The Winship Win the Fight 5K brings together runners and supporters who participate for a wide variety of reasons. Some run to raise awareness for the importance of cancer funding and research, while others participate to honor the legacy of loved ones who are either currently in the fight against cancer, or those who have lost the battle.
For Chandra Stephens-Albright and Charlita Stephens-Walker, this weekend’s race is extremely important as the sisters prepare to run for a very special person, their father, Charles R. Stephens. “His name was Charles, his legacy is never giving up, and his leadership was, and remains, in raising funds to do good,” said Chandra about her father who passed away from complications of pancreatic cancer in February 2013.
Charles spent his professional career as a fundraising leader, serving in senior development positions at many educational institutions including his alma mater, Morehouse College. Other places of work included Dillard University, Clark College, Clark Atlanta University, Indiana University Center on Philanthropy and The Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. He also served as the national campaign director for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).
But Charles’s impact goes far beyond the institutions and organizations for which he served his professional time raising funds. Today, his legacy extends nationally to the individuals who shared his passion for fundraising. As the first African American Chair of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), a prestigious and international fundraising association, Charles dedicated his life to changing the fundraising industry from the inside out.
A passage from the AFP’s tribute to Charles following his passing captures it all: “Charles’s lifetime passion was to merge philanthropy and diversity (which he saw as nearly the same ideas) and introduce people of diverse backgrounds to the profession he calls ‘inclusive, noble, and worthwhile.’ His efforts changed the way the fundraising community looks at diversity, brought countless women and minorities into the profession and earned him the AFP Chair’s Award for Outstanding Service, an honor that has been granted to less than 20 people since it was instituted in 1982.”
The Chair’s Award was given to Charles during the AFP’s national conference in 2011, which was shortly after Charles had been diagnosed with cancer. Chandra and Charlita accompanied their father to the conference in Chicago, where they learned for the first time the full scope of Charles’s impact on the entire fundraising profession.
“He was a rock star, but to us he had never said so,” said Chandra, a 1985 Emory College alumna. She adds, “My sister and I did not really understand his national contribution until this cancer came along. It is this that establishes the groundwork for our Winship 5K team name – Charles’ Legacy Leaders.”
During his battle with cancer, Charles continued to live life fully by not only continuing to work at his passion, but by taking special vacations and spending quality time with his family, friends and peers.
“I can’t do justice to my father’s spirit with words,” Chandra said. “Not only did he undergo multiple rounds of chemo, but he did so while maintaining his positive spirit and his irrepressible sense of humor. We had two fantastic years to spend with him – years we didn’t think we’d have – in large part due to the fantastic care he got from the team at Winship.”
At the Winship 5K, there is no shortage of inspirational stories like Charles’s to be found. Incredible people like the Stephen sisters are joining in the fight against cancer to honor those who have gone before and made an impact on the world. If you would like to donate to the Winship 5K, contribute to the Charles Legacy Leaders team, or sign-up for the race yourself, please visit our Winship 5K website for more information.