Culture

Philadelphia Couple Opens Only Black-Owned Cancer Center in the United States

Philadelphia Couple Opens Only Black-Owned Cancer Center in the United States

If it doesn’t exist, create it. That’s the attitude Al and Marjani Harris took when they created the only Black-owned cancer support center currently in the United States. The two have been supporting cancer patients and their families for the past seven years, but saw a need to establish a place where individuals could receive support outside of the typical treatment centers.

The couple spoke exclusively to Because of Them We Can to share their journey.

“Cancer really hit us hard and we were looking for extra support and couldn’t find it, so we decided to create our own,” Al said. “We noticed that there was no center where people with cancer could go to decompress, and let their emotions out, but also be treated with a sense of normalcy. All of our programs are free because we want to support the person and their family without them having to worry about paying for anything.” 

In 2009, the Harrises had three relatives battling cancer at the same time. Al’s older cousin was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, his younger cousin had brain cancer, and Marjani’s step-father fought and would eventually pass away from colon cancer later that year. 

Ten years later they opened The Cancer Who Cares Center in February 2019. The center’s primary goal is to bring all people affected by cancer together to create a reliable network of support and resources. 

 

The nonprofit provides emotional, financial and mental support for cancer patients before, during and after treatment. Some of their enrichment activities include yoga nights, spa days and ring the bell celebrations. They also extend the support beyond the walls of the center by attending appointments with their members.

 

 

“We don't just sit around and feel bad all day,” Al said. “Actually, 90% of the time that we are at a chemo appointment or at the center, we barely even talk about cancer. We believe in living your life and not letting cancer stop anything that you want to do.” 

In researching Care Centers, Al discovered that most were owned my hospitals or organizations, however none were Black-owned.

“It’s a dream to be the first of any kind to do anything but to be the first from our culture is amazing just because of the people that came before us and the things that they created,” Al said. “We feel proud that we can show our children and the rest of our culture that you can always be the first at something even when you feel like you are in last place.”

When the couple isn’t at the center they’re tending to their three small children, Amari, age 7, Braylen, age 2, and Tamara, 8 months. 

 

The center is located at 3400 Richmond Street, in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood. To find out more about the center or how you can support their efforts, follow them on Instagram @Cancer_Who and on Facebook at TeamOverTime and CANCER Who?