“When something is important to you. Be passionate about it. Stay in their face.”
That was the advice Kandis Draw received from her mother over and over as she was growing up. She saw echoes of that statement reflected in the three women – Kandis’ mother and her two aunts (dear friends of her mother) – who she calls her heroes and who raised her, shaping who she has become today.
“They were all very, very strong, tenacious women,” said Kandis, a 38-year-old from Chicago. “The strength side of me is definitely my mom. And my aunts were the ‘in your face.’”
When Kandis lost her mother to ovarian cancer in 2014, she knew she had to get to work.
Kandis began by getting involved with local ovarian cancer organizations, focusing on raising awareness of symptoms and encouraging women to have more open relationships with their doctors. And then her own research led her to the OCRA website where she discovered the organization’s advocacy work. This past March, she participated in her first Advocacy Day in Washington, DC as an Advocate Leader.
“I didn’t know what to expect walking into it,” Kandis said. “I was a little nervous.”
Advocacy was a completely new experience for Kandis and she was grateful for the help of more experienced Advocate Leaders by her side. In one day’s time, she met with staffers from the offices of Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, and U.S. Representative Bobby Rush. And the more she spoke, the more confident she felt.
“Growing up in the Black community, you really don’t feel like you have a voice with your state leaders,” Kandis said. “I didn’t realize there were certain things I could go to the table with and ask for, and that my concerns would be heard. That was refreshing.”
But she understands now that as a citizen of this country, as someone who pays taxes and votes, she has a right to go to them in person and state what is important, and what she needs for them to act upon. Kandis has visions of becoming the kind of leader that “when they say, ‘Oh, Kandis is on the schedule?’ they know I’m serious.”
While Kandis may not have been active politically before now, she has never been one to sit idle. She helps to run a homeless shelter, which she describes as “very humbling.” She writes a monthly column on body positivity for an online magazine called Curvicality, keeps a gratitude journal, volunteers with an organization focusing on decreasing the rate of cervical cancer through awareness and education, and sits on the associate board of Gilda’s Club in Chicago.
If that’s not enough, Kandis is also an avid reader and podcast listener, citing Oprah’s SuperSoul Sundays and Michelle Obama’s Becoming as among her favorites. In fact, she was selected to be one of the travelers on Pat Wetzel’s CancerRoadTrip documentary, which has been put on hold due to the pandemic.
“I started reading about these women who were pioneers and women who encouraged you to have a voice … like Maya Angelou and Coretta Scott King.”
Kandis recalled the last piece of advice given by her mother before she passed: “Be good to yourself and continue to grow and learn more things about yourself every day.”
She is taking that to heart. “I’m growing into a better version of myself every day, growing into a better woman,” Kandis said. “It takes a lifetime to do that. But I don’t have a fear of talking about my truth. If I’m passionate, you will not get me to shut up about it. That’s not going to happen until I see something change.”
Kandis, all of us at OCRA applaud your passion and stand with your desire – and hard work – for change.