Empowering Women One White Dress at a Time
By Alicia Armeli
Georgia Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, The White Dress Project Founder Tanika Gray Valbrun (standing to the right of Lt. Gov. Cagle), and White Dress Project supporters gather on the steps of the Georgia Capitol in celebration of July declared as Fibroids Awareness Month in the State of Georgia.

Georgia Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, The White Dress Project Founder Tanika Gray Valbrun (standing to the right of Lt. Gov. Cagle), and White Dress Project supporters gather on the steps of the Georgia Capitol in celebration of July declared as Fibroids Awareness Month in the State of Georgia.

Tanika Gray Valbrun suffered from uterine fibroids; her mother miscarried twice due to the same condition. In 2013, Gray Valbrun decided to do something about it.

“I had an epiphany while recovering from a myomectomy,” recalls Gray Valbrun, Founder and Executive Director of The White Dress Project. “I looked in my closet and realized I didn’t have any white. It hit me at that moment. For so long I had altered my life from wearing white because of fibroids.”

If you’re a woman with uterine fibroids, you can most likely relate. White and light-colored clothing are not viable fashion options due to heavy, often unpredictable periods.

That fibroid fashion dilemma provided the motivation needed for Gray Valbrun to create The White Dress Project, a national organization that builds social awareness by raising funds for fibroid research and advocating on behalf of a widespread and often silent community of sufferers.

The organization’s slogan, “We Can Wear White,” offers strength to thousands of women who are reclaiming their lives in the face of this epidemic.

Since officially becoming a non-profit in June 2014, The White Dress Project has actively followed the work of prestigious institutions like North Carolina Central University and Duke University. By attending cutting edge research conferences, Ms. Gray Valbrun has dedicated her organization’s existence to someday being a part of finding a cure for fibroids.

Not only is The White Dress Project taking the scientific community by storm; it’s creating hefty political waves as well.

“Our first piece of legislation was drafted in May 2014,” shares Gray Valbrun. “This first piece of legislation was in the Georgia House of Representatives and was a resolution that declared July Fibroids Awareness Month.”

As a part of their “16 by 2016 Campaign” (16 states declaring July Fibroids Awareness Month by 2016), The White Dress Project works with our country’s legislators to make sure July remains dedicated to fibroids now and in the future.

Thanks to their efforts, in only a year and a half, Fibroids Awareness Month is now a reality in Georgia, Florida, New York, and the city of New Orleans. “We’ve also gotten a U.S. resolution introduced in the U.S. House sponsored by Congressman David Scott of Georgia (D-GA 13th District) and Representative Donna Edwards of Maryland (D-MD 4th District)—ideally that is really what we want,” stresses Gray Valbrun. “It would then allow us to nationally declare July Fibroids Awareness Month instead of going state by state.”

But in order to maintain this type of momentum, The White Dress Project relies on you. Since fibroids affects as many as 80 percent of African American women, 70 percent of Caucasian women1, not to mention countless partners and loved ones, Gray Valbrun encourages the public to support a cause that can no longer wait, asking supporters to sign their petition or make a monetary donation, since the grass roots organization operates entirely on donations.

“We’re committed to empowering women. To do that, we need funds to continue this work and to really support research that isn’t getting dollars from NIH, Health and Human Services, or the government,” continues Gray Valbrun. “We want people to know that our funding is truly going towards research, raising awareness, and getting states to advocate for legislation.”

Another important piece of the puzzle is spreading the word about fibroids. Groups such as The White Dress Project that are built solely on the power of people can make the biggest impact.

“As soon as you start talking about fibroids, most women—especially in the African and Caribbean communities—are familiar with it. But we don’t talk about it often,” she admits. “We need to start sharing our stories. There’s a sisterhood that’s there. It really crosses socioeconomic and racial boundaries. It binds us as women.”

 

REFERENCES

  1. National Institute of Health. (2014). How many people are affected by or at risk for uterine fibroids? Retrieved December 20, 2015, from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/uterine/conditioninfo/pages/people-affected.aspx