Central Mississippi, Inc. held a breast cancer awareness program and 5K Walk on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. The speakers for the event were Freddie Johnson-White, founder of the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation and Barbara Young, a four time cancer survivor from Holmes County and a worker with the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation.
White-Johnson spoke about how she grew up in Ruleville on a plantation where her father worked. She said when she was 17, she lost her father to lung cancer. She talked about how she used to be angry with her father because she knew their living arrangements could be better than what they were.
“We were sleeping three to four people to a bed. We didn’t have indoor facilities. But, my father was a real father,” she said.
Johnson-White said her father only had a first-grade education, but he was the epitome of what a father should be.
She said one night when she was a senior in High School, she heard her father calling out for God, and she knew something was wrong.
“I had never heard my father call out for God, he didn’t even go to church with us,” she said.
Johnson-White said her father asked God why he was in so much pain. She said she told her mother something was wrong, and she went to go check on her father.
She said her father begged her mother to put him out of his misery, he was in such pain.
The next day, her father was taken to Cleveland.
“[My mother] said the doctor said it didn’t look good, they found a spot on his lung,” she said, adding the spot turned out to be Stage 4 lung cancer.
White-Johnson said they were told her dad didn’t have much longer to live, but he immediately had surgery. She said her dad was a small-framed man and “blew up” from fluids and medication. He eventually had to have another surgery.
“[The doctors in] Cleveland told my mother there was nothing else that they could do. So, she took him to Clarksdale,” she said.
White-Johnson said while her father was in the hospital in Clarksdale, he sent for her.
“When I got to the room, there was blood everywhere. The doctor told me I couldn’t be in there, but my father raised his head and told them ‘She can be in here.’”
She said her father first chastised her because she got into a fight with her brothers and into one with her mother. She said her father told her she needed to change her attitude or she was going to end up either dead or in jail.
“He then told me ‘Go to school and get an education,’ and I was confused. I was senior in high school, I was already in school. What did he want me to?” she said. “He told me ‘I want you to help the people like us.’ Help the people like us? How am I going to help poor people when I’m poor, too?”
She said she promised her father that she would. She said her father told her something else.
“He told me ‘Nobody owes you anything.’ I never thought that anybody owed me anything, and all these years later, I understand what he meant, and now I tell my 25-year-old son that nobody owes you nothing. We, as people, feel like other people owe us something, but nobody owes you nothing.”
After that conversation with her father, she attended the Upward Bound program at Mississippi Valley State University and while there, she received a call that her father had passed.
“I was so angry with God. I had pleaded with God to please spare my father, and He did the one thing I asked Him not to do,” she said.
White-Johnson said her life taught her that not every Republican is a bad person and not every Democrat has your best interest at heart. She told those in attendance if they get a diagnosis from the doctor, “You don’t have to go to the Delta. Go to Memphis, go to Chicago, go to Dallas, get that second and third opinion. If something is not right or not normal, get help,” she said.
White-Johnson said since the Fannie Lou Hammer Foundation came into existence, it has helped over 800 women get mammograms and pap smears that couldn’t afford to do so.
“If you need one, and you’re between the ages of 50-85 and you don’t have Medicaid, Medicare or insurance. Call us, we’ll help you,” she said.
White-Johnson said the goal is to build a cancer center in Ruleville.
She said her organization isn’t completely at its goal of $1 million, but they’re well on their way.
White-Johnson said she reached out to Senator Lydia Chassaniol on Christmas Eve and asked her for her help. She said Chassaniol told her she had company, but she’ll call her back. White-Johnson said weeks went by and she hadn’t heard from her.
“So, I called her, and she told me she hadn’t forgotten about me and to call Senator Willie Simmons to have him introduce the bill,” White-Johnson said. “We knew we had the votes in the house, but we needed them in the Senate.”
White-Johnson said Chassaniol called her back and told her she couldn’t get her $1 million, but she got her $300,000, and she was thrilled.
Although the foundation has not yet reached its goal, a groundbreaking ceremony will be held for the Cancer Center toward the end of this month.