By James L. Stroud, Jr.
On Saturday, October 22, the African American Breast Cancer Alliance (AABCA) hosted an event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Minneapolis to celebrate their 21st anniversary as an organization.
Their annual event is a gathering that celebrates more than AABCA’s surviving another year amongst a host of struggling nonprofit organizations: It is designed to celebrate life in general and the lives of those individuals who have directly benefited from AABCA’s services. AABCA is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization that was started in 1990 by Black women in Minnesota who had experienced breast cancer.
The evening was upbeat with dinner, prizes, a DJ spinning tunes, and live music featuring vocalist Chantel SinGs. By the way, Chantel SinGs survived cancer six years ago and is currently 28 years old. In the three-hour period from 4-7 pm, vendor tables were set up so that the ladies could get in a little time shopping as well.
There were 130-plus people who attended the event, and 31 of those people were cancer survivors, who could be identified by matching pink scarves around their necks.
MSR spoke with a few survivors during the event. The first was Bettye Jackson, who survived cancer after being diagnosed over 20 years ago. Jackson says that she got into treatment immediately after early detection. She is now 71 years old.
The second person was Janette F. Gray, who was diagnosed in 1996. Gray says that her total experience lasted about one year, and treatment represented nine of those months. According to Gray, she now tells as many people as she can to get screened and tested. Gray is now 61 years old.
MSR spoke with Reona Berry (RB), one of the founding members of the AABCA, who is also a cancer survivor.
MSR: What do you do at AABCA?
RB: I’m the founder and presently the administrative director and past president/project director of the Breast Cancer Survivor Support Program.
MSR: Exactly when was the organization started?
RB: It was founded in October 1990.
MSR: Where is your largest financial support coming from?
RB: This year, we received our largest grant from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. We have always been self-funded.
MSR: How much was the grant?
RB: It was for $94,080. The money is for a media outreach and awareness campaign, simply because we always hear people say that “I never heard of the AABCA.” We have all these Black women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and they don’t know about us. So, because of that, the doctors don’t refer patients to us for support group services. Many people and their families don’t know about us.
MSR: Maybe they would if the word got out properly about your group?
RB: Yes, that’s why the project was started. We have to expand our outreach and our information, simply because we have too many Black women with cancer going it alone.
MSR: How many people make up your staff and volunteers?
RB: We have no employees. We are all volunteers.
MSR: How big is your immediate team?
RB: Our team is two people: myself and the project assistant, Deborah Stone. We are funded through the grant. We also have four people on our board of directors. All of them are in attendance tonight.
MSR: If someone wanted to volunteer, who do they contact?
RB: They would contact me or the current president, Betty Sanders. The telephone number for the organization is 612-825-3675, and you can contact Betty Sanders at 612-270-7664.
Berry continued by saying that AABCA’s goal is to get more Black people to know about them so that they can offer their services and support. Berry says that many people question the need for Black women or Black people in general to have their own cancer support group. Berry does see the need for Black people to have cancer support groups because they are high on the “disparity wheel” and have special cultural needs and issues to address. Berry doesn’t see any reason to apologize for it, either.
The AABCA is dedicated to providing hope, building awareness, educating, sharing resources and offering emotional support for Black women, men, families and communities affected by or who have survived breast cancer.
For more information about the African American Breast Cancer Alliance, they can be reached at 612-825-3675 or www.aabcainc.org.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to jl firstname.lastname@example.org.