Our History and Vision

The start of an organization

In April of 1997, Robert Allen Doles, III, Esq. approached his Aunt Denise to encouraged her to start an organization that with her leadership would enable other women and men to live vigorously through the power of breast health education.

It had been only a few months after Robert had passed the bar and could officially start his law practice when he put his dreams on hold to bring another dream to fruition. In accordance with many people, Robert has always quietly admired the fire in his Aunt Denise’s eyes. Her passion for living and enjoying every second of it has always been dominant in her character. After she survived her bout with breast cancer, her fire became a blaze as her passion for living was magnified.

Denise Roberts was born a leader, which was exemplified in everything she did—from the moment she moved out of her mother’s house at the tender age of 17 to the day she opened her own store that showcased her interior design talent. For this, Robert was convinced that because she never allowed breast cancer to blow out this fire that dwelled inside of her, she could help other women and men who needed help in facing the adversity of this disease.

Robert witnessed so many people come into her store not only to shop, but also to talk to his aunt. Whether it was for advice or for a laugh, some customers would refuse to shop if she was not there. With this natural gift, she could support other survivors through conversation and comfort those who seek the best quality of life at the end of their journey. Foremost, Denise felt overwhelmed by just the thought of such a huge responsibility. After all, she was doing fine with the life she was leading as the owner of a successful business, which still allowed time to spend with her family. Then there was the tremendous weight on her shoulders that the notion of having to go public with her very private emotional battle caused. Her initial thought was ‘no way’—what in the world did she know about running a foundation?

Although Denise Roberts’ confidence acted as the fire that illuminated her personality, there were still some crevices within her heart where fear made an attempt to dwell. This was evident when she admitted, “I thought I would be too close to it (breast cancer). Maybe I would become too emotionally involved, and because of this I feared that I would not be able to relay my message clearly…”

It was nearing the end of another long day at Design By Denise, when Debbie Ingram, a friend and faithful customer, casually perused the new merchandise and shared funny stories about her children with Denise. When the last customer finally trickled out, Denise abruptly asked the question that had consumed her thoughts ever since her last conversation with her nephew. In response to the question of whether Denise should start a foundation, Debbie took her hand and prayed about this new endeavor. That night Debbie Ingram and Denise Roberts sat for countless hours brainstorming about this project, this dream, for it was a clear vision that had not yet been named or claimed.

The vision was the essence of living. While most foundations at that time had begun “in the memory of” those who were deceased as a result of the disease, Denise Roberts exalted the mantra, “Breast cancer is not a death sentence.” Together, Denise and Debbie decided to name the foundation after Denise as a reflection of her passion for living. Then Debbie Ingram coined the catchphrase, “From a mother to a daughter,” as a way to also promote the essence of conversation. “The more we talk about this disease, the more we know and the less we fear,” says Ingram. Denise then told Debbie about her experiences with other African American based organizations that she went to for support when she was recovering from breast cancer, and how these organizations were depressing and somber. Then there were other organizations, which could not reach her intimately because not only did she not look like the people involved, but she also couldn’t relate to their philosophy of beginning to be aware of your body at the age of 40—had she waited until then, she would not be alive.

Denise began to realize that there was a real need for an organization lead by her experience and vigor for living. The organization became known as The Denise Roberts Breast Cancer Foundation: Women and Men of Color Fighting Breast Cancer. At the end of that night, Denise Roberts had claimed the dream that her nephew envisioned her bring to life, and was empowered to say, “…because I have forced myself to become more educated about this disease, I am more powerful. And now, instead of being emotional about [surviving] it, I am passionate.”