Resiliency and faith in the future will help rebuild burned churches in Louisiana As the heart and soul of black communities for centuries, black churches have endured worse

On the Monday after Easter, Pastor Gerald Toussaint made another trip to what was left of his Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana.

The navy suit, blue tie and dress shoes that Toussaint wore to preach during two Easter Sunday services had been replaced by a work shirt. His pants and steel-toed work boots were now covered in ash as he rummaged through charred pieces of wood, salvaging what little had not been damaged by fire or water.

With the help of one of his deacons, Toussaint removed a small podium, then went back to retrieve a larger, blackened wood podium, still fixed where the pulpit used to be. It was the original, Toussaint said, built when the church was founded 145 years ago. It stood where generations of families gathered to praise and worship every Sunday. Where his father had preached for 21 years, the longest stint of any pastor, until Toussaint, 56, took over 14 years ago.

Pastor Gerald Toussaint stands outside Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana. “We know that we, as a church, we’re going to restore,” Toussaint said.

Maya Jones

Toussaint looked up for a moment to admire the beautiful blue sky with perfect, puffy white clouds, a stark contrast to the red brick structure crumbling in the background. The sky reminded Toussaint of the day two weeks ago when he learned that the 21-year-old white arsonist allegedly responsible for setting Mount Pleasant Baptist ablaze was arrested.

“When Jesus died on the cross, the heavens opened,” Toussaint said. “It got very dark and it started raining. That’s how it was when he burned the church down. It was pouring down raining. But when they found him, it was pretty like this. A beautiful day.”


On April 4, Mount Pleasant Baptist became the third historically black church to go up in flames within a 10-day span in St. Landry Parish. The first fire was reported on March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Louisiana. The second fire occurred on April 2, less than 10 miles away at Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas.

The suspect, Holden Matthews, the son of a local sheriff’s deputy, was arrested and charged with two counts of simple arson of a religious building, one count of aggravated arson of a religious building and three hate crime counts. He pleaded not guilty to all counts and is being held without bond.

“I guess you can call it a crazy kind of faith, but we just feel untouchable. God has just been so good to us. Ain’t nothing gonna happen to me, because God got us. My faith never wavered.” — Florence Milburn

Despite the chaos and mourning, Toussaint and parishioners from all three churches remain optimistic and hopeful for the future. It’s something that Toussaint wants to encourage among his congregants, which is why he chose the theme “Only Believe” for his Easter sermon. Toussaint found the story of Doubting Thomas from the Gospel of John to be fitting under the circumstances.

“Thomas said, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I shall not believe,’ ” Toussaint said. “Jesus came back to him and said, ‘Here, Thomas. Put your finger here. Reach out your hand and put it to my side.’ He said, ‘You believe because you’ve seen, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ Stop doubting and believe.

“We know that we, as a church, we’re going to restore. I knew that God was going to reveal the guy who did it. It didn’t take but six days. I told them at church that the Lord created the Earth and the heavens in six days and on the seventh day, they rested. The first day, [Matthews] burned the church down. On the sixth day, they caught him. On the seventh day, we all just sat down and relaxed because they already had him. We didn’t have to worry about nobody burning another church down.”

Ten miles down the road at Greater Union Baptist Church, member Florence Milburn battled a wave of emotions. Milburn, 52, looked at the dilapidated structure that still holds fond memories of her upbringing.

Florence Milburn, a longtime member of Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana. Her parents are buried behind the church. “This is the only church I’ve ever belonged to,” Milburn said.

Maya Jones

“This is the only church I’ve ever belonged to,” Milburn said while staring at the rubble. “The first night, I was devastated, bellied over, crying like I’d lost my mom. It was an awful feeling, like someone had just stolen everything of value to you. The first two days, my sisters and I cried a few tears. But we’re so prayerful that we know that God is in the midst of everything, so we got our hope back and think about the memories we’re still holding on to.”

Milburn comes from a family of 12 children who all grew up in the church. It’s where she was baptized as a child and where her children were baptized. Both of her parents, who were married for 69 years and died three months apart in 2018, are buried behind the church. All three churches that burned have cemeteries that hold generations of families directly behind their structures.

It will take time for Milburn to forget what it was like to get the call that the church was on fire and watch helplessly as the blaze engulfed the entire structure.

“I live about 15 to 20 minutes away, but the drive felt like an hour to two hours,” Milburn said. “We were coming, and we were hopeful that maybe it was just one little part or a corner. But [on the road leading to the church], you can smell the burning. Immediately when I smelled the burn, I started wailing and crying. I couldn’t breathe.”

The black church, particularly in the Deep South, has been the heart and soul of the community for centuries. It is a place to worship and praise freely, speak to God without restrictions, gather with family, whether you were related by blood or not. Black churches were one of the only places where anyone and everyone were meant to feel welcome and safe.

Until they started burning.


Black church arsons in America date back to the 1800s, experienced an upward swing in the 1950s and ’60s, and caused waves of terror in the 1990s. Racists and hate groups used the burnings to instill fear and paranoia within black communities, taking away one of the most constant safe spaces residents had. Before the St. Landry Parish church fires, the last reported church burnings in Louisiana occurred between February and June 1996. On Feb. 1 that year, four churches were set on fire on the same day in Zachary and Baker. After six months of investigation, it was determined that the churches were targets of hate crimes. Three other churches in Baker, Paincourtville and Shreveport also burned that year.

Although the history of church burnings is well-known to those in black communities, the most recent fires were another painful reminder of the past that many history books, and those in denial, attempt to bury under the guise of progress.

Toussaint questioned the actions of Matthews as he continued to dust ash from church remnants.

“What’s going through the minds of people these days?” Toussaint asked. “He’s a young man. Where would that come from, from a 21-year-old young man? He should know nothing about racism. But he knows what he’s been taught. You can train a child to shoot a gun, but if you fill it with hatred, he’s going to use that gun [for evil]. You can train a child to light a campfire, but when you fill his heart with hatred, this is what you get.”

Toussaint pointed to the unstable structure, which continued to collapse days after the fire.

“That’s the results.”

There were, however, uplifting signs and hopeful gestures from not just the communities in Opelousas but from around the world.

Before the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris on April 15, donations to the GoFundMe page designated to help the three churches had barely reached $100,000 of their $1.8 million goal. Former New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson was one of the first to announce his pledge to help rebuild the churches, and he spread the word about the fires through his Twitter feed. After the Notre Dame fire became a trending topic on Twitter, others joined in to spread the word about the fires in St. Landry Parish. Today, the donations continue to pour in and sit at $2.1 million.

As Milburn continued to talk about church memories, a silver car pulled to the side of the road and slowly approached the church. Two elderly white women rolled down their windows, greeted Milburn with a smile and offered their condolences.

“We’re so sorry to hear about your church. We’ve been praying for you, and we hope you all are able to rebuild soon,” one of the women said. They rolled their windows up and continued on their drive. Those are the signs of hope that lets Milburn know the community can only grow stronger from here.

“I guess you can call it a crazy kind of faith, but we just feel untouchable,” Milburn said. “God has just been so good to us. Ain’t nothing gonna happen to me, because God got us. My faith never wavered.”

Down the road, Toussaint approached a storage shed where he placed items from the church that he plans to restore in the future. In the middle of a folding table was a Bible that seemed to be in good shape, save for mild water damage due to the rain.

“The Bible was opened when we picked it up. This is the page it was on. Psalm 23,” Toussaint said.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

“Joshua says, ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified,’ ” Toussaint said. “That’s what you’ve got to do. The future is bright. God said, ‘I’ll make your enemy your footstool.’ He sure got a footstool comin’.”

Becoming a father is Bishop Marvin Sapp’s ‘greatest accomplishment’ His faith in God, his belief and his victories keep him afloat

Bishop Marvin Sapp needed prayer. His congregation and fans immediately responded to his plea, joining him. His wife of 17 years was battling stage 4 colon cancer. MaLinda Sapp died on Sept. 9, 2010. Sapp raised their three children while preserving her legacy and continuing to maintain a life of victory, peace and healing. Facing the death of his beloved wife and relying on his faith to persevere, he continued maintaining victory in peace and healing.

On of his greatest accomplishments in life was becoming a father to his children, Marvin II, Mikaila and Madisson.

“I’ve been blessed to be nominated for every award known to man,” he said. “And that’s been rare in this field of gospel music. But being a dad, to me it’s the greatest reward ever. Honestly, that actually means more to me than anything else.”

Sapp’s father and mother divorced when he was 9 years old.

“It was a real challenge,” he said. “So I made a commitment when Marvin [II] was born that I was going to try to be the best father that I could possibly be, because I didn’t have a father. The challenge with it was that I was learning on the fly, because I didn’t have a real example where the father is supposed to be about, what a father is supposed to be like. So thanks be to God, I had people around me that mentored me from afar …”

Sapp’s children attend historically black universities. Marvin II attends Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Mikaila and Madisson attend Alabama A&M.

“My kids went to predominantly white schools,” he said. “So they made up their minds to go to universities where they could see young people that looked like them. They’re doing very well. Both of my daughters are on the dean’s list, and I don’t know if I get to necessarily take credit for that aspect. Their mother was a wiz when it came to school and stuff.”

Sapp balances life through prioritizing.

“Before I’m anything else I’m a father. After being a father, I am a pastor [Lighthouse Full Life Center Church]. After being a pastor, I am a recording artist. After being a recording artist, I do all my other entrepreneurial responsibilities, from my day care to my full-service bar, be it a mani-pedi, a salon to a restaurant to all the real estate properties that we own, apartments and houses. What I’ve learned for me is that if I keep everything in proper order, it allows me to be able to be successful in each of those areas.”

A gospel music award-winning artist, Sapp transcends generations and first crossed over from gospel to secular in January 2007 when his hit song “Never Would’ve Made It” was released.

Bishop Marvin Sapp

Courtesy Worth Ink Public Relations

“I just think that my relevance is solely based upon me tapping into the culture as it pertains to where they were, and what they feel,” Sapp said. “When I wrote ‘Never Would’ve Made It’ … the reason why the song is timeless is because everybody has had a never-would’ve-made-it moment. And kids connect to it. Adults connect to it. Grandparents connect to it. So the message is universal … ”

The tune spent 46 weeks at the top of American gospel radio charts and became the longest-running No. 1 radio single of any format. The song topped The Associated Press list of Best Songs of 2008. The record-breaking tune was the first song by a gospel artist to sell more than 1 million ringtones.

He’s also a strong believer that “nobody can tell your story better than you.”

“If you get it out before other people, you’re going to win,” he said. “So, my goal has always been to just be as open and honest and transparent as I possibly can be. And it’s caused me to win, across musical genres as well as across age groups.”

Sapp is a testament to steadfastness in faith and remaining relevant in an ever-changing music landscape nearly three decades after he launched his career. In April, he won two Stellar Gospel Music Awards, bringing his total to 24. His latest CD, Close, has been atop the Billboard charts since it was released in September 2017. He is also featured on the Snoop Dogg Presents Bible of Love album.

One bit of important advice Sapp received was from Bishop T.D. Jakes.

“I did a concert at the Potter’s House [Jakes’ church in Dallas] maybe some eight years ago. And afterwards I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Bishop Jakes. After the concert, we went downstairs and he said, ‘Marvin, in this season, you have to learn how to friend up. What you need to do is you need to start trying to hang around people that’s not at your level but who have accomplished what you desire to accomplish. Connect with them …’ ”

Sapp recently lost more than 50 pounds through changing his diet and beginning to exercise while reclaiming his health.

“I kind of lost myself over the last eight years. I stepped on the scale and I was like, ‘My God, 310 pounds.’ I never would have thought that I was that big. So I changed my diet, found this app that taught me how to count calories, and I started going to the gym every day.”

Sapp often uses sports as his way to connect to hope, faith and victory.

His favorite player, LeBron James, had left the Cleveland Cavaliers in that same year for the Miami Heat, seeking a victorious situation in his own life: an NBA championship.

“I don’t necessarily have a favorite team,” Sapp said. “I’m like, wherever LeBron is. I used to fly to Miami like four or five, six times a month just to go to the games. I would get up in the morning and tell the kids, ‘Hey, I’m going go to Miami and going to the game. I see y’all tomorrow.’ I take my kids to, like, all the Christmas games. I honestly did think that LeBron was going to L.A.”

That time for Sapp is one example of how religion and sports intersect. The two held an unlikely and possibly unnoticed bond: desire for victory.

With the victory Sapp has embodied, there is nothing in his life he would change.

“I think that the challenges of life, the hills and valleys, they are the things that make you who you are,” he said. “I look at my life and I’ve gone through some crazy stuff over the last eight years. I know what it’s done for me. It caused me to really have a more deeper relationship with God, and to trust him like never before.”

Golden Knights’ Pierre-Édouard Bellemare reflects on shaving his head for breast cancer awareness ‘I figured if I could shave my head, maybe they would see that as a less negative situation’

One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and many of them will undergo chemotherapy and shave their heads before enduring one of the treatment’s side effects: hair loss.

Vegas Golden Knights left winger Pierre-Édouard Bellemare elected to share that experience. To kick off this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, he joined patients and survivors at Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada by shaving his head. The act was also in memory of two family members who died of cancer.

Bellemare recently shared his thoughts on the Oct. 2 head-shaving, just before the start of the team’s season.

“I figured if I could shave my head, maybe they would see that as a less negative situation,” he told The Undefeated. “I’m just a normal person. The only difference is that I do a sport and work my entire life to be able to be a part of a team. And because of that it has put me in a position where I can do something as little as just shaving my head.”

Bellemare’s wife, Hannah, lost her grandmother to cancer two years ago. It was a battle that lasted for more than a decade — one that started off as breast cancer and ended in brain cancer. During her grandmother’s battle, her grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died one month later, shortly before her grandmother.

“For my wife, it was a tough moment,” he said. “I was a part of that, recovering and helping cope with one of her grandparents passing away. Her grandma’s been fighting for a lot of years, and then suddenly her grandpa had it. Then, boom — he was gone in a month.”

Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada has provided an array of oncology services since 1979. Bellemare first got involved with the organization as a spokesman. While shooting a series of commercials, he met with patients and survivors and learned about their journeys.

“To know what they had to go through every day for the entire cancer … it’s just a decent perspective that you get,” Bellemare said. “It’s something that is so devastating for a woman to have to shave their head. It’s like a big part of a woman.”

He’d always told Hannah that it would be an honor to participate in the cause.

“Because of my wife’s grandma being affected with first the breast cancer and obviously my wife, there is risk also for her to have it,” Bellemare said. “So it became something really close to us.”

Two days before the puck dropped on the Golden Knights’ 2018-19 season, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare joined patients from Comprehensive Cancer Centers for a head-shaving event outside of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Courtesy: Comprehensive Cancer Center of Nevada

As a member of the Vegas community, Bellemare believes it’s important to connect with places such as Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

“I was like, all right, let’s try to give a little bit back,” he said. “My hair will grow back, so it’s not the biggest gesture I can do. … There is already so much they have to fight to be able to survive. Having your head shaved shouldn’t be something to have any focus on.”

For Bellemare, 33, playing a rigorous sport day in and day out does not compare to the fight against cancer. Bellemare was born in a suburb of Paris. His father was born on the French Caribbean island of Martinique. He began playing hockey when he was 6 years old and was a professional player in France by age 17. He signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014 and joined the Golden Knights expansion team in their first year. They made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and he finished the 2017-18 season playing in 72 games and compiling 16 points.

“They have to fight to be alive. What they do every day, it’s so much harder than what I’m doing,” Bellemare said. “I got there and I was a little stressed. I talked to two of those women and suddenly I’m realizing, like, what the heck am I scared of? It’s supersimple, I don’t have to deal with their stress. When you hear what they have to go through in the last few months, you’re like, all right, this is just really easy. Just do this half and we’ll make sure that the people enjoy it.

“They are the heroes of the story. They are the people that are inspiring me more than I am inspiring them,” he said.

Golden Knights’ Pierre-Édouard Bellemare reflects on shaving his head for breast cancer awareness ‘I figured if I could shave my head, maybe they would see that as a less negative situation’

One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and many of them will undergo chemotherapy and shave their heads before enduring one of the treatment’s side effects: hair loss.

Vegas Golden Knights left winger Pierre-Édouard Bellemare elected to share that experience. To kick off this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, he joined patients and survivors at Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada by shaving his head. The act was also in memory of two family members who died of cancer.

Bellemare recently shared his thoughts on the Oct. 2 head-shaving, just before the start of the team’s season.

“I figured if I could shave my head, maybe they would see that as a less negative situation,” he told The Undefeated. “I’m just a normal person. The only difference is that I do a sport and work my entire life to be able to be a part of a team. And because of that it has put me in a position where I can do something as little as just shaving my head.”

Bellemare’s wife, Hannah, lost her grandmother to cancer two years ago. It was a battle that lasted for more than a decade — one that started off as breast cancer and ended in brain cancer. During her grandmother’s battle, her grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died one month later, shortly before her grandmother.

“For my wife, it was a tough moment,” he said. “I was a part of that, recovering and helping cope with one of her grandparents passing away. Her grandma’s been fighting for a lot of years, and then suddenly her grandpa had it. Then, boom — he was gone in a month.”

Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada has provided an array of oncology services since 1979. Bellemare first got involved with the organization as a spokesman. While shooting a series of commercials, he met with patients and survivors and learned about their journeys.

“To know what they had to go through every day for the entire cancer … it’s just a decent perspective that you get,” Bellemare said. “It’s something that is so devastating for a woman to have to shave their head. It’s like a big part of a woman.”

He’d always told Hannah that it would be an honor to participate in the cause.

“Because of my wife’s grandma being affected with first the breast cancer and obviously my wife, there is risk also for her to have it,” Bellemare said. “So it became something really close to us.”

Two days before the puck dropped on the Golden Knights’ 2018-19 season, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare joined patients from Comprehensive Cancer Centers for a head-shaving event outside of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Courtesy: Comprehensive Cancer Center of Nevada

As a member of the Vegas community, Bellemare believes it’s important to connect with places such as Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

“I was like, all right, let’s try to give a little bit back,” he said. “My hair will grow back, so it’s not the biggest gesture I can do. … There is already so much they have to fight to be able to survive. Having your head shaved shouldn’t be something to have any focus on.”

For Bellemare, 33, playing a rigorous sport day in and day out does not compare to the fight against cancer. Bellemare was born in a suburb of Paris. His father was born on the French Caribbean island of Martinique. He began playing hockey when he was 6 years old and was a professional player in France by age 17. He signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014 and joined the Golden Knights expansion team in their first year. They made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and he finished the 2017-18 season playing in 72 games and compiling 16 points.

“They have to fight to be alive. What they do every day, it’s so much harder than what I’m doing,” Bellemare said. “I got there and I was a little stressed. I talked to two of those women and suddenly I’m realizing, like, what the heck am I scared of? It’s supersimple, I don’t have to deal with their stress. When you hear what they have to go through in the last few months, you’re like, all right, this is just really easy. Just do this half and we’ll make sure that the people enjoy it.

“They are the heroes of the story. They are the people that are inspiring me more than I am inspiring them,” he said.

JaVale McGee is focused on being a Laker and on clean water worldwide ‘There are people in the world that can’t drink more water because they don’t have access to it’

It was the NBA’s opening tip and JaVale McGee, waiting to watch games in his home, was fighting a fire alarm sounding off every two minutes.

“They’re testing the alarm,” the Los Angeles Lakers center said as he briefly spoke about his team’s season.

“We’re the Lakers,” he said. “It’s an amazing organization. And to be able to actually be looked at maybe even being a contender is even more amazing. So we just have to make sure we stay focused, and really, it is exciting though.”

But McGee really wanted to discuss an off-court issue dear to his heart: water.

“We drink gallons of water, jugs of water every day,” McGee said. “Personally, my body feels better [when I drink water], and I wanted to let people know to drink more because 83 percent of Americans don’t drink enough water at all.”

There is also a water crisis. Around the world, more than 780 million people lack access to clean, safe water, resulting in millions of water-related illnesses and deaths every year.

McGee found himself wanting to do something about it.

So he partnered with entrepreneur Kez Reed in 2012 and co-founded JUGLIFE, an organization that promotes a healthy lifestyle by providing clean, safe drinking water in underdeveloped areas of the world. Its message is “water is essential to life and drinking water is a lifestyle.”

McGee began promoting his efforts on Twitter and Instagram with the campaign #JUGLIFE, built around the idea of drinking a gallon of water each day. Then he got a phone call from Reed, who was involved in missionary work around the world.

“There are people in the world that can’t drink more water because they don’t have access to it,” McGee said. “He [Reed] came upon this school with 500 kids who were HIV-positive. They were secluded by their village, so they didn’t have the access that everybody else had to water. He messaged me and communicated they need water out there. Reed said, ‘It would be a blessing for you to be able to build a water well just for that one community.’ ”

McGee answered the call. He traveled to Uganda in the summer of 2017 to build wells and returned in 2018 during the offseason.

Instagram Photo

“When I went over there, especially the first time, I had never been to Africa before. The second time, it’s like you know what you’re going to see and what’s going to happen,” he said. “It was extremely humbling. Just seeing people not having anything and not complain, smile, happy, running around, just enjoying life. And it really just changes perspective on things that we complain about, for me personally. Like, we’re worried about traffic and things like that and people are walking 26 miles from the water source to their village, daily.”

McGee said he saw villagers with little to no knowledge of water preservation and waterborne diseases drinking contaminated water from a pond.

“They are bathing in this water, washing their motorcycles, pets, animals, feces, all in the water,” McGee said. “And then kids are coming and taking big jugs of that water. But from them taking that water, it really brings diseases to the village.”

JUGLIFE chose to build the wells next to schools to teach students how to maintain the well.

The experience taught McGee to humble himself.

“I learned that there are people with bigger needs than the needs that we have out here in our own backyard,” he said. “So the feeling that I get helping someone who literally doesn’t know me, never even met me before, is a passion. I want to go forever, every summer.”

He also wants to travel to South America to educate citizens about a clean water environment.

“Hopefully JUGLIFE will become big enough where we don’t just do it once every year,” McGee said. “Like we can do it all year long and have people go out there and experience everything and it becomes a program.”

Know Your Girls campaign encourages black women to understand breast cancer risks Actress and breast cancer survivor Vanessa Bell Calloway lends her voice to public service announcements

Actress and breast cancer survivor Vanessa Bell Calloway knows how important it is to get the word out about breast health.

In 2016, she shared her story of survival on Ebony.com. She caught the disease early, opted for a mastectomy and she’s been cancer-free since.

Now Calloway has teamed up with the Susan G. Komen organization and the Ad Council for a national campaign, Know Your Girls. Her role includes a voice-over for the campaign’s video public service announcements.

“I’m so happy to be a part of this important campaign because as a breast cancer survivor, I understand firsthand how important it is to know your girls literally and figuratively. Being in tuned with your girls can save your life. Know Your Girls can also mean know your real-life girlfriends and as a community of women help remind each other about the importance of breast health,” said Calloway.

The Know Your Girls announcements include singer Alicia Keys’ hit song “You Don’t Know My Name.” Other featured celebrities include celebrity stylist June Ambrose, actress and comedian Regina Hall, E! News co-anchor Zuri Hall, 2 Dope Queens co-creator and actress Jessica Williams, singer-songwriter, producer and actress Michelle Williams, and comedian and actress Kym Whitley; as well as digital creators Black Moms Blog, Ebony from Team2Moms, Glamtwinz: Kelsey and Kendra Murrell, Jade Kendle, Tianne King, Megan “Megz” Lytle and Jayla Watson.

The campaign is a response to dismal numbers concerning black women. Black women in the U.S. are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, according to the Ad Council. A recent study found that while 92 percent of black women agree breast health is important, only 25 percent have recently discussed breast health with their family, friends, or colleagues and only 17 percent have taken steps to understand their risk for breast cancer.

Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age, at later stages of the disease, and with more aggressive forms of the disease, which limits the options for treatment. The Know Your Girls campaign encourages black women between the ages of 30 and 55 to treat their breasts with the same attentiveness and understanding they share with the women in their lives.

“The Know Your Girls campaign introduces breast cancer education through a celebration of the powerful sisterhood between black women,” said Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council. “Instead of focusing on fear, the campaign provides tools and information that can help black women feel ownership around their breast health and encourages the sharing of those resources and messages with the women who support them throughout their lives.”

Besides the digital announcements, the campaign includes TV, radio, print and out-of-home ads that direct women to KnowYourGirls.org. The website features resources that help women navigate breast cancer risk factors, recognize changes in their breasts, and how to prepare to have a conversation with a doctor.

The introductory campaign video, created by creative agency Translation, features vignettes of a woman at key moments throughout her life. At each occasion, she is surrounded by her girls, the friends and family who have been a source of support and strength. At the end, the woman reveals that the “girls” who have been with her in every single moment of her life, her breasts, are the ones she might know the least.

“The staggering breast cancer mortality rates amongst women of color — amongst black women — is unacceptable,” said Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of Translation. “Breast cancer has touched so many of our loved ones, our peers, and our neighbors, including my wife, who lost her dear sister to this crippling disease. Creating a healthy dialogue between women of color, their fears, and their breasts is a critical step towards eradication.”

Komen has set a “Bold Goal” to reduce the current 40,000 annual breast cancer deaths in the U.S. by 50 percent by 2026. Closing the gap in health disparities is crucial to achieving that goal.

Through its African American Health Equity Initiative, Komen is aiming to reduce the mortality gap between black women and white women by 25 percent by focusing first on the 10 metro areas where mortality rates and late-stage diagnosis of black women are highest. The Know Your Girls campaign will target: Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis; Long Beach/Los Angeles Metro Area; Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington Metro Area; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Atlanta; Chicago; Houston; Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia. In some cities, the disparity in breast cancer mortality rate between black and white women is as high as 74 percent.

“As a breast cancer survivor who lost her mother to breast cancer, I understand all too well the pain and heartbreak of this disease,” said Paula Schneider, president and CEO of Susan G. Komen. “We hope this campaign empowers black women to learn about breast cancer risk and the resources available to take action.”

While players were balling in NBA playoffs, these students were winning in NBA Math Hoops National Championship The second annual event was hosted by the Detroit Pistons and the nonprofit Learn Fresh

While the NBA playoffs were in full swing in mid-May, the Detroit Pistons were hosting 20 students from across the country competing in the second annual NBA Math Hoops National Championship, courtesy of the NBA Math Hoops Program, Learn Fresh and NBA Cares.

On May 18, the team welcomed participants for the weekend event and competition at Little Caesars Arena. On the final day, sixth-grader Angela Montelongo and fifth-grader William Cooley, representing the Utah Jazz, were named winners in this year’s competition.

Asia Mays and Daivion Smith, the Pistons’ 2017 national championship representatives and tournament runners-up, were on hand to congratulate the new champions. Both Pistons students competed in the inaugural 2017 event, which was hosted in the Bay Area by the Golden State Warriors.

Students competed in multiple events including a Jr. NBA Clinic and a college savings session for participating parents and educators courtesy of Flagstar Bank. The University of Michigan and Wayne State ran unique sessions that connected sports and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while exposing the students to a collegiate academic environment.

Angela Montelongo (left) and William Cooley (right) representing the Utah Jazz emerged as winners at NBA Math Hoops National Championship.

The NBA Math Hoops Program is a board game with a built-in sports-based curriculum offered in schools in 14 states that all have NBA teams. The program is offered in communities of color for students in grades 3 through 8. Using basketball as a hook to engage participants, it helps students to improve their core math and social emotional skills while developing a passion for learning. The main goal is to help students become better prepared for high school math and STEM subjects, and ultimately lead to increased graduation rates, college attendance, and diversity in STEM-related fields. To date, more than 87,000 students have completed more than 60 million math problems through the NBA Math Hoops program. This year more than 30,000 students participated nationally.

The NBA Math Hoops calendar is broken into 12 weeks running 
parallel to the NBA season. Students spend 45-90 minutes in the program per week, for eight weeks leading up to winter break and four weeks after returning. The top student from each participating NBA team’s community is then selected to attend the national championship and compete for the title of math champion.

In weeks 1-3, students are also introduced to the game of basketball, drafting a team, and learning the game rules. Weeks 4-7 are considered the regular season, when students compete in their first games of NBA Math Hoops. During weeks 8-10, the regular season continues and students battle it out on the Math Hoops “court,” while getting a chance to rebuild their teams for a playoff run. In weeks 11-12, the Math Hoops Tournament begins, and students compete for their site’s championship title and complete requirements to qualify for the national championship. Top students from each site earn the chance to compete at the regional championship.

NBA Math Hoops is run by Learn Fresh, a nonprofit organization that “makes math fun by using the power of things kids actually care about.” Khalil Fuller, the co-founder of Learn Fresh, started tutoring kids when he was 16 years old, and realized he didn’t have any tools or resources at his disposal to make math fun and culturally relevant.

“When I was growing up here [in Los Angeles], the Lakers were just absolutely life,” Fuller said. “Kobe Bryant was a god. So I started to think, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of really cool, useful, beautiful math in the sport of basketball. What if we could just peel back one thin layer and expose that to kids. Couldn’t that be such a game changer?’

“What that looked like when I was 16 tutoring kids was like instead of Sally went to the store and bought X number of raffles, it’s Kobe’s in the gym and took X number of shots. Simple, simple stuff like that.”

During Fuller’s freshmen year at Brown University, he met some people who’d been working on the infrastructure of NBA Math Hoops — Bill Daugherty, and math teacher/curriculum writer Tim Scheidt.

“These two people were both established professionals, one of them used to work at the NBA for a long time before leaving to start a company and he was teaching entrepreneurship at a local high school, and the other was actually the inventor of this NBA Math Hoops games. He’d been in the math field for 25 years.”

Fuller wasn’t sure about his life path, but with his mentoring background, he figured working with the organization could be a great fit.

“We took this idea directly to the league, got the first-ever royalty-free license from them and this NBA Math Hoops concept was born. We work really closely with local NBA teams in school districts, after-school programs, community organizations across the country. We’re in about 30 states, reaching about 35,000 kids on a weekly basis.”

Fuller is in the middle of the transition from his role as CEO into a board member.

“In the fall, I’ll be headed to Stanford for an MBA and master’s in education to reflect, learn and chart a path of continued impact,” he said. He will be a member of the inaugural cohort of Knight-Hennessy Scholars  —  a new program at Stanford modeled after the Rhodes Scholarship.

Stepping into the role as CEO is Nick Monzi, who has been with Learn Fresh for five years as the chief operations officer.

For Monzi, it’s important that people understand that kids need to be educated.

“Fundamental math skills … It’s not the most sexy thing in the world, but it’s critical, and if you want to be a musician, or you want to be a doctor, you need to know how to do fundamental math,” Monzi said.

“Having the NBA behind us allows us to have a really key stakeholder to connect to the teams, which are now the real driving impacts. I mean, the teams are incredible supporters to the community, but financially, and just from a connecting standpoint, it also allows us to have significant credentials behind us when we’re looking at other partners to work with.”

While players were balling in NBA playoffs, these students were winning in NBA Math Hoops National Championship The second annual event was hosted by the Detroit Pistons and the nonprofit Learn Fresh

While the NBA playoffs were in full swing in mid-May, the Detroit Pistons were hosting 20 students from across the country competing in the second annual NBA Math Hoops National Championship, courtesy of the NBA Math Hoops Program, Learn Fresh and NBA Cares.

On May 18, the team welcomed participants for the weekend event and competition at Little Caesars Arena. On the final day, sixth-grader Angela Montelongo and fifth-grader William Cooley, representing the Utah Jazz, were named winners in this year’s competition.

Asia Mays and Daivion Smith, the Pistons’ 2017 national championship representatives and tournament runners-up, were on hand to congratulate the new champions. Both Pistons students competed in the inaugural 2017 event, which was hosted in the Bay Area by the Golden State Warriors.

Students competed in multiple events including a Jr. NBA Clinic and a college savings session for participating parents and educators courtesy of Flagstar Bank. The University of Michigan and Wayne State ran unique sessions that connected sports and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while exposing the students to a collegiate academic environment.

Angela Montelongo (left) and William Cooley (right) representing the Utah Jazz emerged as winners at NBA Math Hoops National Championship.

The NBA Math Hoops Program is a board game with a built-in sports-based curriculum offered in schools in 14 states that all have NBA teams. The program is offered in communities of color for students in grades 3 through 8. Using basketball as a hook to engage participants, it helps students to improve their core math and social emotional skills while developing a passion for learning. The main goal is to help students become better prepared for high school math and STEM subjects, and ultimately lead to increased graduation rates, college attendance, and diversity in STEM-related fields. To date, more than 87,000 students have completed more than 60 million math problems through the NBA Math Hoops program. This year more than 30,000 students participated nationally.

The NBA Math Hoops calendar is broken into 12 weeks running 
parallel to the NBA season. Students spend 45-90 minutes in the program per week, for eight weeks leading up to winter break and four weeks after returning. The top student from each participating NBA team’s community is then selected to attend the national championship and compete for the title of math champion.

In weeks 1-3, students are also introduced to the game of basketball, drafting a team, and learning the game rules. Weeks 4-7 are considered the regular season, when students compete in their first games of NBA Math Hoops. During weeks 8-10, the regular season continues and students battle it out on the Math Hoops “court,” while getting a chance to rebuild their teams for a playoff run. In weeks 11-12, the Math Hoops Tournament begins, and students compete for their site’s championship title and complete requirements to qualify for the national championship. Top students from each site earn the chance to compete at the regional championship.

NBA Math Hoops is run by Learn Fresh, a nonprofit organization that “makes math fun by using the power of things kids actually care about.” Khalil Fuller, the co-founder of Learn Fresh, started tutoring kids when he was 16 years old, and realized he didn’t have any tools or resources at his disposal to make math fun and culturally relevant.

“When I was growing up here [in Los Angeles], the Lakers were just absolutely life,” Fuller said. “Kobe Bryant was a god. So I started to think, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of really cool, useful, beautiful math in the sport of basketball. What if we could just peel back one thin layer and expose that to kids. Couldn’t that be such a game changer?’

“What that looked like when I was 16 tutoring kids was like instead of Sally went to the store and bought X number of raffles, it’s Kobe’s in the gym and took X number of shots. Simple, simple stuff like that.”

During Fuller’s freshmen year at Brown University, he met some people who’d been working on the infrastructure of NBA Math Hoops — Bill Daugherty, and math teacher/curriculum writer Tim Scheidt.

“These two people were both established professionals, one of them used to work at the NBA for a long time before leaving to start a company and he was teaching entrepreneurship at a local high school, and the other was actually the inventor of this NBA Math Hoops games. He’d been in the math field for 25 years.”

Fuller wasn’t sure about his life path, but with his mentoring background, he figured working with the organization could be a great fit.

“We took this idea directly to the league, got the first-ever royalty-free license from them and this NBA Math Hoops concept was born. We work really closely with local NBA teams in school districts, after-school programs, community organizations across the country. We’re in about 30 states, reaching about 35,000 kids on a weekly basis.”

Fuller is in the middle of the transition from his role as CEO into a board member.

“In the fall, I’ll be headed to Stanford for an MBA and master’s in education to reflect, learn and chart a path of continued impact,” he said. He will be a member of the inaugural cohort of Knight-Hennessy Scholars  —  a new program at Stanford modeled after the Rhodes Scholarship.

Stepping into the role as CEO is Nick Monzi, who has been with Learn Fresh for five years as the chief operations officer.

For Monzi, it’s important that people understand that kids need to be educated.

“Fundamental math skills … It’s not the most sexy thing in the world, but it’s critical, and if you want to be a musician, or you want to be a doctor, you need to know how to do fundamental math,” Monzi said.

“Having the NBA behind us allows us to have a really key stakeholder to connect to the teams, which are now the real driving impacts. I mean, the teams are incredible supporters to the community, but financially, and just from a connecting standpoint, it also allows us to have significant credentials behind us when we’re looking at other partners to work with.”

Alice Marie Johnson’s family appreciates Kim Kardashian’s efforts to bring her home Her son and daughter-in-law share her compelling story of mercy and hope

Alice Marie Johnson was sentenced to life in prison in 1997 after a conviction on eight criminal counts for a first-time, non-violent drug offense. Her son, Charles Johnson, remembers that time like it was yesterday.

“I was coming home from college and the court date was postponed to the next day,” Charles Johnson said. “On that day, they didn’t want the family to go, so she and her boyfriend at the time just went. A couple of hours passed and he just came home and told us that they kept her. And they found her guilty, and it was the day before my birthday, my 20th birthday.”

The guilty verdict from a jury trial changed the course of life for Johnson, the mother of four, grandmother and great-grandmother. She has spent more than two decades in prison, with several failed attempts to be granted clemency.

In December 2016, President Barack Obama granted clemency to 231 prisoners, but Johnson was not on the list.

“I think that was more of an up-and-down,” Charles Johnson said. “Every time you’d see another list come out, you’d look at it just to see if her name’s on it, and it’s not. To me, I think I was more worried about her, because it was such an up-and-down thing for her to get really happy and really depressed every time a list came out.”

Johnson’s story caught the attention of Kim Kardashian West, who went to the White House on Wednesday, Johnson’s 63rd birthday, to meet with President Donald Trump about prison reform and a pardon for the minister, writer and mentor.

Kardashian West reportedly heard of the story when a video of Johnson was posted on Mic’s Twitter account. “Life offered me no opportunity for parole because there is not parole in the prison system,” Johnson said in the video.

In a letter obtained by TMZ, Johnson thanked Kardashian West for her support.

“There are no words strong enough to express my deep and heartfelt gratitude,” Johnson wrote. “Ms. Kardashian, you are quite literally helping to save my life and restore me to my family. I was drowning and you have thrown me a life jacket, and given me hope that this life jacket I’m serving may one day be taken off.”

“It’s amazing that Kim Kardashian even looked at this and decided that this is something that she wanted to take hold of. It’s crazy,” said Shontoria Johnson, Charles Johnson’ wife. “This is all a part, I guess, of the war on drugs, epidemics that have hurt our communities for a while.”

For Charles and Shontoria Johnson, memories aren’t enough. The newlyweds, who’d known each other for a little more than 18 years, are waiting for the day when Johnson can come home to her family and pursue her dream of helping others in her shoes.

“I think it’s so scary to think that she might die in jail and never be able to really be with her grandkids,” Charles Johnson said. “They’d never get to see how super or great she is in person, just over Skype or over a phone call. When she left, Justin was maybe a year-and-a-half. She really loved having Justin around and keeping him. I may have changed his diaper twice when he was a little kid. She wouldn’t ever let me. She was like, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing.’ She’s very giving, so she’s always been a very giving person. Always was the life-of-the-party kind of thing, dancing and embarrassing me in front of everybody. She didn’t care. She just liked having fun.”

According to Shontoria Johnson, Johnson is anxious, nervous and hopeful.

“She feels like this the furthest that we’ve ever got, and she’s just very excited at this point. We’ve gone through a lot of this together, this family, and it was very difficult going through the ups and downs and highs and lows of hoping for the best and being let down at some points, but we’re very hopeful at this point.”

Johnson’s daughter Tretessa Johnson started a petition for clemency on Change.org that has more than 260,000 signatures to date.

“My family’s life changed forever when my she was sentenced to life in federal prison,” Tretessa Johnson wrote. “She was one of thousands of first time, nonviolent offenders who were given long mandatory prison terms. She had lost her job and became a telephone mule passing messages between her coconspirators.”

In December 2016, Johnson explained how she got involved with a Memphis, Tennessee-based cocaine trafficking operation in a piece for CNN.com. She said she needed a way to make ends meet during a difficult time in her life. According to Mic, she couldn’t secure employment after losing her job at FedEx, where she had worked for 10 years, due to a gambling addiction; she got divorced, and had just recently lost her youngest son to a motorcycle accident.

“No mother should have to bury her child,” Johnson wrote. “This weight was unbelievable, and it was a burden I couldn’t sustain. I made some very poor decisions out of desperation … I acknowledge that I have done wrong. I made the biggest mistake of my life to make ends meet and got involved with people selling drugs. This was a road I never dreamed of venturing down. I became what is called a telephone mule, passing messages between the distributors and sellers. I participated in a drug conspiracy, and I was wrong.”

Charles Johnson wasn’t aware of any of his mother’s illegal activity.

“I had no idea at all, to be honest,” he said. “Even after the court stuff, I don’t even think I even learned exactly what she was convicted of for a few years, because I just didn’t want to know. It didn’t matter if she wasn’t around. I think most of the time when we even talk, we don’t even talk about the court case. We talk about other stuff, family or kids or whatever.

“When she was arrested, I just figured she’ll get an appeal and be out in a week. I just keep thinking that over and over until we lost the house. Then it was OK a year. OK next year. Then I thought, ‘Why isn’t she out yet?’ I was in shock and didn’t want to face it. Then when they moved her to California, it was real. She isn’t coming back. Anger and depression is probably the best way to say it. She was so hopeful that I had to be as well.”

The hardest part for Charles Johnson is not being able to see his mother interact with her grandchildren.

“Even my youngest son, Chris, I think he’s anxious to see her,” he said. “He’s done the Skyping, so he really wants to meet her. Just having her around, being a grandmother to everybody. I think that’s the biggest thing. Also just catching up and taking her out and actually being able to do something for her birthday for a change except just singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ ”

“We’re a blended family,” Shontoria Johnson said. “We need the opportunity to be able to connect with her. He’s met her via Skype and talked to her about school and things of that nature. She’s definitely welcomed him, and he’s taken to her too. She’s a person that you fall in love with immediately.

“I watched Charles go through all those emotions, and I had to support Charles through those emotions and also with speaking with Mama Alice on Skype, I could see her emotions as well, and at some point, it seemed like she had pushed back from everything. It was an interesting time. It was disheartening,” she said.

“I think right now, I guess I can say I’m more ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ kind of thing,” Charles Johnson said. “It’s like I’m hopeful, but until she’s actually in the car driving here, I don’t know how I really feel. At this point, at least we know the president actually knows who she is and what’s going on with her, so this is the closest I can say she’s ever really came to it.”

While in prison, Johnson has been writing and performing plays on most of the holidays. She’s also a minister.

“She’s really trying to help and mentor a lot of people in there be better when they come out, if they get out, or just while they’re in there, just become better people as a whole,” Charles Johnson said.

“I think she uses that as an outlet to connect with people that she wouldn’t normally connect with, to help them be a better person, to mentor them, and to be, like I said, the great personal mother that she is,” Shontoria Johnson said.

WNBA’s Take A Seat, Take A Stand brings its passion for social justice to its fans The league’s new program allows WNBA to donate part of the proceeds from ticket sales to charities that support young women and girls

For WNBA players, the summer of 2016 was a year — for power and for the ability to speak out against social injustice. Before Colin Kaepernick took a knee, before The ESPYS’ cold intro when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade weighed in on gun violence.

Minnesota Lynx  captains  Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen stood before media wearing “Change Starts With Us  —  Justice and Accountability” shirts. On the back, the names of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and the Dallas Police Department shield appeared.

And that was just the beginning.

To start the 2018 season, the WNBA has launched a program that gets the crowd involved and benefits community programs.

Take A Seat, Take A Stand is the league’s new women and girls empowerment program. It uses proceeds from WNBA tickets to do more than support the bottom line. When fans take a seat at a WNBA game, they also have the chance to support several organizations, including Bright Pink, GLSEN, It’s On Us, MENTOR, Planned Parenthood and the United State of Women.

The league will donate $5 to each fan’s chosen organization, along with a ticket for a young woman or girl. Fans can also donate tickets directly to one of the organizations.

“For 22 years, the WNBA and its players — women playing at the highest level of their sport — have stood up as role models for millions of women and girls,” WNBA president Lisa Borders said in a release. “With Take a Seat, Take a Stand, we are proud to come together as a league to stand with our partner organizations, our fans and the many inspiring women raising their voices for change in the current women’s movement.”

Bright Pink is a national nonprofit focused on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women. GLSEN is a national network of students, educators, parents and community leaders working to create safe and inclusive schools for LGBTQ students. It’s On Us is a cultural movement aimed at fundamentally shifting the way we think about sexual assault. MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership unifies quality youth mentoring in the United States. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. The United State of Women is a national organization for any woman who sees that we need a different America for all women to survive and thrive — and wants to work collectively to achieve it.

Besides these organizations, fans will have the choice to support local organizations in all 12 teams’ communities, which will vary by city.

“We’re so grateful the WNBA is standing up for the 2.4 million patients who rely on Planned Parenthood and supporting issues that affect the health, well-being and success of women and girls,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Players have used their platforms to bring attention to inequality, and through Take a Seat, Take a Stand, the WNBA is giving fans an opportunity to join them in the fight for social change.”

For Bright Pink, the program demonstrates the WNBA’s strong commitment to women’s causes and is an example of everything the league represents to communities.

“The WNBA has been an incredible partner to our organization by helping thousands of women know their risk for breast and ovarian cancer and be their own best health advocates,” said Katie Thiede, CEO of Bright Pink. “We’re thrilled to be involved.”

“We’re excited to continue our partnership with the WNBA as part of this fan engagement campaign,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN. “The league and its players have made such a difference for so many women and girls, and especially for young LGBT athletes who often feel unwelcome in the world of sports. Thanks to the league and its fans, GLSEN will be able to open so many more doors of opportunity to LGBT students in school, on the court and beyond.”

Tina Tchen — partner, Buckley Sandler LLP, and co-founder of It’s On Us — says they are excited to join forces with the WNBA’s Take A Seat, Take A Stand campaign to inspire and empower women and girls.

“For decades, the WNBA and its players have been strong advocates for gender equality, LGBTQ rights and youth empowerment, and we are excited to partner with the WNBA family to collectively take a stand against sexual assault,” Tchen said.

“We are so grateful for the NBA family’s consistent support and partnership to elevate mentoring,” said David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “Teaming up with the WNBA in our shared mission to bring people together, build relationships and prioritize equity is such a natural match. Young people seeing extraordinary women competing and leading at the highest level expands the narrative about what is possible in their own lives and in our culture.”

“The United State of Women is thrilled to partner with the WNBA to support young women and girls across the country,” said Jordan Brooks, managing director of The United State of Women. “The WNBA is home to so many inspiring women who wow us with their skills on the court and serve as role models in the community. We couldn’t be more excited to be a part of this effort … to inspire and elevate women and girls around the country.”