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The Walk

November 12, 2021 Alan Acosta Clark University

JCC Connexions, Vol. 7, No. 4, November 2021

Fostering Moral Development: An Ongoing Column in JCC Connexions

I will be honest, this has been one of the more challenging blog posts I have written. I think the challenge is in how to convey some of the emotionality associated with the philanthropic event in which I participated. In October 2021, my partner Danielle and I participated in the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School (UMass Chan) Cancer Walk and Run. This philanthropic event, in which participants walk a 5K, raises money for the UMass Cancer Center, which engages in research to find better treatments, and possibly one day, a cure, for cancer.

A Personal Connection

For me, this was one of the first times I felt a personal connection to a philanthropic cause. It is not that I have not donated money or engaged in community service before—I have done both many times. This event felt different for me for several reasons. First, this philanthropic event is deeply embedded within the core of my institution. I joined the UMass Chan community within six months of the event, and it was one of the first institutional initiatives to which I was introduced. UMass Chan makes the event seem important, which it is, which made the event important to me. I also resonated deeply with the purpose of the event, which was to raise money for cancer research.

Memory of Family Members

My motivation for participating in the walk, along with the source of difficulty in writing this post, comes from the memory of the family members we lost to some form of cancer. Danielle lost her father to cancer in 2015. She was very close to him, and I got the chance to bond with him over a mutual love of the Golden State Warriors during the modern team’s first championship run. I have had several family members pass away due to cancer, including my two brothers, Alfred and Noel, who both died before the age of five, and my grandmother Margarita, who passed away in 2010 and with whom I was very close. Each of our family members died as a result of different cancers. Danielle and I know we are not unique—many if not most people have had someone fight cancer, whether themselves, family members, or friends. Because of the personal nature of how cancer had impacted our lives, we wanted to honor their memories and legacies by participating in this event.

I was nervous because it was really important to me that, for my first time raising money for a specific philanthropic cause such as this one, we reach our target goal. I wanted to set a goal that was I thought was a challenge while still attainable. Without saying what our target was, when we picked it, we both felt we could accomplish our goal.

All Persons Touched by Cancer

A few days prior to the walk, I called my dad. I was not entirely sure why, but I felt like I had to talk to him before the event happened. I shared with him my feelings about the event, why I was doing it, and that I was also a little nervous about what I would feel the day of the walk. My dad listened with his usual kindness and patience. Once I blathered to him. He talked to me about how proud he was of us for doing the walk. He shared how he felt like we were representing our family, not just the ones who had passed, but him, my mom, my sister, and everyone else in the family who had been touched by cancer. Being able to talk to him about how personally meaningful the walk was to me made me feel honored.

The event started from Polar Park in the city and followed an extensive loop throughout downtown before ending back at the park. Prior to the walk, the organizers had a small ceremony to provide inspiration to walkers. The ceremony included virtual messages participants could submit to honor their loved ones. Not too long after we got into the park, the messages Danielle and I had submitted to honor her dad and my brothers and grandmother were displayed. The immense gratitude I felt in that moment was a bit overwhelming.

Once the pre-walk ceremony had concluded, we got walking. It was a perfect October New England day with which to walk— 65 degrees and completely sunny skies. Our route gave us an opportunity to see many new aspects of our city’s downtown area, which we had not really gotten an opportunity to enjoy. It was nice to see numerous parts of our new home city we had not explored before. While taking in the city, at various moments of the walk, I would think about grandma or my brothers. I could envision them looking down from heaven smiling at us. Or better, I imagined them walking with us the whole way. That thought made me smile.

Encouraging Philanthopy 

As higher education professionals, we should encourage our students to find the philanthropic cause for which they find passion and motivation. Each student is different, so helping them understand what moves them is important. In the event nothing immediately speaks to a student, planting a seed to encourage them to lookout for the cause they will connect with is just as important. I did not find the cause that resonated most with me until I was almost 40 years old.

Causes Worth Walking for

Beyond raising the money, participating in the walk gave me the feeling of doing my part in fighting cancer. It felt like in some small way, I got to continue the fight that my brothers and grandmother had lost. Hopefully, we all can find a cause worth walking for.