Cancer Awareness Gala


ST. PETERSBURG – Most people can tell you of a friend or loved one they know that has cancer, or perhaps you are battling the disease yourself. The disease generates anxiety and thoughts of one’s own mortality for those who have been diagnosed, but last Saturday the Fourth Annual Pink Bow Tie Gala was a night for cancer patients and survivors to relax and have a little fun.

“Life lies in the power of the tongue and tonight that’s what our goal is,” said Quanette Feazell of Advantage Village Academy, who along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) sponsored the event. Their mission for the evening was to infuse life into those going through cancer, as well as their families. “Tonight is a celebration of live and that’s what we want you all to do.”

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Music from the Shawn Brown Band kicked off the festivities, and a men’s fashion show with the latest summer fashions wowed the crowd.

Jeff Copeland, executive director of the SCLC, has been personally involved with the annual gala from its inception, although this year marks the first for the SCLC to get involved.  “It’s a place to be for people who really care about cancer awareness,” he said.

Copeland hopes the gala will bring awareness to more people of the need to raise more money to find cures for all diseases, but especially cancer. And so for the first year, the Pink Bow Tie Gala has focused on more than breast cancer, shining the spotlight on the less talked about prostate cancer.

The second most common cancer among men, after skin cancer, prostate cancer affects the African-American community at a higher rate than their racial counterparts. Although both passed away due to other ailments, both the Godfather of Soul James Brown and former South African President Nelson Mandela battled the disease.

In fact the community’s own Pastor Manuel Sykes of Bethel Community Baptist Church has firsthand experience dealing with prostate cancer. Diagnosed seven years ago, just four days after remarrying, he admitted to not wanting to go through the process of fighting the disease. He, like many African Americans according to Sykes, was afraid of the side effects of prostate cancer, the most prominent, impotency. The pastor believes this quietly kept secret is one of the main reasons black men will not go to the doctor earlier, thereby reducing their survival rates.

“For me the choice was simple,” he preached. “It was to go through whatever process that I needed, to fight what was most important for me to fight, because a dead man can’t take care of a woman either.”

Prostate cancer has nearly a 100 percent five-year survival rate if found in the first two stages, so Sykes urges men to get regular checkups before the disease advances. And although the pastor admits that his biopsy wasn’t a pleasant experience, he feels it’s “better to be a live dog, than a dead lion,” and knows going through the healing process has made him a stronger man.

Every day is still a recovery day for Sykes, but he feels better each time he wakes and believes his purpose in life is bigger than worrying about impotency. “Sometimes our egos get the best of us,” he said.

The evening continued with more entertainment and good food provided by SouthSide Charcoal Grill before another cancer survivor spoke to those gathered in the audience.

Julia Hamilton views herself as a survivor because she is still fighting her cancer. Diagnosed with breast cancer just a week before her 42nd birthday, Hamilton admits it got her down. But she found when she started encouraging others she met with the disease to hold on; they were emboldened by her positive outlook and her willingness to keep going.

“I keep a smile on my face every day, no matter how bad or how good I am feeling,” Hamilton said. “It just encourages other people and it helps me get through it.”

Hamilton knows that having loved ones around her and the support of friends and family has helped her stay positive and battle the disease. She hopes that others experience the same and encourages the community to pray for those suffering from cancer, whether you know them or not. “When people are going through cancer, more than anything, what people need most is your love and support.”

Toriano Parker is the Founder and CEO of Advantage Village Academy, which sponsors the gala event each year. The organization is dedicated to empowering and enhancing the quality of life for those who promote self-sufficiency, financial stability and economic development. They also provide supervision and guidance to many of the disadvantage youth within the community.

“It is designed to equal the playing field for people who don’t have the advantage or opportunity to be on the north side where there are more resources,” said Parker.

However, the money raised at the gala will be put toward various aspects of cancer awareness from recreational opportunities and social events, to education, to benefiting those associated with cancer.

“This event has always been about cancer,” said Parker whose uncle, Jeffrey Harris, is terminally ill with the disease and who checked himself out of the hospital early just to attend the event. “Every aspect helps that group and I’m inspired by him making the sacrifice to come out. Every year no one has failed us.”

The Pink Bow Tie Gala was held at the St. Petersburg Museum of History and donations are still accepted through the Advantage Village Academy and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email

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