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My Time at the Essence Music Festival 2012

July 12, 2012

By Cynthia M. LeBlanc, Ed.D, national volunteer board chair, American Cancer Society.

During my 25 years (and counting) as an American Cancer Society volunteer I have had some wonderful and memorable moments. My experience last week attending the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans was one of the most rewarding.

Hundreds of thousands of people – of all ages – from across the country attended the four-day Festival this year, which is billed as the largest gathering of African Americans in celebration of black music. There are empowerment sessions, exhibitions and of course, concerts. This year Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige were among the many performers.

As one of the sponsors of the Festival, the American Cancer Society hosted an exhibition booth, which provided a great opportunity to interact with people, hearing their stories about cancer’s impact and sharing tips on how to reduce cancer risk.

It was gratifying to see so much interest in the activities, videos, and giveaway items at our booth, especially from people who stand to directly benefit from the information we were sharing. But the chance to meet so many people is what really made this a memorable experience. Some thanked me for the Society’s contribution to a world with less cancer and more birthdays, while others offered congratulations on my being the first African American woman to serve as national volunteer board chair. Many shared their cancer stories.

I especially recall my interactions with one young man who was about 25 years old. He was concerned about his 51-year-old mom, whom he had been urging to get a mammogram, especially as she had lost her own mother to breast cancer. He asked me what more he could do. We decided together that he should speak with his mothers’ pastor to ask if the pastor would intervene. I also told him that because of her age, she needed to get a colonoscopy, too.

Another man I met had been diagnosed a few months earlier with prostate cancer. Later this man was invited onstage along with a group of other survivors. The crowd acknowledged their fight, and sang an empowering song about strength and being a survivor. This session concluded with a “Soul Train Line” with each of the participants sharing who they were dancing for. Seeing this was incredibly moving.

Moments like these, and many more helped me understand just how much our presence at the Festival was noted and appreciated. I felt so proud to represent the Society. My fellow volunteers and our staff partners were all wonderful, and were truly committed to the mission of the Society. They worked tirelessly and creatively to bring our message to the population that has the shortest survival rates and the highest mortality rates for most cancers. And the message was warmly received.

I am already looking ahead with renewed passion to even more great things we can accomplish in the future.

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