By: Margaret Jones

Mrs. Osie Mae Wesley didn’t know that she was going to be the spark to bring more awareness of cancer to the African American community in Pensacola.  You see, Mrs. Osie Mae lost her battle with breast cancer, but her passing opened an avenue to gain awareness of the disease.

1985 Reverend L.D. Wesley, Sr., then pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, had a desire to assist in raising funds for the American Cancer Society and bring awareness to the African-American community as a result of his wife’s death. He felt that he just had to do something and do something he did.  He met Marion Biddell who was a member of the American Cancer Society’s Minority Involvement Committee. Out of his desire to do something, the Annual Gospel Program was formed. Many pastors and churches joined him by giving $100 or more. Four years ago, a small group wanted to enhance the efforts of the gospel program and the Colors of Cancer Luncheon was birthed. The fourth annual event brought over 400 people to the Zion Hope Gymnatorium Saturday, October 1, 2016.

   Sponsors for this year’s luncheon were Gulf Power Company, Baptist Health Care, Navy Federal Credit Union, May’s Construction, SMP Architecture and Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church.

  The Colors of Cancer Luncheon highlights the fight for all cancers and its desire is to eliminate each color. This year’s luncheon went to a whole new level. Great food, lots of laughter, coupled along with a spirit-filled program and bounds of encouragement are just a few phrases that describe what some of this year’s attendees say they experienced.  Mr. Justin Williams and Mrs. Cheryl Watson inspired the people with heart-moving gospel arrangements and Michelle Berry brought down the house during the skit with her rendition of Amazing Grace.

“Colors of Cancer” celebrated its 4th Year of delivering superb entertainment, food, fun and festivities.  It’s hard to verbalize all of the highlights of this year’s events, but we’ll give our best in terms of running it all down for you.  The entertainment value continues to be A-1 and the local planning committee didn’t disappoint.  This year a group of Pensacola residents came together to make up the cast of “Pensacola’s Got Talent.”  The amateur actors and actresses presented their own version of a skit resembling the popular Television competitions such as “The Voice” and “America Got Talent.”

Diane Maldonado of the local American Cancer Society representative stated that the Escambia County was the only one in the state of Florida to have a Minority Involvement Committee. Other counties want to use this committee as a model. Since 1985 the American Cancer Society has received over $200,000 from the efforts.

“By bring awareness of the importance of getting screened, tested and getting treatment is paramount to defeating this disease,” said Reverend Lonnie D. Wesley III, Pastor of the Greater Little Rock Baptist Church. Wesley is also the youngest son of Reverend L.D. and the late Mrs. Osie Mae. “I believe that the efforts we are making have helped to reduce the number of deaths from cancer in our city.”  Statistics bear this out.  According to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts and Figures for African Americans, about 189,910 new cancer cases were expected to be diagnosed among blacks in 2016. The most commonly diagnosed cancers among African American men are prostate (31% of all cancers), lung (15%) and colon and rectum (9%). Among African American women, the most common cancers are breast (32% of all cancers), lung (11%) and colon and rectum (9%).

For most cancers, African-Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the US. A continuous reduction in cancer death rates in African American since the early 1990s has resulted in more than 300,000 cancer deaths averted over the past two decades.

What would Mrs. Osie Mae think of this? After all, she was the spark. “Mom was the kind of person who would’ve given her last to help someone,” Pastor Wesley recalled.  “She had a history of helping people. For Daddy to be led to help others out of Mom’s sickness and passing is exactly what she would have wanted.”

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