Such a pity the Susan G. Komen Foundation couldn't trademark the color pink or a pink ribbon logo and only managed to nab a copyright on “for the cure,” and that took a clever dba rebranding from “foundation” to “Race for the Cure.” Not that the absence of a trade-mark for pink and pink ribbons stopped the operation from acting as if they owned both and with its one asset, “race for the cure,” (so different from the March of Dimes' WalkAmerica est. 1970 or the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life becoming the largest, in terms of annual revenues, of all breast cancer charities.
Allow me to repeat those three points:
The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure did NOT invent the color pink or initiate its use as a symbol for females.
The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure did NOT create the pink ribbon logo for breast cancer awareness and does NOT own it.
The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure did not invent using races for medical charity fundraising.
Raising money to address a social or medical ill is a long-standing US tradition. More often than not, such causes begin at the local or grassroots level. It's practically a requirement among socialites to have a “cause.” To do “good.” Sometimes to seek economies of scale with like-minded activists. That's how United Way came into being over many decades. A hundred years ago, nobody sat down and said, “Let's build a worldwide charity with a gazillion local chapters to raise money and upstream some of the money to do some important things.” It just sort of evolved that way. And as with all charitable organizations there are pluses and minuses to going big instead of remaining small, local, and focused on a primary mission.
More often the charitable foundations established by wealthy socialites remain small and insular. A bit of fundraising amongst family and friends. An annual fundraising dinner or party amongst friends and other wealthy associates and local dignitaries. The handing out of financial grants and awards. Honors bestowed on those within their crowd for contributions to the effort.
One such Dallas, Texas foundation, established in 1980, is Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer (WOKC) It remains small and local. Oh, and it was established by Cindy Brinker Simmons. The stepdaughter of Nancy Brinker and daughter of Maureen Connolly who died from ovarian cancer in 1969 at the age of thirty-four and who before her death with her husband, Norman Brinker, established the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation.
"Mom has said many times she started the foundation with $200 and a box of names," Eric Brinker said. "Well, most of those names were my dad's associates and colleagues, people she knew she could call and get help with either money or influence or both. The foundation was important to my father, too, which was why he was still on the board of directors."
Did Nancy Brinker create the Susan G. Komen Foundation or was it vice versa? Raising her profile amongst the Dallas Republican social set. As Nancy Brinker tells it:
At the time of my sister's illness and death , I was living in Dallas and was married to Norman Brinker. Norman was — and is — a successful businessman, and he helped me gain access to people with wealth. I started with a couple hundred dollars of my own money, cleared out one of our guestrooms, rallied friends to help, and scrambled to find resources. It was a slow process — remember, this was long before e-mail was common. In the beginning, the bulk of our money was raised through individuals, ticket sales, and events, including a luncheon in Dallas in 1983 that was attended by former First Lady Betty Ford, who had made news in 1974 by discussing her radical mastectomy. The proceeds from those early fundraisers gave us a small cushion and enabled us to keep our activities going, but I quickly realized we had to create a large network with satellite groups in key cities if we wanted to accomplish our goals.
Was that Ms. Brinker's realization? Or Mr. Brinker's who after all had built his fortune in the chain restaurant industry. Or did she get it from one of those elite foundation people? Regardless, she quickly moved up in social and political status. Ronald Reagan appointed her to the National Cancer Advisory Board in 1986. In 1990, GHWB appointed her to chair the President's Cancer Panel. Dan Quayle put her on a breast cancer subcommittee.
How did Ms. Brinker implement that vision of building a mega-network of satellite operations? Create or appropriate? In one important instance, it looks like the latter.
Benita Blau Feurey was a television journalist in NYC who contracted breast cancer in the mid-1980s. After undergoing a mastectomy, she established The Amazonian Fund for breast cancer research/treatment. She died in 1989 and her friends organized a run/walk in honor of Ms. Feurey to benefit breast cancer patients and research. One of those friends and a leader in the effort was Lynn Abraham. As reported by the , its first race was held in 1991 and subsequently became the NYC affiliate of Susan G. Komen. (That would be the race where the organizers distributed pink ribbons to the participants, the first known instance of a pink ribbon associated with breast cancer. Will return to this later.) Ms. Abraham later served for many years as a volunteer on the NYC Komen Board and was a public advocate for breast cancer research. She was a public relations professional and her resume included:
She was Carol Bellamy's press secretary when Ms. Bellamy was City Council president; a communications officer at Planned Parenthood of America; and the press secretary during Bella Abzug's campaign for the United States Senate.
It is tempting to postulate that the Komen foundation was apolitical back in 1991. And, therefore, was a natural fit for the NYC friends of Benita Feurey to link up with. That might even have been true. But the backlash against women and their right to privacy was flowing fully by then, and therefore, trust without verification of the senior people including Brinker wasn't prudent. Once she became associated with the GWB administration it wasn't wise not to reconsider the alliance with her foundation. Today, it would be foolhardy for other than anti-choice groups to have anything to do with Komen.
Now, about that pink ribbon logo. Most sources credit Alexandra Penney and Evelyn Lauder with its creation. Penney put it in the April 1992 issue of Self magazine and Lauder began using it on products that year. Avon quickly followed their lead. It's a public domain logo for breast cancer awareness. Just as the red ribbon is a public domain logo for AIDS awareness. Many breast cancer charitable organizations that aren't associated with Komen use it. So, let's not throw the pink ribbon out with the bathwater.