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9-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Milana Price Among Birmingham’s StrongHer Honorees

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Christina Johnson, second from left, shares portrait with nine-year-old Milana Price during the unveiling of the StrongHer art exhibit last Friday on the second-floor lobby of Birmingham City Hall. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

By Chanda Temple | birminghamal.gov

Nine-year-old honoree Milana Price during the unveiling of the StrongHer art exhibit last Friday on the second-floor lobby of Birmingham City Hall. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

Milana “LaLa” Price was 4 years old when a medical report shook her family to its core: she had a rare form of lung cancer, and half of her right lung and the mass behind it had to be removed.

There were questions about how Milana would be after the surgery. But at just 4 years old, the Birmingham native assured her mother that things would be OK. And they were.

Two of Milana’s drawings are featured in the first-ever StrongHer exhibit on the second floor of Birmingham City Hall. The exhibit, which features inspirational quotes to go with each piece, opened on March 8, which is International Women’s Day and will be on display through mid-April.

In 2019, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin launched the StrongHer initiative to honor the unsung women who live, work, volunteer, or attend school in Birmingham and the outstanding work they do in our community. Milana is one of the youngest honorees.

Doctors caught Milana’s cancer before radiation was necessary, and Milana pushed to do things on her own after being hospitalized for a week at Children’s of Alabama.

“She did everything just like a normal kid,” said Milana’s mother, Imaan Cross. “She just had to have a little help in and out of the bed. It was normal. She colored. She ate. She had normal conversations. I don’t think her scare was like mine. Hers was, ‘Now, I know I’m better.’”

As Milana got older and started visiting the Titusville Branch Library of the Birmingham Public Library System, her positive outlook caught the eye of Titusville Library Branch Manager Reba Williams, who invited Milana to speak at the library’s breast cancer awareness event in October 2023 to discuss her journey of resilience. Milana, who is now 9, was the youngest speaker that day.

“When different voices are represented, from children to adults, and they address the struggles of life involving cancer and other issues, it brings major impact,” Williams said. “[Milana’s] comments had such an impact on the audience, and there was not a dry eye in the building.”

Victories continued for Milana, who wants to be an artist and a pilot. In December 2023, she rung the traditional bell at Children’s of Alabama to celebrate being a cancer survivor. And during the month of March and through April, her drawings are featured in the StrongHer art exhibit. One of her drawings has the heading “One day I’m gonna be a star”—written in Milana’s handwriting.

“I wrote that because you should live what was always your dream,” she said. “I want to be a pilot. I like the sky and the clouds. I would like to see the clouds.”

As Milana talks, her mother sits off the side, smiling proudly.

“She is my idol, and she doesn’t even know it,” Milana’s mother said. “Growing up, I wasn’t even as strong as she is. She’s an encourager in her own little way.”

From left: Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin; honorees nine-year-old Milana Price and Christina Johnson during the unveiling of the StrongHer art exhibit last Friday on the second-floor lobby of Birmingham City Hall. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

“Courage And Hope”

Milana’s art is alongside Christina Johnson’s who had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was a child and survived the cancer.

Johnson, 46, a married mother of three is also a 2024 StrongHer honoree and a self-taught artist and the Artist in Residence for Railroad Park, who created 20 pieces for the exhibit. Some of the pieces were inspired by the StrongHer campaign.

“My goal (with the paintings) was to just really embody all that we are as women,’’ said Johnson. “As a woman, as a wife and as an artist, we have many moving pieces. We wear many hats. But we carry a great strength within us, and when you put us together, there’s even more strength.’’

Johnson’s pieces feature layers of acrylic paint. Pieces of sheet music, newspaper, pages from books and even jewelry are mixed into her creations. Because of such textures in her artwork, the exhibit is called, “Textures of Strength.”

“Together, Christina and Milana remind us that strength knows no bounds and that hope can shine through even in the darkest of times,’’ said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said. “Their artwork isn’t just on canvas or paper. Their works are masterpieces that showcase vibrant dreams full of courage and hope.’’

Johnson had always felt a whisper of doubt nagging at the edges of her dreams. As a self-taught artist, she couldn’t help but wonder if her work was truly worthy of recognition. Without a college background or formal training, the question of “Am I good enough?” echoed through her mind like a relentless drumbeat.

For years, Johnson allowed her insecurities to hold her back. Despite her passion for painting, she hesitated to fully commit herself to her craft. But in the last few years, something shifted within her. She made a conscious decision to stop letting fear dictate her path.

Reflecting on her journey, Johnson realized the power of pushing past fear. “I’m personally in a place where I’m going to continue to say, ‘Yes,’ even if it is terrifying because you grow every time,’’ she said. “You learn something new every time. It’s not as scary as you ever thought it was.’’

“A lot of pieces represent me, one way or another. They may not necessarily look like me, but they represent my soul,’’ said Johnson. ‘’So, my hope is that these pieces … show the strength that we carry as women. I think there is an immense strength when you bring us together.’’

With each brushstroke of courage on the canvas, Johnson, who prays over each piece and writes a scripture or saying on the back of each piece, admits that she’s come a long way from the self-doubting artist who questioned her own worth.

“People will miss out on incredible experiences, incredible encounters and incredible gifts because of fear,” she said. “Once you get to the other side, you look back and you literally are questioning yourself, asking, ‘What was I afraid of?’‘

Each day in March, a StrongHer honoree is highlighted on the city’s website and social media pages, detailing how she is making a difference in the Magic City. More than 150 stories have been written on Birmingham women since the series started. A StrongHer book was released in November 2023 to highlight those stories.

The book, “StrongHer: Women Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges in Birmingham’’ by Senior Project Manager Chanda Temple of the Mayor’s Office, is available for sale at the Birmingham Public Library’s Friends Bookstore. For more on StrongHer, visit www.birminghamal.gov/strongher