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V Week

Migos’ Offset honors late grandmother who died of cancer

The rap star says early detection is key to saving lives

Tuesday marked the start of ESPN’s 2017 V Week. During the fundraiser for cancer research, The Undefeated will tell stories about early detection, clinical trials and research in minority communities. ESPN hopes to raise funds and awareness about the important cause championed by our friend, coach Jim Valvano. One hundred percent of all cash donations go directly to cancer research.Donate here today.


ATLANTA — The Main Event entertainment complex in Atlanta Georgia was prepped and ready for attendees who began trickling in for an event in September.

Large projector screens above the building’s 24 bowling lanes flashed photos of award-winning rap group Migos, quotes from the event’s leader and group member Offset, and a welcome message to guests from the American Cancer Society (ACS). Just moments earlier, Offset and ACS announced they are bringing attention to cancer prevention, awareness and access to care in underserved communities.

Offset is encouraging others to keep their health in check.

According to the ACS’s “Cancer Facts & Figures for African-Americans,” nearly 190,000 new cancer cases were expected to be diagnosed among blacks last year. African-Americans have the highest death and shortest survival rates of any other group in the United States for most cancers. Additionally, black people are also more susceptible to other diseases at a higher rate. In 2012, the death rate for all cancers was 24 percent higher in black men and 14 percent higher in black women than their white counterparts.

“I know sometimes you might be scared … but you gotta get over that,” Offset said. “It’s the best for you. I can’t make anyone do it, but I feel like it’s the best thing to do to check yourself and make sure everything is good.”

During the event colorful bowling lanes were occupied by artists, athletes and excited fans who were united by a cause greater than themselves. Of the attendees in the building, nearly all were affected or knew someone affected by the disease that claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans last year.

Fans huddled around a lane to the far left and watched as Atlanta Falcons wide receivers Julio Jones and Justin Hardy engaged in a friendly game of bowling. A little further down in lane 10, Atlanta Hawks teammates John Collins, Tyler Dorsey and Quinn Cook were occupied with their own friendly battle. Earlier in the day, producer Metro Boomin’ briefly dropped by to show his support. Offset completed a line of interviews with the media before joining his fans to shake hands, give hugs, pose for pictures and bowl with his supporters.

“It’s a blessing to have people support you doing positive things in 2017,” said Offset, 25. “With the help of the American Cancer Society, my fans, people who have lost someone to this or relates to this, I feel like it’s way over 500 million people who should be able to help. This is a cause that helps the world. It ain’t about you all the time.”

Offset’s motivation to start this campaign came from his grandmother, Sallie Ann Smith, who died of bladder cancer five years ago. Smith, whom Offset affectionately called Grandma Ann, had a close relationship with her grandson. Offset spent extensive amounts of time with his grandmother during the summers and relied on her maternal guidance to help him through life.

“She watched me when my mama couldn’t be there,” Offset said. “She was my daddy. She was the go-to person. If I was in trouble with my mama, I’d go to my grandma, and she always got my back if I’m wrong or right.”

Most importantly, Smith was a champion of Offset’s dreams to become a rap star long before the successful launch of his career. When he was feeling discouraged, Smith reminded her grandson that he was capable of achieving anything and encouraged him to chase his dreams and focus on his career to the best of his ability. Smith died before seeing her grandson’s career come to fruition, but Offset believes the start of this campaign to honor his late grandmother is something else she’d be proud of.

“I did it. I got it,” Offset said. “She wasn’t there to join me when I got it, so it was always like a hole in my stomach. I wanted to do something. I know she’s happy with this … she always talked about how this disease was killing people, how it affected a lot of people. I know she’s happy that I’m doing something to help the cause, and it’s from the heart.”

Offset was ready to turn his words into actions. With the help of his mother, Latabia Woodward, who has been an ACS volunteer for 11 years, and Sharon Byers, ACS’s chief development and marketing officer, the group examined its options in search of the best approach for the fundraiser. Prevention and awareness topped the list. Although the ACS has initiatives in place to help underserved communities gain access to medical help, residents of these communities who cannot afford proper treatment are still disproportionately affected by cancer.

Taking all of this into consideration, Offset, Woodward and the ACS worked together to develop a solid campaign that would be most beneficial to those in need. Within four weeks, Byers said, the campaign was put together and ready for launch.

“As soon as we talked, we knew the relationship was going to work out great,” Byers said. “We worked with the family, we worked with Offset on understanding the options within the American Cancer Society, whether it be research or prevention. He wondered how he could impact people.”

‘Check yourself and make sure everything is good’

Attendee Eva Rodriguez, 20, knows all too well the effects that cancer can have on not only the patient but on the family as well. In 2008, Rodriguez’s mother was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare but treatable type of cancer that affects bone marrow and blood-forming cells. When Rodriguez was a sixth-grader, her knowledge about her mother’s cancer was limited, but she was there to witness her mother’s battle against the disease. After Rodriguez’s mother went through three years of treatment and chemotherapy, Rodriguez’s parents moved to Texas to seek further help as she and her siblings remained in Georgia with relatives. In Texas, a bone marrow transplant was completed, but it failed.

“The doctors said there were only 15 people in the world that matched her,” Rodriguez said. “[My parents] came back after the three months of living there and for four years, they were just trying to find a donor. [Doctors] were saying we didn’t have much time left.”

Rodriguez feared the worst, but she and her family never gave up hope. Last October, the family received a break when they learned that another donor was available. Although the match wasn’t perfect, it was a risk they were willing to take. Two months later, her mother received a second transplant. In January, after eight long years, Rodriguez’s mother was pronounced cancer-free. Although new complications have formed since the transplant, Rodriguez and her family are still grateful for the help of ACS during her mother’s battle.

“It’s hard, but this is why we do what we do for the American Cancer Society,” Rodriguez said. This is why [fundraising] is so important. The treatments and clinical trials that my mom has come across and the bone marrow transplant, all the research wouldn’t have happened without the American Cancer Society. Most of this stuff has helped my mom through her journey, and that’s why I’m so heavily involved. That’s why I appreciate the people who donate because they don’t understand the lives they’re impacting every day.”

 

‘Do it for the culture’

After nearly four hours of bowling fun and donation collections, attendees grabbed last-minute pictures with the athletes and artists as the event came to a close. Although this was only the beginning of the fundraiser, the best part is that the $500,000 goal of the campaign will continue, even after it has been reached.

“We’re gonna keep going,” Byers said. “We’ve got lives to save, and [Offset] knows that. He’s very passionate about it and really wants to raise as much as he can, so we’re excited and we could not be more honored to have him. We can call Offset one of our researchers out there trying to get prevention out.”

Offset hopes the use of his platform will help show his fans, particularly the younger generation, that they can also make a difference.

“My platform helps because I’m a big face to the young people,” Offset said. “It’s not a lot of young people that’s trying to help the American Cancer Society right now, that I know of, in rap music [who are influencers]. A lot of kids can relate to me because I haven’t had a perfect life. … With $500,000, you can make a difference in lives and you can have a real impact. It’s a realistic number.

“Do it for the culture. I want the young folks to do it. Instead of those new Jordans, try to help somebody to stay alive.”

More funding means more research. More research means more lives saved. Join our campaign to raise $200 million by 2020. You can contribute by visiting this link: www.jimmyv.org/stuartscott.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.