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Mobile Health Unit Reaches Out To Black Women in Kansas City For Free Breast Cancer Screenings

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Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
AKA members took photos on Saturday outside the mobile unit at the Kansas City Health Department, which offered free breast cancer screenings and mammograms.

With a goal of 100,000 breast cancer screenings by 2022, the AKA Sorority's Mammography Mobile Unit stopped in Kansas City on Friday and Saturday.

Decked out in signature pink and green and pearls, members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority on Saturday morning staffed tables in the parking lot of the Kansas City Health Department — greeting visitors there for free 3D mammograms and breast cancer screenings in the Mammography Mobile Unit.

“My sister, she volunteered me,” said Linda Swayne with a laugh, as she sat under a tent in the rain waiting for her turn. “I’m 60 plus. It’s been too long.”

Her sister, Rhonda Harris, a member of AKA, a service-oriented Black sorority, said the goal is “at least 100,000 women (by 2022) screened for breast cancer, and especially in the African-American community. Because so many times we just ignore what we really need to do until it’s too late.”

Since 2019, AKA’s mobile health unit — like a tour bus adorned with a large pink breast cancer ribbon and Alpha Kappa Alpha in green letters — has traveled across the United States. This weekend marked its first stops in the Kansas City metro area, on Friday at The New Bethel Church in Kansas City, Kansas, and Saturday in Kansas City, Missouri.

“In Alpha Kappa Alpha, we are very into women’s health and wellness,” said Tanesha Thompson, the Midwestern region representative for AKA’s service projects. “And we know that early detection, education and awareness are key for having a better outcome.”

Thompson added, “We know that people that are underrepresented, uninsured or underinsured don’t always get that opportunity. So that’s why our mobile unit is so important.”

Third District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, AKA Midwestern regional director Twyla Woods Buford, and Fifth District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw on Saturday visited the mobile unit.

Kansas City council members dropped by — including AKA members Melissa Robinson, who represents the third district, and Ryana Parks-Shaw, who represents the fifth district.

“I have a personal experience where my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and is now a six-year survivor,” said Parks-Shaw. “So we know that early detection saves lives.”

Robinson said the coronavirus pandemic brought health disparities for people of color into the spotlight, including the impact of a lack of insurance and lack of follow-up care.

“African-American women are two and a half times more likely to have breast cancer in comparison to other women,” said Robinson. “And so when we look at the cultural components, just making sure that we’re meeting people where they are.”

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Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Despite the rainy weather, visitors on Saturday stopped by AKA's mobile unit for scheduled appointments and walk-ups for screenings and mammograms.

The mobile unit was open to individuals 40 or above, who had not yet had a mammogram this year and had no health insurance. Other cancer screenings, as well as COVID-19 testing and vaccines, were also available.

“So many in our community don't have access to adequate healthcare,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who wore a pink tie in a nod to the AKA’s colors, “particularly in a number of our zip codes in Kansas City that have the lowest life expectancy.”

Direct outreach, said Lucas, was critical — as well “as making sure that you're kind of loud, out in front, got the pink and green bus going to make sure that people know that this is an opportunity for them.”

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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