July 8, 2022 – Yolonda Ross went all-in after learning that the single mom she plays on Showtime’s acclaimed series the chi has breast cancer.
In season four, episode seven, Ross, who plays Jada, shaved her long hair for the camera, bringing to life the very real struggle her character – and actual breast cancer patients – face before starting breast cancer treatment.
“When I found out my character was going to get cancer, all I said about it was that I didn’t want it to become a TV or movie cancer,” says Ross, 47, who is also a writer. director and activist who starred in Netflix’s Going DownABCs How to get away with murder? and Denzel Washington’s Anton Visser, just to name a few of her roles.
“I didn’t want to just put a scarf around my head and suddenly I got cancer. It was too important a moment for that,” she says.
Ross’ preparation for the role began off-camera. She researched organizations in Chicago’s South Side, such as Equal Hope, the Tatisa C. Joiner Foundation, and the Center for Health Equity Transformation (CHET), all of which help black women with breast cancer. Then she began to learn about the health disparities black women with breast cancer have.
“I wanted to sit down with women who had had cancer or are currently going through it,” she says. “Meeting with them was more than I expected. They touched me more than I expected to be touched.”
Talking about the emotional side of breast cancer was especially meaningful to Ross.
“You talk about cancer when someone goes through it, and then there’s it like a black person going through cancer,” she says. “We don’t talk about things as they are. So that’s another thing we need to do to overcome any stigma. Talking about emotions and talking about health will help, especially because that’s a big deal when we get certain care. We don’t talk about it when we feel like something isn’t right, and that keeps us from getting the care we need.”
Ross kept in touch with the women in the Chicago area receiving cancer treatments, as well as the leaders of each organization, even after the season started.
“I’ve learned how some organizations help prevent breast cancer and some help change the fabric of things in hospitals so that when they see a brown woman come in, they don’t get into a certain mindset and don’t follow through with the work that they should do with her,” she says.
Letting people know that these care groups exist was another big goal of hers.
“Some of these organizations are around there,” she says. “A woman two doors down may not even know this. She gets breast cancer and doesn’t know that this organization is there and could help her. I really wanted to help with that.”
Before long, the actor was asked to take on even more important roles within each nonprofit.
“They would have events coming up, and they would ask me if I would attend,” she says. “It was that easy. I learned about each organization and quickly became a part of them.”
Her advocacy eventually inspired a $100,000 donation from the Feinberg Foundation which was subsequently awarded to these grassroots Chicago organizations, and last October she co-hosted Beauty is Me, a photography exhibition and fundraiser where she unveiled her five portraits of breast cancer survivors. Then, in May, she was honored by The Creative Coalition for her advocacy.
Ross says it’s a good idea to use her platform to help others.
“I know I’m not the biggest star, but I believe if something moves you enough to talk about it, then why not use your platform to help others,” she says. “I know women of color are in this battle, and if there’s anything I can say or do to shine a light on these organizations or these doctors or find ways for people to help, I’m going, and this is about forever.” to be a part of my life.”