Thursday, March 6, 2003

'Profiles in Courage' to salute 4 as models for dealing with adversity

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer





In his Handbook for the Soul, Bernie Siegel writes, "If you watch how nature deals with adversity, continually renewing itself, you can't help but learn."

The same could be said for four Greater Cincinnatians who will be saluted today during an awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m. at WCPO-TV (Channel 9) studios, downtown.

Robert L. Harris, Gloria Byrd, Constance Hudson and Rea Waldon will be honored as part of "Profiles in Courage," a program that recognizes African-Americans who have inspired by overcoming adversity.

The 2-year-old program is a partnership among the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, Fifth Third Bank and Channel 9.

"We are talking about real courage here," said Sheila Adams, Urban League president and CEO. "... All of these individuals have taken their roadblocks and turned them into stepping stones."

Cancer and courage

A stunned Constance Hudson sat in the doctor's office and wondered what would become of her husband, two children and mother. She wondered what would become of her.

What her longtime family physician initially thought was a thyroid tumor had turned out to be something much worse.

"I had Stage Two breast cancer," Hudson said of her 1999 diagnosis.

Hudson's 18-year career in banking had been fast-tracked. The Covington native and West Chester resident was an assistant vice president and community development manager with Huntington Bank.

She had been married just two months and her daughter, Nakia, was enjoying her senior year in high school.

Hudson, who considers herself a "spiritual person," had an epiphany.

Her battle was not just a physical one, but spiritual as well.

"I looked at it as though Satan was a liar, and I decided right then and there that I was going to win this battle with cancer," she said.

Hudson decided to become an advocate for women, particularly African-Americans, diagnosed with breast cancer. She joined the Greater Cincinnati Breast Cancer Alliance and began lobbying Capitol Hill.

She started working with the Greater Cincinnati YWCA to promote breast cancer awareness in public, predominantly black schools.

"The last four years have been the best years of my life," said Hudson, who is 43.

Living with heart disease

Heart disease is as much a part of Rea Waldon's daily life as her 24-year-old son, her husband or job.

Diagnosed at age 17, Waldon, now 46, said much of who she is centers on her heart condition.

"It's all I know," Waldon said. "I don't know what it would be like not to have it."

The Bond Hill woman has overcome multiple open-heart surgeries - the first when she was 19 and the latest just three years ago.

Waldon serves on a number of boards and committees, including Planned Parenthood, Cornerstone Community Loan Fund, Leadership Cincinnati steering committee and the Hamilton County Development Corp.

"You get out of life what you are giving. If you don't give anything, you don't get anything,'' she said.

Waldon prefers to "live life to the fullest every day because there are a lot of people with heart disease who aren't alive anymore."

Where ill are welcome

Gloria Byrd , a law enforcement professional, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2000. After surgery, she underwent a fatiguing process of radiation and chemotherapy that caused hair loss and other physical effects.

"When I was going through my illness, it was like I was a leper or something," she told the Enquirer in an interview last year. "It hurt my soul. I would go to beauty salons, and they were cold to me."

As Byrd struggled to maintain a positive self-image and manage her treatment, she had a vision to establish a full-service salon and spa with a welcoming, tranquil atmosphere where everyone would feel comfortable.

Byrd opened Emerge Salon & Spa in Kenwood last spring. It has become the passion that enables Byrd to fight for a full recovery.

Each spa room at Emerge has a name that is meaningful to Byrd. The most significant, perhaps, are Vision, Focus and Clarity.

"Those qualities were so important to me on my journey."

A champion for disabled

Robert Lee Harris contracted meningitis when he was 8 months old. His parents were told their son would probably be deaf, blind, mentally retarded and paralyzed. Doctors said he likely wouldn't live to see his first birthday.

Harris didn't die, but the crippling disease would rob him of the use of his legs and left hand.

The East Walnut Hills resident said the meningitis that could have ended his life instead energized it. Harris has become an accomplished visual artist and an advocate for the rights of the disabled.

Harris works as a program specialist for the National Conference for Community and Justice, a job he has held for five years.

He serves as a board member of the Americans with Disabilities Act Ohio and is vice chairman of the Artists with Disabilities Network of Ohio. He said an excerpt from the play The Elephant Man sums up his approach to life and how he treats others.

"It really hit home with me when (John) Merrick said, `I, too, am a human being,'" Harris said.

"That's how I believe we should approach life. Regardless of what I look like, my size or my sexual orientation, I, too, am a human being."


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