Sunday, November 19, 2017
Health

Celebrity Paul Anthony looks to boost Moffitt's African-American outreach

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TAMPA — Whether performing one of his 1980s hits on stage, starring in the urban classic movie House Party or strutting the red carpet as a Grammy-winning producer, Paul Anthony — co-founder of the music group Full Force — always arrived on the scene looking fit and buff.

So it came as a shock to his family and friends, many of whom rank among today's best-known celebrities, when doctors diagnosed Anthony with mantle cell lymphoma in 2006. Anthony, however, set aside pity and sorrow for a powerful approach of mind, body and spirit.

"When I looked it up ... the first two words I read were 'fatal and incurable,'" Anthony said during a recent H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center event at the Tampa Museum of Art. "The first thing I said was, 'Wow.' Thirty seconds later, I said, 'I'm not changing anything.'

"My constitution, my focus, the same things I did in the gym — spending time training mind, body and spirit — is what I applied to the cancer."

Through the initial challenge and a 2012 recurrence, Anthony remained upbeat and positive. He took on the mission of not only defeating cancer, but inspiring others to adopt his energetic approach.

When he first revealed his cancer diagnosis in interviews, it unnerved his brother, Lou "Bowlegged Lou" George. But Anthony remain undaunted.

"I told him, 'I was built for this,'" Anthony said. "'I'm the one. Let's go.'"

Now Anthony, in remission, brings his mission to touch, change and save lives to Moffitt, Florida's only National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Specifically, he plans to use his celebrity connections to help the center create the George Edgecomb Society, a new source of community support named in memory of the former African-American judge who lost his life to cancer.

In fact, Anthony already has started. He connected with actress Vivica A. Fox and persuaded her to attend the center's Jan. 17 event at the museum. Both raved about Moffitt's impressive staff, inspiring mission and remarkable founder — former state House Speaker H. Lee Moffitt.

"They're just wonderful and they want to work hard, they want to do more," said Fox, who counts the movies Independence Day and Kill Bill and the television series Empire among her credits.

"To be able to help their cause get a little more visibility if I can, using my voice, I'm more than happy to do that."

The Edgecomb Society will seek to ensure equitable health outcomes and the elimination of cancer-health disparities among African-Americans. It's an issue that needs a concentrated focus, according to B. Lee Green, Moffitt's vice president of diversity, public relations and strategic communications.

"While there has been progress in cancer treatment, screening, diagnosis and prevention over the past decades, it has been slower for the black/African American community," Green said. "This community continues to face higher cancer rates and cancer deaths in comparison to other communities."

Anthony, who lists a cavalcade of stars among his friends — including Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Anthony Anderson and Jamie Foxx — looks to use that celebrity to raise Moffitt's profile and encourage more African-Americans to be proactive in their health care.

At a kickoff event on Thursday at Moffitt's Stabile Research Center, Anthony will perform with Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge and Alia Davis from Allure. He also will take time to deliver a message that promises to be inspired by his faith and his mission.

"I may not know what I'm going to say, I may not know what I'm gong to do. It all depends on how he moves me," Anthony said. "But you better believe it's going to be benevolent, it's going to feed purpose, it's going to have fun and it's going to touch some lives."

Nikki Ross-Inda, Moffitt community relations coordinator, met Anthony's Florida-based executive associate and established the initial connection between Anthony and the center. A red carpet welcome that eventually included the center's namesake helped cement the relationship.

"To meet and embrace H. Lee Moffitt was big to me," Anthony said. "I saw him and I said, 'Whoa,' and I meant that because you see he's a spiritual architect, a visionary."

Moffitt hopes the Edgecomb Society will inspire black professionals to mind the gate. Naming the group after Edgecomb proved an inspired choice given that his death was one of three that inspired H. Lee Moffitt's vision of a Tampa-based cancer center.

Seeking the help of black professionals also seemed to be an achievable goal.

"If we don't do it," said Woodrow Grady, president of Tampa-based Freedom Solutions and a charter member of the society, "who else is going to do it for us."

Contact Ernest Hooper at ehooper@tampabay.com. Follow him @hoop4you.

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