Registration for Saturday’s Race for the Cure is running slightly ahead of last year, suggesting Charlotte’s Susan G. Komen for the Cure affiliate is not among the many Komen chapters suffering a backlash over short-lived plans to cut grants to Planned Parenthood.
In fact, Charlotte is expecting a record 18,000 participants, with a recent count showing registrations running a slim .2 percent ahead of the pace being set at this time last year.
That stands in sharp contrast to Seattle, Fort Worth, TX., Detroit, Winston-Salem and Raleigh – cities that have reported dips of 10 to 40 percent.
Komen officials in other cities have blamed the economy in part, but the timing follows a firestorm of protests sparked by a February decision to curtail future grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings. The decision was reversed within a few days, but criticism has lingered.
Charlotte could be among the organization’s bright spots this year. The local affiliate has broken records for race participation the past four years, and last year gave out $1.4 million in grants, the largest amount awarded in the affiliate’s 15-year history.
Rachel McGrath of Charlotte’s Komen affiliate said the group is well aware of drops in race participation elsewhere.
“The way the numbers look, it’s not happening here. At worst, it’s flat. At best, it’s up,” she said, noting about 800 people a day register online during the final week.
Why is Charlotte so far immune to the backlash? “I wish we knew, so we could bottle it and spread it out. I hope it’s because we were very clear with our mission and message. This is not a political issue for us. We’re not red or blue. We’re pink.”
However, critics accused the national office of playing politics when it cut future grants to Planned Parenthood. That decision was based in part on a new grant criteria that declined to support agencies under investigation, as Planned Parenthood was at the time.
Planned Parenthood responded by claiming Komen gave in to pressure from anti-abortion activists. Komen reversed the decision after a few days of public furor.
However, a Harris poll conducted at the height of the controversy documented Komen’s fall from No. 2 to No. 56 among the nation’s 79 top charitable brands.
McGrath said Charlotte’s affiliate got calls for and against Komen’s decision to reverse its stance. She says the local affiliate used those conversations to underscore its mission, which gives 75 percent of net proceeds to help uninsured and under-insured people with mammograms, diagnostic screenings, treatment assistance, and breast health education. The other 25 percent of proceeds goes for breast cancer related research.It’s a message that fell on sympathetic ears with first time participants like Bonnie Wallace, 46, of Indian Land. She’s one of about 1,150 breast cancer survivors who’ll be in the race Saturday, including 10 male survivors.
The wife and mother of five said she has had four surgeries since being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2011.
“It will be very emotional because I’ll be among all these other women and families that have struggled through this,” said Wallace. “I’m going to be looking in the face of a lot of suffering. A lot will be there in memory of people they’ve lost to this.”
Charlotte businessman Park Williams is a 10-year veteran of the race and he said he appreciated how the local affiliate took a proactive approach to the controversy. He’ll be racing again on Saturday.
“I saw a lot of communications from them and it touched me and helped me remain committed to the cause,” said Williams, who has two aunts who are breast cancer survivors. “They reminded us that this is about local people saving local lives – our neighbors, coworkers and family – and I like the feel to that.”