By Lisa Simms Booth, Executive Director, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts

Community members, neighbors, family, and friends joined the Thelma D. Jones Breast Cancer Fund (TDJBCF) monthly support group meeting to celebrate the Fund’s 8th Anniversary on Sept. 15. In addition to commemorating the anniversary, the evening also served as a birthday celebration for its founder Thelma D. Jones.

Emceed by Lisa Simms Booth, Executive Director, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, the celebration was filled with tributes from former colleagues, family members, high school and college classmates, breast cancer advocates, and support group members.  

Noting that the evening started with the popular O ’Jays “Family Reunion,” Jones shared: 

This evening is a family reunion; there are people representing every part of my life at this celebration. Our vision is to achieve a world free of breast cancer. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through, so I started the support group to provide outreach, support, and education.

Various speakers highlighted Jones’ dedication to breast cancer patients throughout the evening, including comments from Corrine Bombowsky from the American Cancer Society. Bombowsky said: 

I want to thank Thelma and the Thelma D. Jones Breast Cancer Fund for their sponsorship of the [upcoming] Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Virtual Walk on, and the efforts of the D.C. team – Undaunted Determination. I love our partnership and encourage everyone to join us as we fight back and work for a cure for breast cancer.

Sheri Denkensohn-Trott, co-founder and team leader, Happy on Wheels, Undaunted Determination, thanked Thelma for her work: 

Through your support group, I found community and heard from world class speakers that increased my range and expanded my connections. We are united in this fight and united with you, Thelma. We hope you all join us and get involved with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

The keynote speaker for the evening was Dr. Kermit A. Crawford, Associate Professor, Avalon Endowed Chair of Psychology, Hampton University and Emeritus Clinical Associate Professor, 

Department of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Crawford reminded the attendees to take time to appreciate yourself instead of always taking care of others.   

Speaking on the theme of “Strength Unknown and Beyond,” Dr. Crawford thanked Jones for being a fighter and said, “To meet the challenge of breast cancer, you have to be a fighter. [You] have to push beyond… You have to do even more to get beyond strength unknown. You have to be prepared to fight the war. The battle is just for the individual but the war,[is] for all of us to be better people, to have better health, and to make a difference in our lives.”

Dr. Crawford shared stories from growing up in North Carolina, including lessons learned from the Class of 1970, and offered some insights of living in this time of COVID-19. “We’ve seen a lot in our lives, and so much change in the past six months. Whatever your life was before COVID-19, it is different now. [We] are normal people dealing with an abnormal situation. We have to be extraordinary.” 

Dr. Crawford also shared tools to get through this time:  

  1. Keep focus on your health. Get exercise, sleep, and eat healthy.
  2. Manage your stress, do self-affirmations, appreciate the small things and try to find your silly (have fun).  
  3. Stay connected, find your supportive people and community. Seek feedback from trusted individuals. Manage your relationships to avoid conflict and drama.  
  4. Be aware of signs of depression and anxiety. Seek out professional help if needed. Manage your media consumption.
  5. Take care of your spiritual life. Stay focused on your sense of peace and purpose. Practice faith. 

He concluded, saying: 

Think beyond the limitations and think about the possibilities. There are opportunities out there since we are starting from zero in many ways. This is your time to shine. Seize the opportunity. Clinging to the past will prevent you from seeing the possibilities of the future. We are asking you to go beyond. We are…saying that if you are still standing, you are already standing in the strength beyond.

Additional tributes were made by Avis Dillard-Bullock, Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Programs, JMA Solutions on behalf of TDJBCF Honorary Board Member Jan Adams; Dr. Jerome Goodwin, former Durham College classmate and university registrar, North Carolina Central University, who also read a poetic tribute to Jones written by Dr. Constance Sartor Walker, former dean and professor, Durham College (1947-1980); Stella-Maris Adamu, President, The Michael Mauritia Patcha Foundation; Lois S. Jones, former elementary school teacher; and, Danett Speight Canty, MSNRN, CNE, CHSE, niece, and clinical nurse educator, Duke University School of Nursing. 

Dr. Richard Kennedy, Breast Cancer Fund Board member, gave an anniversary and birthday toast. 

The evening closed with a special appearance and birthday serenade by renowned recording artist Jean Carne, known for such hits as “My Love Don’t Come Easy” and “Don’t Let It Go to Your Head.” Ms. Carne, a long-time friend of Jones, said that she was thrilled to share in this celebration. “Every birthday is special but especially in 2020 – it is very special.” 

Jones’s son Jamal Jones and cousin Nathan Bagby also gave remarks. 

Throughout the evening, friends and supporters offered financial contributions to further the work of the Fund. Those supporters included: TDJBCF Board Chair Mamie W. Mallory; Breast Cancer Survivors Sheri Denkensohn-Trott and Anthia Peters; World Bank Group-IMF Staff African American Association President Gerald Brown, CHUMS DC Chapter Myla Moss; Durham College Alumni Dr. Jerome Goodwin and Brenda S. Young; and neighbors Candice Bryant and Wilma Goldstein. The donations raised that evening totaled over $2,000, along with pledges of additional donations.

Simms Booth closed the evening, praising Jones. “It’s a testament to who you are that we have your elementary school teacher, high school, and college classmates and relationships that span 50 years or more, that shows the person that you are. Relationships matter to you and that’s why the work you do with breast cancer patients is so important. It’s those relationships and that support that helps people walk through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. You are a special person in this world.” 

The closing song for the evening was Jean Carne’s hit song “Don’t Let It Go to Your Head.” 

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