Ricki Fairley ’78 reflects on her multigenerational Dartmouth legacy and passion to eradicate Black Breast Cancer in a letter brimming with advice and love for her granddaughters.
Dear Loveys —
I look forward to the day when the three of you Beauties become members of the Classes of 2039, 2041 and 2042. You will make our family the FIRST fourth generation Black family to attend and graduate from Dartmouth. Your HERstories began with my dad and your great grandfather, Richard L. Fairley ’55 (aka Pop). He was a scholar, an all-Ivy basketball player and track star, and a founder of BADA (Black Alumni of Dartmouth Association).
I graduated in 1978 with a group of badass trailblazers—ours was only the third class to allow women. Your mom (Amanda Brown Lierman ’07), aunt (Hayley Brown ’14), and I now proudly lead a team of stellar Black alums in planning BADA’s 50th reunion for 2022.
You all came out of the womb wearing Dartmouth onesies and Belle and Leia, you have already been to campus more times than I can count. Hart, you will get there soon but you have only been in this world for a week. Pop took me to Dartmouth for the first time when I was 8 years old. We spent many Winter Carnivals in Hanover together and I’ll always cherish our special Dartmouth bond. When your mom was accepted, he gave her a Dartmouth sweatshirt that he had purchased the day I graduated and put away for his first grandchild.
Pop passed on a few essential life lessons to me:
· Don’t let anything rain on your parade! Turn on Barbra Streisand if you need a reminder.
· Women are much smarter and better at everything than men.
· There is no challenge too big. Just think hard, use all of the resources in your arsenal (including people) and you will figure it out.
· You are an innate leader. Dream big and pursue your passions—before you know it, you’ll turn around and people will be following you.
Back then, I couldn’t have imagined what life would throw at me or how frequently I’d need to turn to Pop’s advice.
You three have only known me as a survivor, as the grandmother who fought triple negative breast cancer and won. I started TOUCH, The Black Breast Cancer Alliance because of you. I’ve got about ten years until you grow boobs. And I’ve got fifteen or so years until you’re young women at Dartmouth. By then, I will have helped to eradicate Black Breast Cancer.
By the time you bleed green, Black women (including you!) will get mammograms earlier. Black women won’t be diagnosed younger, at later stages, and with worse outcomes than white women. Black women will readily participate in clinical trials—versus the less than 3% that do now—so treatments will work for our specific physiologies. Black women won’t be 42% more likely to die from breast cancer. By the time you are sipping afternoon tea in Sanborn House, the story of my fight with breast cancer will be just another dragon-slaying legend, just another part of your HERstories.
Along the way, I’ve gathered a few hard-earned lessons of my own:
· The future is definitely female. Ditto on what Pop said about women being smarter and better at everything.
· Your peace is non-negotiable. Do what you have to do to get it.
· Fight like a girl.