By The Southwester Staff

The Thelma D. Jones Breast Cancer Fund (TDJBCF) support group’s celebration of Black Philanthropy Month (BPM) on Wednesday, Aug. 19, was nothing short of excellent. The event kicked off with an opening from Founder Thelma D. Jones, and was sponsored by Black Benefactors, a giving circle in the metropolitan area. Jones is a founding member of Black Benefactors and a former committee executive. The support group meeting was live streamed on Zoom and the TDJBCF Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/TDJBreastCancerFund). 

Created in 2011 and observed annually in August, BPM is a global celebration and concerted campaign to elevate African descent giving – a campaign that was evident throughout the support group meeting. Emcee and facilitator Lavern Chatman used a balance of professionalism and humor to move the meeting smoothly from start to finish. Chatman, both a former SW resident and Arena Stage board member, spoke fondly of her SW years, including serving on the board of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA), but reassured the audience that even though she had long since relocated to Alexandria, VA, her heart remains in the SW community. 

Putting the meeting into context, Chatman invited the audience to share their definition of philanthropy, as well as some of their philanthropic efforts as it related to cancer.  SW Resident and Philanthropist Jan Adams, President and CEO, JMA Solutions and guest Linda Nunes Schrag, a Department of Health chronic disease instructor, shared their definitions and philanthropic efforts. Both Adams and Schrag’s efforts involved providing support to newly diagnosed breast cancer survivors, including helping one survivor who, along with her entire family of four, had just recuperated from coronavirus. Adams recently joined Philanthropist Reginald “Reggie” Van Lee as a TDJBCF honorary board member (see the July Southwester). Responding to Chatman’s question on what inspires her giving, Adams noted that she was an overly generous giver and literally had “to stand in front of the mirror and practice saying “no”! Adams also indicated that because of the volume of requests she receives, JMA Solutions has a team assigned to vetting those requests based on the company’s focus areas of interest. She also gives to causes championed by her employees. 

In referencing a 2018 article by Tyrone McKinley Freeman of the Indiana University Lily Family School of Philanthropy, Chatman reminded everyone in the group that they have been a philanthropist at some point in their life “but we rarely think of ourselves as being philanthropists because we’ve been led (or brainwashed) to believe that you must have a lot of money to give away to become a philanthropist.” She reminded everyone that based on Freeman’s article, “people of color have deeply rooted traditions of giving that are centuries old spanning the period from slavery to the present but originated in precolonial West Africa.” Chatman indicated, still quoting Freeman, that “the Black church still remains the number one place of philanthropic giving for people of color.” 

“In these very trying times,” noted Chatman, “it is so important to know that we still care about giving or paying forward to help make both our race and the world a better place.” Using Jones as an example of philanthropy, Chatman highlighted Jones’ tireless and selfless volunteer work for ten years with the TDJBCF, and recognized her amazing philanthropic efforts with the Covid-19 relief effort that the Fund does in partnership with River Park Management, James Creek Resident Council, and The SWBID. Since April, Jones and a group of dedicated volunteers have served approximately 10,000 World Central Kitchen meals daily to the seniors and immunocompromised residents at River Park in SW. 

Next, Chatman welcomed introductions from the guests while Jones silently calculated the number of breast cancer survivors present, the total number of survivorship years exceeded 90, a stark reminder to advances in breast cancer treatment, and evidence that the disease is no longer a death sentence. Chatman then welcomed both Corinne Bombowsky, Senior Community Development Manager, American Cancer Society, Inc. (Northeast Region) and breast cancer survivor Sheri Denkensohn-Trott, co-founder, Happy on Wheels and Team Leader, Undaunted Determination for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer (MSABC) to give an update on the October MSABC walk, which recently had its first ever virtual kick off. Because of the pandemic, how the American Cancer Society (ACS) unites and fights back this fall will look different but ACS’s passion to end breast cancer is the same. Bombowsky indicated that this year’s MSABC will include a virtual week-long,daily themed activities during Oct. 24-31, as the care of survivors, caretakers, and guests are of utmost importance to ACS. Bombowsky made a rallying call to action for breast cancer survivors to share their stories and journeys. Interested survivors should contact her at WashingtonDCStrides@cancer.org

Undaunted Determination Team Leader Denkensohn-Trott shared that this year was the tenth anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis, the tenth anniversary of the TDJBCF Support Group and the goal of raising $10,000. Denkensohn-Trott extolled the virtues of the TDJBCF Support Group for holding a meeting every month for the past ten years without fail. “Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think you’ve (Jones) ever missed a meeting since 2010,” asked Denkensohn-Trott (they did miss one when the Metro was closed). “The support group continues to have some of the top people who you would have to pay to see. …COVID and Cancer are evil,” said Denkensohn-Trott emphatically.. To date, Undaunted Determination has raised over $9,000.

Still recognizing guests in the Facebook chat room, Chatman noted that Ronnette Meyers, President & CEO, JLAN Solutions had donated $100 – an encouraging donation with regards to the meaning of Black philanthropy. Chatman also announced that TJBCF Honorary Board Member Jan Adams “had just donated $500.” Inspired by Adams’ donation, Chatman donated a matching gift of $500 from the Chatman Fund. Not to be out done by her friend Lavern Chatman, Breast Cancer Survivor and Guest Speaker Maxine Baker announced that she was also donating $500. Breast Cancer Survivors Angela O. Walker and Winifred Williams also donated $100 each, making a total of $1800 in donations. 

Following all the spirited giving, Chatman introduced Guest Speaker Maxine B. Baker – also a founding member of Black Benefactors and Retired President & CEO at the Freddie Mac Foundation. Baker shared her triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis and journey that happened while single-parenting, and amid her demanding role at the Freddie Mac Foundation. Weaving in parts of her spirituality and faith, Baker shared tips about the importance of making and keeping doctors’ appointments, which she never missed; putting oneself first and letting the world around survivors wait; and, giving an example of becoming stressed when a doctor was once 45 minutes late. She advised herself to “settle down; it’s a long game and if you get upset early on because you are inconvenienced, you’re not going to beat this disease. When they get to me, they get to me; when I get out, I get out!” Baker further drew an analogy to breast cancer and COVID-19, calmly reminding the group that they will get through it while making the positive changes needed in their lives to cope with the ongoing pandemic. 

Chatman entertained questions from the audience and then expressed her gratitude and appreciation for serving again as the emcee and facilitator, saying she looked forward to returning next year in a similar capacity.

Founder Jones acknowledged the many participants who contributed to the meeting’s success, especially the platform speakers, the A Team (Technicians Rodney Minor, Sarita Minor and Anthony Venuto) and sponsor Black Benefactors. She also gave a “shout out” to Lashanda Thomas who produced the first TDJBCF inaugural newsletter. Lastly, she invited the audience to join the TDJBCF virtually on Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 6 p.m. for the celebration of the TDJBCF 8th Anniversary and the 68th Birthday Celebration of Jones herself. To view the August meeting, please visit https://www.facebook.com/TDJBreastCancerFund/

Donations to Undaunted Determination are accepted at https://secure.acsevents.org/site/STR?pg=entry&fr_id=98019 – click on Undaunted Determination.

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