The groundbreaking ceremony for the long-awaited Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation Headquarters was held on Thursday in Ruleville. The Ruleville Community House was the host venue for the celebration due to inclement weather and a saturated and soggy construction site.
It was well attended by a host of dignitaries, including officials from the University of Southern Mississippi, the Mississippi Network for Cancer Prevention & Control, local and state elected officials as well as friends and contributors of the FLHCF.
Founder and President Freddie White-Johnson provided an overview of the foundation and headquarters project from their conception. She talked about the struggle, heartaches, and disappointments encountered along the way. And White-Johnson mentioned how her father, on his deathbed, assigned her the responsibility of helping those who don’t have.
She said the change that the foundation is trying to bring about is not just on her and the organization, but it should be a communal effort. “If the problem is in the community, the solution is in your community. It is up to us, everybody in this room to stand up and make a difference, and we’ve got to work together as a whole,” she said.
White-Johnson called for more volunteers and supporters to step up and help and stated that over the life of the organization they have trained over 1,000 volunteers and raised more than $1 million that has gone to helping more than 5,000 women and 400 men by providing testing and other needs.
She also thanked the long list of current supporters who contribute their time and resources including the more than 2,000 state drivers who have purchased the foundation’s license plate and the thousands of other donors throughout the country.
In addition to White-Johnson and others who addressed the crowd, Tommy Avant, the engineer for the project, explained that the facility will be developed in three stages and Thursday’s groundbreaking was just for phase one.
At an estimated construction cost of $2.4 million, the structure will encompass 10,000 square feet and sit on 5.5 acres at the intersection of Floyce Street and MS Highway 8. Avant said that constructing the building in phases would allow them to maximize the use of local contractor participation.
When complete, the center will provide community cancer awareness and outreach programs, training, an electronic cancer resource library, meeting and planning space, case and care management services, teaching and education sessions, family and individual counseling as well as a survivorship and cancer support network and patient navigation by trained community health advisors.
The committee will be soliciting bids for rough grading, drainage and utilities work beginning this month. “We want to make sure that we can advertise this project in November and the committee can award the project to a contractor so when the weather permits we can start construction,” Avant said.
The foundation, established in 2005, is the brainchild of White-Johnson, who after experiencing a personal cancer-related death and upon discovering that the late civil rights leader, for whom the foundation is named, died from untreated breast cancer, sought to make a difference in the fight to eradicate the dreaded disease.
Thursday’s ceremony was also dedicated in memory of three of the foundation’s board members, former Board Chairman Dr. Alfio Rausa and former Sunflower County Board of Supervisors members Edgar Donahoe and Attorney Carver Randle, all of whom passed away in 2018.
Fundraising for the headquarters project was initiated in 2015.