Held at the Los Angeles home of real estate agent and TV personality Josh Flagg, the Bel-Air backyard garden full of doctors and music executives gathered together for City of Hope’s Closing the Care Gap fireside chat where attention was focused on the lack of access within the Black community to quality health care, preventive mobile screening, early disease detection, and personalized or precision medicine.
But the loss of Clarence Avant hung heavy on several attendees as they recognized his work to uplift the Black community. Alex Avant wasn’t in attendance at the start of the small gathering, Evan Lamberg opened the evening by acknowledging the tremendous loss the world felt in Clarence’s death, calling him an “incredible force of nature” whose contributions toward progress in the Black community are considered to be incomparable. He led the night with a 15-second moment of silence.
Avant, known to the world as “The Black Godfather,” died on Aug. 13 in his Los Angeles home. He was 92 years old.
Among the list of attendees were Kevin Liles (CEO at 300 Entertainment), Jody Gerson (CEO at Universal Music Publishing Group), past Spirit of Life honoree Rob Light (head of music at CAA), Debra Lee (former CEO at BET), Danielle Price Sanders (executive vice president at Republic Records), Willie “Prophet” Stiggers (CEO of 50/50 Music Group Management), and American songwriter Justin Tranter.
Later after introduction remarks were given by Sylvia Rhone (chairperson of Epic Records and City of Hope’s 2019 Spirit of Life honoree) and Lyor Cohen (City of Hope’s 2023 Spirit of Life honoree and global head of music at YouTube/Google), guests were entertained by a thought-provoking conversation led by Dr. John D. Carpten, the new director of City of Hope’s National Cancer Institute, and Culture Collective CEO and former City of Hope patient Johnathan Azu on the need for early cancer detection services in underserved communities like that of minority people living in inner cities across the U.S. The discussion was moderated by Billboard’s Gail Mitchell.
“We can’t solve this problem alone and that’s why I’m so excited about the opportunity to work with MFEI [music, film, entertainment industry], because they have such a powerful voice in our community,” Carpten said. “We need to work together to most effectively channel that voice so that we’re getting the message out about early detection. Communication. I think Lyor mentioned, the hood, but I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, right? Poverty stricken, poor African Americans in the middle of the cotton field —the problem persists there as well. I believe that we have an incredible opportunity through this voice to help educate about early detection, about where they can find access, how they can find access, how they can work with legislators and politicians to help set policies appropriately so that we aren’t in a situation like we are now.”
On the topic of how much progress has taken place in the last few years to address the issue, Azu answered: “Last year at this event, we spent some time talking about the work that was being done in black churches in inner cities to gather data. And there’s two sides to that — one side of it is you want you want people to be screened. Because if they’re not screened, you won’t know if they’re sick, and you can’t fight cancer, if you don’t know that you have it. On the other side of it, we need the data. If we don’t have the data, doctors can’t do the research that’s needed to help prevent cancer from happening and come up with the cures to help stop cancer. So part of that is just the outreach that City of Hope is doing in the inner city communities.”
Earlier in the evening, Cohen made note of City of Hope’s initiative to send mobile units into cities with hopes to offer early detection screenings and more education surrounding cancer treatment options.
“Education is the ability to be able to understand that you need to get screened, and what it means to be screened, and what to do if you get sick. Access is the ability to physically be able to get that screening and in the inner city, we now know that there’s tons of access issues — so many, that we can’t unpack on this stage. But going into those communities with those mobile VR units helps to get us over that barrier,” Azu further explained.
Cohen will be honored this year at City of Hope’s Spirit of Life Celebration on Oct. 18.