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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.”

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.