Women of color honored at 12th Annual Audre Lorde Cancer Awareness Brunch
By Christina Thuerwachter, Bay Windows
This past Saturday, nearly sixty women gathered at Fenway Health to attend the 12th Annual Audre Lorde Cancer Awareness Brunch. Lorde, who died of breast cancer in 1992, was a self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” who used her career as a writer to speak out about social injustices such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. The brunch was created to honor women like Lorde, who have refused to be silenced by disease and other adversities.
Adaora Asala, founding director of Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC + Boston), was the recipient of this year’s Trailblazer Award, which recognizes an individual or group of people who have created new strategies for enhancing the health of women of color. Asala is grateful of the collaboration between Fenway Health and QWOC and said, “Thank you for honoring me and providing me with the space to just be myself today, which is something I don’t take for granted.”
Byllye Avery and Ngina Lythcott, prominent healthcare activists, were the recipients of this year’s Spirit of Fire Award. This award recognizes an individual or group of people who have demonstrated life-long contributions to improving healthcare for women of color.
Avery, founder of the Institute for Social Change and the Black Women’s Health Imperative, has fought for women’s health through the promotion of social responsibility. Upon receiving her award, Avery recalled that Lorde once said, “Our greatest fear is often the source of our greatest power.” In referencing this quote, Avery encouraged women to confront their fears, to not be afraid of their own power, and to be an advocate for their own health and wellbeing.
Lythcott is a public health practitioner who is also a 22-year breast cancer survivor. Lythcott spoke about the need for women of color to beware of medical advice based on research that does not include them. Specifically, Lythcott commented on the danger that the United States Prevention Services Task Force’s latest recommendations for breast cancer screening pose to women of color. Lythcott explained, “There are four things that we know about black women and breast cancer: we have dense breasts, we are diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age, we have a more virulent form of breast cancer, and while white women receive the diagnosis of breast cancer slightly more frequently than black women, black women die from breast cancer much more often than white women.” Lythcott urged women of color to be advocates for their own health by continuing to receive yearly breast cancer screening.
Venatia Gilmer-Jones, a two time breast cancer survivor, provided a testament of her experiences with breast cancer, which included nine surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and various medications. Gilmer-Jones has a family history of breast and other cancers. In recounting the difficult times she endured throughout her cancer treatment, Gilmer-Jones said, “I promised my mother and aunties that as long as I’m living and helping other women of color that they are living and helping other women of color.” This promise has given Gilmer-Jones the strength to fight for her and to continue advocating for countless other women.
Burnette Baker said that she has been living with the fear of her cancer returning but that the brunch has helped her feel empowered. When asked how many years she has been a survivor, Baker replied, “They say surviving, but if you aren’t surviving you’re dead. I like to call myself a thriver.” And thriving she is. Baker passed her GED exam after being diagnosed with breast cancer and is now planning to take college classes. Baker’s final word of advice for women is to not be afraid to do the following: “Feel your boobies!”