People in the South put so much sugar in their sweet tea a diabetic would fall out if they even looked at a glass, comic and lung cancer survivor Rene Hicks told the audience at the third annual Community Compass Project “Laughter and Lifestyles” on April 25.

The event targets minorities and is a partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina’s Hollings Cancer Center, Sodexo and local professional, social and faith-based organizations. The goal is to get people to become active, eat healthier and support a smoke-free environment.

Dr. Marvella Ford, professor and associate director of Hollings Cancer Center’s disparities program, said the Community Compass Project has become a signature event for the center. She said having a memorable event that encompasses culture and is “in language people understand, that’s how you make an impact.”

Project leader Dr. Debbie Chatman Bryant is assistant director of cancer prevention, control and outreach for Hollings and president of the Tri-County Black Nurses Association. Bryant said the goal in past years was awareness, but this year organizers have focused on action with initiatives such as the Healthy Eating & Active Living Project.

HEAL will grant organizations at the event a $1,200 stipend to create their own projects that encourage healthier lifestyles, and they will have access to experts at the cancer center for consultations.

The organization with the best implementation of its project will win the competition.

“It’s important for people to realize that good health is essential to prevent cancer,” said Dr. Andrew Kraft, director of the Hollings Cancer Center.

Dianne Wilson, executive director of the S.C. African-American Tobacco Control Network, spoke of the dangers of secondhand smoke and let organizations know which elected officials were opposed to creating a smoke-free environment in their cities so they could contact them.

WCBD TV News 2 anchor Carolyn Murray worked with the cancer center to create “Make Time for That,” a video that showcased people including Jenny Sanford, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, Dr. Thaddeus J. Bell and state Reps. Wendell Gilliard, David Mack and Seth Whipper, who all spoke of how they make time to live a healthy lifestyle.

“We have to be more honest with ourselves and get each other in check,” Murray said.

“We don’t care how you got fat,” Hicks told the audience. “We’re going forward. That’s where the compass is moving.”

Hicks shared the story of how she developed lung cancer after working in comedy clubs for years. She never smoked a day in her life.

“I didn’t think that for an hour a night ... that I would get lung cancer,” she said.

Hicks said she used laughter to get her through cancer, which she said is part of the healing process.

“You can scare people, but if you make them laugh, it’ll get their attention,” Hicks said.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.