Locals rock on at second-annual Relay for Life event at MCU Park

In memoriam: Brooklynites came out to MCU Park on June 9 to raise money for cancer research with Relay for Life.
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Hundreds of locals and cancer survivors walked laps around MCU Park in Coney Island from noon until midnight on June 9 at the ball park’s second-annual Relay for Life event to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

One of the organizers of the event said the new format this year — featuring 12 hours of live music — helped make the event a success by bringing out charitable Brooklynites.

“It was the right people there for the right reasons, and the weather was great,” said Joe Gillette, who lives in Bergen Beach and has raised thousands for the organization over the years, through various events. “This year we decided to really turn it upside down and make it more of an entertainment event, and that’s how we came up with the idea of the music festival.”

Ten local bands — including rock ’n’ roll sextet Best Kept Secret, all-female pop quartet the Janes, and blues crooner Kerry Kearney — took the stage to belt out tunes and keep walkers’ energy up after the opening ceremony honored the cancer survivors who came out to the relay. One local whose breast cancer has been in remission for the past four years said she made her inaugural stroll at the event this year and plans to attend annually, given how meaningful it was.

“It was absolutely beautiful to be with survivors and see other families there who were celebrating,” said Dina Jackson, who lives in East Flatbush. “I was so excited.”

More than 3,000 luminaria bags, filled with electric candles and decorated in honor of people who made donations in memory of loved ones who battled cancer, circled the ball field and lit up the night — including more than 80 donated by volunteers involved with similar relays held around the world. Another survivor said the bags from other countries represented the close ties among the Relay for Life community across the globe.

“Being a part of this, it’s like a family, so to speak,” said Gravesend resident Theresa Butera, whose breast cancer has been in remission for two years.

Gillette is also a fixture in that worldwide community, and has traveled to relays around the country — including most recently the relay at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., following the February mass shooting there that killed 17 — but said that nothing compared to participating in a relay close to home, especially since this year’s structure as a music festival drew more crowds than last year’s inaugural relay at the Coney Island ball park.

“This is my home event,” he said. “You see other relays and what goes on and what works and doesn’t work. We’re trying to come up with a format and event style that can make people have some fun and have something good come out of it.”

But he’s still unsatisfied with one part of the event. Gillette said a band pretending to be local blues quartet Rude Mood crashed the event, and that he wants to find them because they were so good — but he has no idea who they were.

“If I find them, I’ll buy them beers,” he said.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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