Gloves, shovels, maybe a paintbrush or two are just a few of the essentials our students, faculty and staff needed for this week’s 2012 Webster Works Worldwide service day. It’s a powerful annual event that allows all our individual hands to become one. Some spend hours making children smile, others brighten the day for the elderly, and even more use muscle to clean parks or sort charitable items. During Webster University’s service day we all contribute and we all succeed at helping others. Together, we exude the power of ONE. Nancy Brinker embraced the power one person embodies to enact change after losing her sister, Susan G. Komen, to breast cancer. It was 1980 when Komen passed away following a three-year battle with the disease. Before Komen died, her younger sister Nancy promised her sibling she would continue to fight for a cure, to eradicate the disease’s heartless progression and for an end to the social stigma surrounding breast cancer. What a remarkable stretch goal! So just how much can one person do?
How strong can the power of one become? In Brinker’s case the answers are both measurable and mesmerizing. In its first three decades, Susan G. Komen for the Cure raised more than $2 billion for breast cancer education, research and service. Here in the Greater St. Louis area, Komen grants this year will benefit dozens of groups, such as the Rural Missouri Outreach Program, Gateway to Hope, Grace Hill Health Centers and Bridging the Gap Emergency Breast Cancer Fund. And with the support of survivors, volunteers and families touched by breast cancer, the foundation has helped millions. It has also made a lot of people mad. Just last January, some supporters called for Nancy Brinker to step down from her seat as chair of Komen’s board. Komen had just defunded Planned Parenthood affiliates who offered breast cancer screenings, and supporters screamed “foul.” Was Komen placating Planned Parenthood detractors who oppose the other services the nonprofit offers? Was the foundation playing politics over its mission to advance the fight against cancer? Calls for Brinker’s resignation swelled and a backlash against the foundation began chipping away at Komen’s support base and donations.
The Komen Foundation maintains the funding issue was an unintentional mistake and when it comes to politics their group is “Pro Cure.” Still, Brinker has since stepped down as Komen’s board chair and says she will relinquish her post as Chief Executive Officer once a replacement is found. It’s a difficult position she has found herself in. Brinker acknowledges that she and Komen have made mistakes but they will not give up on their fight to wipe out breast cancer. “Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s mission is the same today as it was the day of its founding: to find a cure and eradicate breast cancer,” Brinker wrote shortly after the criticism over the Planned Parenthood funding issue. “We have made mistakes in how we have handled recent decisions and take full accountability for what has resulted, but we cannot take our eye off the ball when it comes to our mission. To do this effectively, we must learn from what we’ve done right, what we’ve done wrong and achieve our goal for the millions of women who rely on us.
The stakes are simply too high and providing hope for a cure must drive our efforts.” When it comes to leadership, it is well known that the real measure of success comes from how one reacts during times of tribulation. Anyone can steer a ship over still waters. It’s the storms that define you. The great boxer Muhammad Ali, who continues to fight his own battle with Parkinson’s disease, said it best. “Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down,” said Ali. “It’s staying down that’s wrong.” I believe for all of us there are some lessons to take from this situation. As my father will often remind my sisters and I, we must learn from other people’s mistakes because we can’t live long enough to make them all ourselves. Brinker was hit low and hard earlier this year. Since then she has gotten back up and headed to the ropes to regroup. Her next move should be putting her plan in place to win back the hearts and confidence of her supporters, sharing with the world (and at Webster on Oct. 10) how the power of one can still change the lives of millions. She does not have the luxury of allowing herself or those around her to take their eyes off the Komen mission to make this disease a distant memory.
Pink must take precedence over politics. A few years ago I lost a childhood friend to breast cancer. Toun died in the prime of her life, leaving two young children without a mother. Her story is a microcosm of the bigger challenge that we all face with this devastating disease that’s stealing our colleagues and loved ones from us. And yet, there are so many people who have looked cancer straight in the eye and refused to blink. They are survivors armed with the determination to fight and win one day at a time. I’m sure you know one, perhaps it is you, who continues to fight to eliminate breast cancer. On Oct. 10 at 10 a.m. we will remember the illustrious lives of loved ones lost to the disease and celebrate the resiliency of all those battling with it today. We will recognize Nancy Brinker for her audacity of vision, courage of leadership, humility from falling and determination to rise again. It’s a lesson of the power of one and the ability to lead from where we are.
By Dean Akande