Walker’s Legacy Profiles recognize unique women of color in business who embody the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire. In this installment, meet Karen Jackson.
Karen Jackson had no money, no experience, and no idea of where to start when she came up with the idea to start Sisters Network Inc., a national African American breast cancer survivorship organization. But what she did have was a desire to help women like her become educated with as much knowledge as possible to fight against the most commonly diagnosed cancer among African American women. Now, 22 years later, Sisters Network Inc. has 3,000 members and 40 affiliate chapters in 22 cities across the country, but if you ask Jackson, that’s not nearly enough.
“I want to have a chapter in every major city because I know what we do as a national organization is impactful,” she said. “There is value in being able to touch and spend time with survivors who’ve been through the journey and can provide basic takeaway information.”
Sisters Network is a vehicle thousands of women use to share and receive valuable information about breast health generally, and breast cancer specifically. Getting women to change their mindset about treatment, detection, and prevention was an issue Jackson discovered early on. She takes a tough love approach by delivering frank, direct, and honest messages to women about putting their health first.
“When I started Sisters Network, women would call and say they didn’t want to lose their hair, but they were forgetting if you’re dead, it doesn’t matter whether your hair is long or short. We don’t want to lose our breast because we think we’ll lose our man. Well, if your man leaves you because your breast has been removed, you didn’t have a good situation in the first place,” Jackson said.
The same disparities and racial challenges that go on in our communities also affect us in our health. Institutional racism still exists, and we have to be able to speak out when we’re faced with it.Karen Jackson
A two-time breast cancer survivor herself, Jackson and members of the organization work tirelessly to provide educational outreach, support for survivors and their families, financial assistance, and hope for the future. Their work has been paying off.
“We have absolutely seen a transformation of our community and how they see us as an organization. We’re well-respected and well-received, and our survivors and advocates are dedicated women. Without them, there would be no Sisters Network,” said Jackson.
The popularity of social media has helped with keeping the organization in the public eye, but Jackson believes it is important to stay connected to social issues as well. Sisters Network has started using the #BreastHealthMatters hashtag as a way of connecting with current social issues and to bring awareness to the healthcare disparities African Americans face every day.
“We have to stay relevant to what’s going on. The same disparities and racial challenges that go on in our communities also affect us in our health. Institutional racism still exists, and we have to be able to speak out when we’re faced with it. Women in our community must know that if we don’t put our own health first in our lives, we’re putting ourselves in a dangerous position because the system isn’t set for us to make it,” Jackson said.
Staying relevant also means reaching women at a younger age to educate them about breast health in order to remove the fear of breast cancer and promote healthy lifestyle choices. Teens for Pink is an initiative for girls ages 12 to 16. The goal is to get them comfortable with paying attention to their own health at a young age and to be able to discuss similar issues with their peers and parents.
Sisters Network is also hosting its 15th annual national conference in Detroit, MI on October 21st where speakers will address a variety of topics related to breast cancer awareness, prevention, research, and support.
As for Jackson, she hopes to continue expanding the reach of Sisters Network Inc. so that African American women have a fighting chance of survival.
For more information about Sisters Network Inc., visit sistersnetworkinc.org.
BREAST CANCER WARNING SIGNS
- Lump, hard knot, or thickening in the breast
- Swelling, redness, or increased warmth in the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Itchy, sore, or scaling area on the nipple/areola
- Nipple discharge (particularly if bloody) that starts suddenly
- Pulling in of the nipple (inverted nipple) or nipple change direction (retracted nipple)
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin on the breast
- Unusual pain in an area of the breast
Source: Sisters Network Inc.