February Advocate Spotlight: Phylicia Woods, JD, MSW

February 10, 2021
February's Advocate Spotlight features Phylicia Woods, CSC's Executive Director of the Cancer Policy Institute


Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got connected with the Cancer Support Community.

Hi there! I am Phylicia Woods. I am originally from Memphis, TN — always have to give some love to my hometown. I come from a very close-knit family that’s rooted in faith and love. In fact, my grandmothers were best friends. Throughout my career, I’ve been devoted to advocacy as I understand the importance of connecting policy to people. I learned about the Cancer Support Community from being a part of the cancer patient advocacy world. I admire the work that CSC is doing in the community and the services that CSC offers to those impacted by cancer.

Did you have experience with advocacy in any capacity before joining CSC?

Yes, I started my career in advocacy early. Immediately after college, I became an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. As a VISTA, I lobbied Tennessee state legislators on issues related to juvenile justice reform. In Tennessee, young boys of color were being incarcerated at higher rates than their white counterparts for simple offenses such as fighting in school. The issue was really felt in my hometown of Memphis because on some days the juvenile jail population count would be 99% Black. My organization sought ways to reform the state and local juvenile systems and develop alternatives to incarceration. From that experience, I knew advocacy was part of my purpose in life. I wanted to be a voice for those who felt voiceless. Since then, I’ve served as a staffer in Congress (both the House and the Senate), worked on various campaigns, and now I am part of the cancer patient advocacy community.  

Is there one issue you are particularly passionate about?

I am passionate about access and the affordability of health care. All people should have coverage and be able to afford health care. My family has seen the devastation that cancer brings many times. I was 10 years old when I first learned about cancer. My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy. Subsequently, she’s been diagnosed with various forms of cancer ‘til this day. She has overcome the disease several times but the financial, emotional, and social strain is still evident. She was a well-respected cook at a small diner in Memphis. When diagnosed, she lost her job and health care coverage. This was before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and all the protections it has given to millions of cancer patients and survivors. I fervently believe we must do all we can to protect and strengthen the ACA so that people like my aunt don’t fall victim to not having coverage when diagnosed.

What is one tip or piece of advice you’d like to share with others who are interested in becoming an advocate?

Decision makers need you to tell your story. Advocacy is the best way to get their ear. After spending time in Congress, I know the value of personal stories/testimonies and how those shape effective policy. I encourage you to raise your voice at all levels of the government – local, state, and federal.  

Tell us something fun about yourself—any hobbies, interests, or fun facts?

Fun fact — My preschool teacher was Ann Peebles, a famous R&B singer. She is most known for her song “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” which has been sampled by various musical artists. She took a break from touring in the early ’80s to open a preschool with her husband Don Byrant (famous songwriter)!


If you are interested in learning more about policy, advocacy, and ways to get involved, sign up to be a part of the Grassroots Network!