BY: KRISTINA RAMCHARRAN
Hundreds gathered to feel the love and show their support for cancer research pertaining to the African, Caribbean and other communities of color.
The Olive Branch of Hope Foundation held its annual gala at the Paradise Convention Centre to raise money in the fight against cancer. The theme of this year’s gala was “We Believe”.
Hosted by successful playwright Cheryl Nembhard, and organized by The Olive Branch of Hope’s Founder and Executive Director Leila Springer, the event aimed at raising money towards cancer research in the African and Caribbean communities.
The evening kicked off with a cocktail hour complete with live steelpan music, drinks, and appetizers. Throughout the night, the gala was filled with positive vibes, great food, lovely speeches and fine entertainment.
The idea of raising money for research was sparked after Springer was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 and realized there was not enough support and research done on patients of color to successfully treat the disease.
After being diagnosed, Springer said she felt alone. “If I’m feeling like this, there must be somebody else that feels the same way I do. And when I got better, and I didn’t mind that they had told me I only had two years. Which was eighteen years ago,” said Springer reflecting on her experience with needing support during her struggle with the popular disease.
She added, “I made a pledge, that when I got better, I would do something to help other women that are going through what I was going through at the time. And that is how the Olive Branch of Hope was born.”
Springer went on to say that the foundation began simply as a support group for other women of color affected by cancer, including her fellow Founder and Director of Supportive Care, Winsome Johnson. Johnson and Springer met when they used to attend church together, and connected to their shared struggles with cancer.
On the foundation, Johnson said “we have support groups for people who are going through this, and we are only a phone call away,” as she highlighted that The Olive Branch of Hope is always open to helping others cope.
Host Cheryl Nembhard embraced the guests with jokes while recognizing all of the various islands and countries that were being represented by the attendees of the gala. The night was filled with laughter and love, but most importantly support for the cause as the guests did their part in giving back.
Donations were collected in return for raffle entries where guests had the chance to win great prizes including prize packs, a Niagara-On-The-Lake getaway, and even a trip to Barbados.
The guest keynote speaker of the night was Dr. Evelyn Jiagge, a doctor who is dedicating much of her time and work towards furthering cancer research in African, Caribbean and other patients of color.
“There is the need for us to focus on finding new targets in breast cancer in women of African ancestry,” said Dr. Jiagge as she addressed the guests during her keynote speech.
She expanded on the roots and history of African women, even going in depth as to how women with ties to Africa have high chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer, and the implications that it has on these women.
“The average life expectancy for the women who develop breast cancer is one year,” said Dr. Jiagge, referring to the women of African descent who have breast cancer. She highlights this fact as it varies from the information obtained from studying breast cancer in Caucasian women.
The focus was not just on the women, as Dr. Jiagge noted that even African men have a high chance of being diagnosed. “There’s a high chance of male breast cancer, in men of African ancestry,” she said.
Entertainment for the night included Gospel powerhouse Jassette Haughton, reggae singer Visionary, and Annette McIntosh accompanied by the Stephen Leacock community dancers, who were a group of senior women performing a cultural dance incorporating Middle Eastern and West Indian music.
The Olive Branch of Hope recognized all of the cancer survivors in attendance by inviting them to come up to the stage. They were greeted with warm hugs by Leila Springer herself.
“I could never build an organization on my own. I do this because I have people standing with me,” said Springer. The event was sure to provide all guests with support and a fun-filled atmosphere to discuss the serious issue of cancer.
After the raffles, speeches, and entertainment, guests were treated to an open dance floor party with sounds provided by DJ David Taite.