SPOTLIGHT: Tori Freeman: Young Leadership at BCA

Tori Freeman

by Rebecca Farmer

At 30 years old, Tori Freeman is BCA’s youngest board member, but she has been involved with the organization for nearly 10 years. While a student at Mills College in Oakland, California, Tori learned about BCA from a favorite professor, Christine LaFia, who had served on the BCA board. LaFia was living with breast cancer at the time and died from the disease in 1996. During a class about cancer—with another professor—Tori had the option to do an internship as a class project, and she chose to intern at BCA. She started out doing paperwork when BCA’s staff consisted of just a few people. BCA asked her to join the development team, and she’s been involved ever since. In October 2005, she became a member of the BCA board.

Tori says that she has had “the privilege of being involved with BCA since when we were a tiny two- or three-person office” and that BCA has grown so much since that time. BCA is “always on the cutting edge and really getting information out to people,” she says, which is inspiring to her. Additionally, she says, BCA is not just a usual mainstream organization—which she finds unusual for a group that has grown so much over the past decade.

It’s appealing to Tori that, while BCA has grown, the organization hasn’t veered from its core messages. “We’re still the ‘bad girls of breast cancer,’” she says.

Tori is much younger than many of the people involved with BCA. She hasn’t had breast cancer but has known many people throughout her life who have had the disease. “Some of them are still with us,” she says, “and there are some who have not survived.” A friend close to her in age was diagnosed with breast cancer recently, and Tori appreciates that “BCA acknowledges the younger face of the disease” as well. “Age does not stop the disease,” she says.

As a longtime resident of San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood, Tori is keenly aware of how a disease like breast cancer can disproportionately affect different populations. The Bayview encompasses a federal Superfund site in a former naval shipyard and a recently closed Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) power plant. Residents of the Bayview—predominantly lower income families and people of color—have higher rates of breast cancer than people elsewhere in San Francisco. A majority of San Francisco’s African American residents live in the Bayview.

A 1995 report from the San Francisco Department of Public Health revealed that the incidence of breast cancer for African American women under 50 in the Bayview district is twice as high as the incidence for African American women elsewhere in the city. For all women in the Bayview, the breast cancer rate is higher than that for white women in the Bay Area, who have a higher than average rate of breast cancer.

According to Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ) (www.lejyouth.org), an organization based in the Bayview, over 325 toxic sites are located in this small six-square-mile community. LEJ also notes that 20 percent of the neighborhood kids have asthma, and that the number of people living with chronic illnesses is four times the California average.

While San Francisco is known for its abundance of fresh organic foods, this doesn’t extend to Bayview, which has only a small grocery store. But, as Tori notes, “We want a café. We want an organic grocery. We want local mom-and-pop–owned business here to thrive … and we’re getting there.”

Tori grew up in the Bayview and is a fourth-generation native San Franciscan. She lives where environmental justice and breast cancer activism overlap. Now a mother to a newborn daughter, Zoe, she continues a legacy of community-based activism that she inherited from her parents. And she’s proud to raise her own daughter in the Bayview. “This is my community,” she says, “and it’s important I try to make the neighborhood a better place for people who live here.”

“It’s important that people understand that, while there a lot of things we struggle with in the Bayview,” Tori says, “there are also many wonderful things going on and many wonderful activists working in the community to improve personal safety, environmental health, and access to resources.” After years of protests, community activists saw an environmental justice victory just last year when PG&E announced its decision to close the plant, which, she says, “has been spewing toxins for decades.” Tori lives just blocks from the plant. The victory was won through the hard work of many individuals and community groups, including the India Basin Neighborhood Association, of which Tori is an active member.

Being involved in her community has been part of her involvement with breast cancer and environmental justice activism. An activist by nature, Tori encourages her friends to learn about BCA and join as members, as well as to get involved in other issues close to her heart.

With friends all over the world, Tori finds that e-mail and social networking sites like MySpace are the easiest ways to stay in touch. As an e-savvy person, she also utilizes technology for activist purposes. Not only does she subscribe to BCA’s monthly e-alert (www.bcaction.org/ealert), she also forwards them to her personal e-mail list. When she found out that BCA had created a MySpace page (www.myspace.com/breastcanceraction), she sent the link to her list of friends.

Tori appreciates all the ways people want to contribute to BCA, even if they can’t do it through money. Whether by attending or volunteering at an event, taking action, or forwarding BCA’s messages to friends, there are many ways to be involved.

Rebecca Farmer is BCA’s communications officer.

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