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Zora Brown (1949-2013)

“The time has come for more African American women to become empowered to take charge of their health,” Holdenville native Zora Brown wrote in 1997. “We can no longer be immobilized by fear.”

Carrier of a hereditary cancer gene that had claimed her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and three sisters, Brown devoted her life to finding a cure for the malady. The American Cancer Society determined that breast-related cancer runs nearly half-again as high for black women as white. Yet, “Black women are falling through the cracks,” she said.

The OSU graduate became one of the great champions for curing breast cancer in American history, and the greatest focusing on African American women. She submitted herself to many medical trials. For decades, she incessantly championed the benefits of self-examinations and mammograms, as well as weight loss and healthy eating, to churches, clinics, civic groups, and multiple national TV programs.

She “opened doors, blazed trails, and advocated for breast cancer victims,” said Oklahoma historian Anita Arnold. Diagnosed with breast cancer at age thirty-two, Brown used that difficult experience to fuel her relentless efforts to spare other black families her suffering.

In the 1980s, she served as public relations officer at the Washington, D.C.-based Broadcast Capital Fund, a nonprofit group that fostered minority media ownership. While there, she championed televised public service announcements on breast cancer geared toward inner-city women.