By RON FANFAIR
Life changed drastically for Leila Springer when she was diagnosed with breast cancer a decade ago.
Though floored, the mother of two lifted herself off the canvas and has become an outspoken advocate for women battling the disease.
Recognizing that breast cancer is the leading cause of death among middle-aged women, she has developed a passion for helping those afflicted with the disease in Canada’s Black community cope with distress and the crises associated with cancer.
“I began to do things to make my life count after I was diagnosed,” Springer said in her keynote address at the Congress of Black Women’s (Ajax/Pickering chapter) 11th annual scholarship brunch recently. “To make my life count, I needed to find that one thing in life I absolutely loved and start doing it. As I reviewed my life, I knew there was one thing I loved doing and that was talking.”
Springer founded the Olive Branch of Hope to inspire and motivate cancer patients.
“I wanted to help people and I wanted them to have what I didn’t in 1999, which was support,” she said. “I wanted them to know cancer was not a death sentence. I wanted them to follow their dreams and keep at it and I wanted my life to be an example of hope for someone else.”
Springer, who was earlier this year appointed president of the World Breast Cancer Foundation, told the young people in the audience and this year’s scholarship winners that they should seek out volunteer opportunities that can uplift individuals and communities.
“I learned that one of the noblest things you can do is to serve others,” said Springer. “Serve, not to be seen, but because you want to. If all of our serving is for others to see, we shall be shallow people indeed. Hidden service causes others to sense a deeper love and compassion though they cannot account for the feeling. If an act is performed on their behalf, they are inspired to deeper devotion for they know that the well of service is far deeper than they can see. It sends ripples of joy and celebration through any community of people.
“Your community needs you so, after we congratulate you and you leave here today, think of the many ways you can give back. Find out if you can help the Congress of Black Women. Get involved in your community and get involved in making a difference in someone else’s life. Take a page out of the (Barack) Obama book and choose a lower paying job in your community, helping others. You never know how the learning experience of serving can help you when you become that great leader.”
This year’s scholarship winners were Mishelle Laing and Taylor Marquis.
An aspiring lawyer, Laing graduated from Pickering High School and will enter Sir Wilfrid Laurier University in the fall. She’s the Ontario Under-18 netball captain and a volunteer with the Ontario Netball Association and the Greater Toronto Netball League.
Marquis, an honour roll student for four years at All Saints Catholic Secondary School in Whitby, will pursue architectural studies at Carleton University next year.
The French Immersion student said the scholarship award was a special occasion for her.
“Being biracial, I have always felt insecure and never truly felt like I belonged to anywhere,” said Marquis. “However, I have gradually learned that I am a member of both the Black and White communities and my amazing family has pushed me to my full potential…This award means a lot because, it’s the first time I have been recognized for academic achievement by a community organization.”
Marquis, who enjoys reading, dancing and mountain-biking, plans to secure a Masters and open her own architectural firm.
In addition to awarding scholarships, the Congress of Black Women (Ajax/Pickering chapter) hosts women’s issues seminars, an annual children’s Christmas party and runs a Black Parents Resource Group to ensure that parents are aware of the issues affecting their children in the school system.
The organization’s executive comprises Marcia Dixon (chair), Gwen Pottinger (co-chair), Audrey Fagan (secretary), Meryle Williams (treasurer) and Phyllis Brown and Erselle Polimis (social co-ordinators).