Evanston community members gather to raise awareness of fighting breast cancer


Alec Carroll/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston resident and breast cancer survivor Paula Williams speaks Sunday at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. Roughly 40 community members attended the event, which was held to raise awareness of the fight against breast cancer.

Meilynn Shi, Reporter

In a small dance studio decorated with pink balloons and pink roses, roughly 40 community members, mostly black women, gathered Sunday to raise awareness of the fight against breast cancer.

The event, held at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St., was organized by Kimberly Holmes-Ross, CEO of Life in Progress, an independent consulting firm that aims to give back to communities. Holmes-Ross, a black woman, told The Daily she decided to host the event in observation of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, after realizing so many of her close friends had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Holmes-Ross said she used “five E’s” –– education, examination, experience, eating and exercise –– to create programming that would empower women, especially women of color.

“In the Chicago urban area, (black women are) 62 percent more likely to die from this disease than white women,” Holmes-Ross said. “That’s just crazy. And that’s because of either no treatment or late diagnosis, or just not being aware of the things you can do to keep yourself healthy, or to get these mammograms.”

In addition to talks led by survivors, health professionals and financial counselors, the event included a healthy cooking class and a belly dancing class. Girl Scouts from Kingsley Elementary School also came to distribute handmade bracelets and key chains with pink ribbon charms.

Evanston resident Paula Williams, a breast cancer survivor invited to speak at the event, said people should make sure to prioritize their health. Because of her busy schedule, she said she put off getting mammograms until it was too late and she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

“Nobody wants to admit that they don’t take care of themselves,” she said. “It’s not easy to say, ‘I’m not taking care of me.’ That could be your death sentence.”

Many women with breast cancer are ashamed of seeming weak and helpless, Williams said. She urged community members to admit they are struggling with their health. Williams added that she hopes more people will understand the importance of regular checkups and share their stories to promote increased dialogue about breast cancer.

Donna Thomas, a pastor at the Greater Works Church of God, also said dialogue is crucial to educating all people about breast cancer.

“We need to learn to enlighten not only each other but enlighten other women of all age and culture because cancer knows no age or culture,” Thomas said.

To engage more community members and kick off the event, Holmes-Ross invited people last week to hang pink ribbons on a tree outside Ebony Barber Shop, 1702 Dodge Ave., for a suggested donation of $1. People could write messages on the ribbons dedicated to loved ones who had any form of cancer, Holmes-Ross said.

She added that the ribbon hanging raised about $100, all of which will be donated to Susan G. Komen, a nonprofit that funds breast cancer research and advocacy programs.

“It’s huge and it’s bigger than us, but I think we have the power to do something and help people advocate for their own health,” she said. “Sometimes you just need a way to do it or a motivating factor to do it. We hope we’re going to be that.”

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