Family and friends walk to help cure cancer

caines | 4/25/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Relay for Life aims for $55,000 goal It was nearly pitch-black last Friday night at the Relay for Life of Miami Gardens and Opa-Locka, which took place on the track field at Betty T. Ferguson. The only lights that shined were from hundreds of glowing white paper bags that were placed around the field. Each bag had a name on it and a story inside of it. The bags were purchased in memory and in honor of people who had died from cancer or who had survived cancer. The luminaria ceremony had just begun and all of the relay participants walked around the track in silence reflecting on those who had been impacted by cancer. During the ceremony the team development chair, Alecia Johnson, an eight-year breast cancer survivor, stood by her mothers bag. Her parents both smokers died from lung cancer. She said she does the same thing every year, she either stands by her bag or one of her parents bags and takes a picture. As the lights came back on, so did the music. That was the quitest moment of the night. The same event that had silently recognized those who had passed, energetically celebrated those who have prevailed over cancer. Here I am/ I survived/Im still standing, the Marvin Sapp song, blared from the speakers across the track as Johnson expressed her gratitude to be alive. Its a blessing to celebrate another birthday, she said. Im just thanking God I made another one. Johnson, was one of the hundreds of cancer survivors, caretakers, family members and friends, who had participated in the Relay For Life, where 30 teams walked around the track from 6 p.m. Friday night until 8 a.m. Saturday morning to raise funds for cancer research. Team members took turns walking around the track given that at least one member of each team needed to be on the track at a time. Johnson, who is also a teacher at North Dade Middle School was the team leader of North Dade neighbors. Several of her students and colleagues were apart of the team. Two of her students Brianna Williams, 13, and Calah Laidaer, 14, raised about $100 each and were excited about spending the night at the event. They were eager to walk during the themed laps, which included Funky Hats/ Funky hair at at 3 a.m. DJ says lap at 4 a.m. and then a freestyle lap at 5 a.m. Some of the other teams were churches, organization, fraternities, sororities and many other unions. The overall goal of the relay was to raise $55,000. We have to take care of one another because cancer is affecting our community at alarming rates, said Alandria Davis, event chair, who has been a dialysis patient for 11 years. Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Miami Gardens was one of the teams that participated in the relay. The church, who had 180 pre-registered members and a goal of $5,000, recently lost a minister to brain cancer, according to Rashika Carrington, team leader. Its very dear to our church, she said. That was a big scare. She said the ministers wife and family participated in the relay. The City of North Miami Beach was another relay team. They held the lead during the relay, by partnering with their police department and also having bake sales, raffles and other fundraisers. Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert of Miami Gardens shared how he lost two aunts to cancer. He said cancer basically touches everyone we know. A lot of [the] time we dont like to talk about it, but not talking about it wont get us a cure. . . it wont bring awareness, so were talking about it, and were here to celebrate life. Although the 2013 Relay for Life of Miami Gardens/ Opa-Lockas goal of raising $55,000 has not been met yet, the teams will not stop fundraising until August, according to Chiara C. Clayton, the American Cancer Society Staff Partner. Money can be donated at www.relayforlife.org/mgolfl or mailed to the American Cancer Society office. For resources on dealing with cancer, call 1-800-277-2345. By Malika A. Wrightmwright@miamitimesonline.com