Susan G. Komen for the Cure enraged huge numbers of its supporters last week when it was revealed (not by them) that they were withdrawing support for Planned Parenthood, a key provider of crucial outreach and breast health services for underserved communities and communities of color, nationally. In addition to the outrage Komen faced from pro-choice and women’s health advocates, Komen was besieged from within by longtime supporters and employees, who challenged them on their decision. The amplified outcry from within and without clearly worked.
Now, however, questions are swirling about Komen’s overall commitment to the health of all women. Colorlines.com readers have asked, What now? What if you’re a person of color who’s been touched personally by breast cancer? Should you pull your support from Komen? Before you can answer that question, you need to ask, what has Komen done for my community and what are they doing right now? Here’s how you can find out more—and potentially impact Komen’s work in your community:
- Find your local Komen Affiliate. There are over 100 of them across the country and each of them has their own leadership structure, website and local funding priorities. Generally, up to 75 percent of the funds raised by each affiliate through their local Race for the Cure and other fundraising efforts go towards addressing breast health locally, mostly towards community breast health programs.
- Find out what your Komen community health profile looks like. Each affiliate is required to regularly undertake an assessment of the breast health needs in their community. The needs assessment seeks to find out which communities and individuals are most at risk of not getting lifesaving breast health prevention, screening and treatment services. This profile then guides which local programs are funded. Read your own local community health profile (which should be available on your Komen Affiliate’s website) and determine if you think it is in line with your own understanding of health access issues in your area. If not, you’ve found a good opportunity to begin a dialogue with the leadership or program manager of your local Komen Affiliate.
- Find out what is getting funded in your community. Up to 75 percent of the funds raised by each affiliate go toward addressing breast health locally, based on the priorities established in the community health profile. Most of these funds are for community breast health programs. A list of current and past grantees should be available on your Komen Affiliate’s website. Does this list reflect a responsive and equitable approach to addressing the needs of the most vulnerable populations in your area?
Some people, like me, came to Komen because someone close to them was diagnosed with breast cancer. After walking in their Race for the Cure for several years, I became the program director for Komen NYC from 2004 to 2007. The facts are that Komen has invested close to $2 billion to advance breast health since 1982 and has impacted millions of women’s lives through outreach, screening, treatment, support and research. But it is also true that much of that money was raised at the community level and intended to improve breast health in those communities, with specific attention to those most vulnerable, including communities of color. So, a good place to start is to find out if, in fact, that is what’s happening.
Kavita Das is the director of marketing and communications for the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com. She served as program director for the Greater NYC Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure from 2004 to 2007.