Carla Ferrell discussed the importance of breast cancer awareness at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation forum. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Breast cancer is an equal-opportunity offender. When October rolls around, Americans don pink ribbons to raise awareness and campaigns are launched. But why are there no Black faces to help tell the story of the disease?
Sometimes one's own dealings with breast cancer can be inhibiting, said Carla Ferrell, host of The Steve Harvey Show. Ferrell shared a tender and candid story of the 2004 loss of her mother to the disease with attendees at a Friday forum titled "Celebrating Survival and Fighting Breast Cancer in African-American Women" at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference.
"It was just me and my mom; we ruled the world," Ferrell said of her upbringing.
Her mother was the kind of woman who put family first, was always caring for someone else and never got sick. Ferrell said that when she saw a lump protruding from her mother's chest, she implored her to see a doctor.
By the time she sought treatment, it was probably too late. She lived long enough to walk her daughter down the aisle, but not to see her first grandchild.
Ferrell, despite her loss, couldn't envision herself getting involved in "the sea of pink," and she definitely wasn't ready "to walk and make a difference in her memory." It wasn't until she experienced giving birth to her own daughter, who's now 4, a day when she cried out for her mother, that she wanted to make a contribution.
"That's when I decided that I had to do something to make a difference," said Ferrell, who now serves as an ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Sonja Lockett, BET Networks' Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility, said that discussions with colleagues about the importance of mammograms and the high rate of breast cancer among African-American women led to BET's active involvement in raising awareness.
"Talking about the fact that during that wonderful month of October you did not see us in any magazines, you didn't see us really on the PSAs and it was almost like we didn't exist in this disease. We decided we should do something," Lockett explained. "We really feel that as a network we have this powerful voice that reaches millions of people — this microphone — and if we're not going to use it for good, our microphone needs to be silenced."
In addition to a campaign on its television network, BET uses social media and provides information online about where to get mammograms and offers an outlet where African-American women can hear from women who look like them and with whom they share similar journeys. The network also partners with organizations like Komen to form a Circle of Promise.
"One of the most powerful things is when we see images of ourselves on television, when we see our stories, that makes us go out and do things and start to talk, which is the most important thing," she said.
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