Black faith leaders are participating in the Speak Life campaign. (Denver Mackey/L.A. Sentinel)


With April being National Minority Health month, 30 Black church leaders throughout the greater Los Angeles area have partnered with Providence Saint John’s Hospitals to launch the Speak Life Campaign to spread awareness about the effects of colorectal cancer among the Black community.

Featured at Providence Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica from April 10-16, beautiful banners with portraits of these church leaders are displayed for visitors to experience with quotes encouraging the community to get screened.

The trigger to spread awareness of colon cancer began during the pandemic between the late and great actor, Chadwick Boseman,  and Dr. Anton Bilchik, professor of General Surgery for Cancer and chief of the Division of General Surgery at St. John’s. During the pandemic, health equity became a popular topic and when COVID screenings and vaccine clinics were hosted at local churches, Providence staff connected with the ministry leaders and learned that the rates of screening for colon cancer were significantly lower.

During Boseman’s illness, the actor’s relationship with the doctor blossomed from patient and doctor to true friends. Bilchik built this very personal relationship with Boseman’s wife and family as well.

Boseman was a pioneer in spreading the message in the Black community about colon cancer and influencing people to get screened. Throughout his treatment, he and Bilchik expressed their interest in going into the community and getting resources to educate people about the disease.

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Reflecting on the creation of this project, Dr. Bilchik said, “I was fortunate to be one of Chadwick’s doctors. He died of colon cancer at a very young age, a remarkable, kind and loving individual.

“We had many conversations about the cancer, how to prevent it, how to treat it and he was passionate about understanding why Black people especially are being diagnosed and have the worst survival rates. He wanted to make a difference in getting the message out and reduce the number of people getting diagnosed.”

Boseman’s passion to spread awareness of colon cancer helped Bilchik and the Providence team to jumpstart the project, partnering with Stand Up 2 Cancer, Harvard, and UCLA to outreach to  underserved communities.

Pastor Rhonda Holbert (Denver Mackey/L.A. Sentinel)

Denise Colome, director of Health Equity for Providence in California and a co-chair of the Health Equity Committee at St. John’s, and Patricia Aidem, director of Public Relations for Providence Health, were instrumental in putting the campaign together.

Colome mentioned, “During COVID, screening lowered and we wanted to hike community action with well-known community leaders to build trust and presence. Church leaders know their communities best.”

The best way to communicate is through partnerships and Providence created CHAT teams – Community Health Action Teams – who have connections with their people, mainly church leaders, to get the message out that colon cancer is indeed treatable, and to get screened, said Colome.

Speak Life campaign featured at Providence St. John’s Hospital (Denver Mackey/L.A. Sentinel)

From building these connections, Stand Up 2 Cancer created a grant for the uninsured minority population to distribute at-home screening kits, which will be provided at various churches and community events across Southern California.

Deacon Helena Williams, Pastor Rhonda Holbert, and Pastor Oliver E. Blue are some of the main church leaders to offer information on obtaining at home screening kits, and all Providence hospitals will provide free treatment for uninsured people.

For more information about colon cancer, screening and or if you are searching for a primary care doctor, visit Providence’s website at