By Lopa Pal, Development Manager
When you talk to Ken Russo, you can hear the passion in his voice. In his professional life he’s worn many hats – from record company executive to gourmet grocery store proprietor. But it was after retiring that he found his true calling: working for social justice. And Breast Cancer Action is so grateful to be one of the organizations through which he realizes that passion.
Last summer Ken and his partners Michael MacIntyre and Gary Pasnik teamed up with former Breast Cancer Action board member Ngina Lythcott and her partner Byllye Avery to throw a fundraising house party for Breast Cancer Action. The event, which was held at Ken, Michael, and Gary’s home in Provincetown, MA. epitomizes what Breast Cancer Action is all about: people coming together to do something besides worry.
Ken himself has taken his struggles and turned them into action. There was a time when he didn’t know how long he would even be around: he tested positive for HIV in 1985. At the time, the doctors gave him just three to six months to live. It’s closing in on 35 years since his diagnosis and he isn’t shy about who he credits with helping him live so long: he learned about Act Up in 1985, a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis. Act Up saved his life. However, looking back, he feels it was the deep impact that women had on all the men around him who were dying from HIV/AIDS that pushed him to use his own privilege as a white man to be an ally for women. “I think for me it was having dealt with HIV and having seen so many men in this town being sick and asking, ‘Who was caring for them?’ It was the women of this town.” That realization and talking to Ngina and Byllye about the lack of health justice for women, particularly women of color, living with and dying of breast cancer, made Ken examine his own privilege as a white male and compelled him to take action.
So when Ngina and Byllye asked Ken to host a fundraiser for the organization he immediately said yes. He admits to being nervous about hosting a successful event in his home but his community filled the house. They learned what’s really going on with the breast cancer epidemic and what they can do to bring about meaningful change. And together, through a “friendly fundraising competition,” they raised over $4,300 for Breast Cancer Action’s work to achieve health justice for women at risk of and living with breast cancer. Ultimately, says Ken, “It’s not necessarily about the cause, it’s about the people who ask. And if someone you love asks, the cause they are looking to raise money for is meaningful.” It also helps if the cause is something which affects so many people. As Ken puts it, “Don’t we all know women with breast cancer?”
The hard truth is that we all do know someone that has been affected by breast cancer. And we are so grateful that people like Ken, Michael, and Gary are willing to ask the people who love and respect them to support Breast Cancer Action. Thank you.