th year with a Shinning Star Gala held Oct. 23 at the Hilton Garden Inn in St. Paul. Founded in 1990, AABCA was created by African American women dealing with breast cancer who saw a need to support other women and men affected by the disease.
Susan Taylor, editor-in chief of Essence magazine from 1981 until 2000, was the keynote speaker for this year’s event. It was through her work at Essence, a career that spanned 37 years, and the many stories the magazine covered on Black women and breast cancer that Taylor realized the seriousness of the issue and how important it was to get information out to Black communities.
“We know that Black women have a low incidence of breast cancer but a higher and much more disproportionate incidence of death from breast cancer because we don’t seek help,” Taylor explained during an MSR interview. “We don’t seek medical intervention early enough.”
Taylor says that her interest in organizations like AABCA comes from her desire to see examples of Black women organizing around key issues, so that she can share models of success when she speaks across the country.
In cities like Minneapolis, where African Americans represent a smaller percentage of the total population, “There tends to be a little more intensity in terms of our coming together and formulating some kind of movement around issues that are important to our community,” she said, “because I think it’s isolation that makes us ever more proactive.”
Taylor left the Essence to concentrate on advocating for youth through the Nation Cares Mentoring Movement. V.J. Smith of MADD DADS leads Minneapolis Care, one of 56 branches of the national organization across the country.
Though they are not a mentoring organization, Nation Cares branches recruit mentors, directing them to organizations working to support youth and young adults.
At the Saturday evening event, Taylor promoted the importance of self-care: “So much of what we are struggling from — the hypertension, diabetes, so many cancers, so many maladies — come from the stress that we don’t manage well in our lives. Breast cancer is a major wake-up call.”
Taylor says that illness is a signal that we should listen to our bodies, something that women often do only after taking care of the needs of others.
Breast examinations and affordable mammograms for all women, Taylor says, should be a part of politicians’ and legislators’ agenda.
However, “That will only happen when congregations and our communities push for that” she said. “I’m hoping that I can bring a message of inspiration…motivation…one that pushes our community to be more active.”
Taylor has noticed while traveling across the country that the faces of breast cancer survivors have changed. While touring after the release of her first book, In the Spirit: The Inspirational Writings of Susan L. Taylor, released in1993, she said it was rare to find women under the age of 40 who were dealing with breast cancer.
“I was on a book tour last year, and I was stunned to see Black women in their 20s, so many in their 30s [and] more in their 40s come forward and share with me that they were breast cancer survivors… I think we have to be more conscious about what we eat and the environments that we live in…[and] the importance of us not creating an environment for disease and illnesses to take root in us.”
As for the continued fight against the disease, Taylor says, “I think that there is more attention, and it’s coming from the greater number of women who are suffering from breast cancer.”
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.