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Sistah Strut 2020 Kicks Off Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Birmingham

Members of Birmingham's Green Liberty Baptist Church show their support for the annual Brenda's Brown Bosom Buddies Sistah Strut. (Marvin Gentry, For The Birmingham Times)
By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times

While the annual Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB) Sistah Strut for Breast Cancer Awareness was socially distanced on Saturday, September 26, supporters were closer than ever.

City officials, residents, organizers, and survivors all gathered outside of Legion Field to show love for one another and support for the work done by the nonprofit for the past 10 years.

Sistah Strut is just one of many events heralding the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is marked in countries across the world every October [to help] increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection, and treatment, as well as palliative care of this disease.

This year’s event was different because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but cancellation of the annual walk didn’t stop nearly a hundred participants from showing up bright and early with smiles under their face masks.

BBBB founder Brenda Phillips-Hong thanked the crowd of roughly 70 attendees for their support over the past decade.

“This is a walk like never before, but all we have to do is get together,” she said, in light of COVID-19 cancelling the walk. “I thank you all for coming because that’s the purpose of this organization, and we want you to join in.”

Phillips-Hong, who is a breast cancer survivor like many who were at Legion Field, described the Sistah Strut as not just an event but a movement for better health, awareness, and understanding about breast cancer in Black and Brown women. The dozens in attendance this year included Birmingham City Councilors Wardine Alexander, President Pro Tempore, and Crystal Smitherman; Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway; and Jefferson County Deputy Treasurer Sherry McClain.

Also at the event was Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, who was emotional about what Sistah Strut has done for many in the community: “When a race of people are diagnosed with breast cancer and they have no support system, no insurance, no one there, … it’s hard. [Phillips-Hong] brought that to the world’s attention.”

Uplifting and Inspiring

Pettway said the BBBB philosophy of uplifting and inspiring cancer survivors is exactly what the community needs.

“Encouragement makes us fight whatever is coming upon us. … Know that we’re with you, and we’re proud of you,” he said. “My wife, [Vanessa], and I make sure to sponsor the event every year.”

Councilors Alexander and Smitherman spoke about what the event has meant to the city.

“We know there’s tremendous work being done in the community,” Alexander said. “We don’t let COVID get us down. We’re still out here today to support everyone.”

Smitherman said events like Sistah Strut strengthen those with the disease to overcome cancer and other health disparities.

“It’s important for us to [exercise] and eat healthy, not only to protect ourselves against breast cancer but also during this [COVID-19] public health crisis,” she said.

McClain asked the crowd to find friends and family to collectively raise awareness and funds to support BBBB.

“Get 10 new people introduced to this program; that would bring in more funds,” she said. “It’s a great program, and I just love it. I have a sister that’s a survivor for 19 years, so it’s always a pleasure to support [BBBB].”

Survivors Speak

Several breast cancer survivors also spoke.

Willamena Rambo-Richardson, BBBB’s Ambassador of Hope 2020, encouraged the audience to be proactive about their health.

“Preventive care is the key. [Breast cancer] is not a death sentence, it’s only a diagnosis,” she said. “I know you are a winner and you are a victor.”

Rambo-Richardson was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in June 2019; her treatments started two weeks later, in July 2019. She underwent a double mastectomy and lymph node removal in January 2020. Her radiation wrapped up in July 2020, and she is currently on break until her surgery at the end of October.

Patricia Stephens, who lives in Fultondale, Alabama, is a circuit court judge in Jefferson County and breast cancer survivor, said early diagnosis and support from other women in the organization “helped me to be standing here today.”

Stephens was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2019 after her yearly mammogram. Currently undergoing treatment, she will finish her chemotherapy in March 2021.

“[Phillips-Hong] was always available for me, any time,” Stephens said. “I always keep in mind the number of women that will be out here that survived each and every year. I’m excited to come out today, so that we can support each other in such a worthy cause, even during the pandemic.”

Latonya York, a Roebuck neighborhood resident who works for a U.S. government agency, said this was her first trip to Sistah Strut, but she plans to bring others next year. York, who got a lot of support from her family during her fight against breast cancer, was pleased by how many people came out to Saturday’s event and is excited about being active in the BBBB community.

Linda Foster, a retiree who lives in the Central Park community, said she was proud of those who came out: “People of color are taking interest in … their health. This is what we need today.”

This year’s Sistah Strut featured a 10-minute physical exercise warm-up led by health educator Jerri Haslem and finished with a hula hoop competition. Also, during the event Phillips-Hong presented checks to three BBBB partners—the St. Vincent’s Foundation, the Birmingham Black Nurses Association, and the ACS. The donations will help people receive mammograms, fund a nursing student’s college degree, and support ongoing research and education about breast cancer.

In addition to hosting the annual Sistah Strut, Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB) conducts other events throughout the year, including the Pink Hat and Tie Luncheon and Community Health Forums. To learn more about or donate to BBBB, visit brendasbrownbosombuddies.org, or connect at WeAreBBBB on Facebook and Instagram and BrendasBBBB on Twitter.