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Empire State Building Denies Request to Go Gold for Childhood Cancer

The Empire State Building is illuminated with green lights at sunset in honor of the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan, 12 October 2007 in New York.  (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by AFP/Getty Images

You may remember the heartbreaking story of Ronan Thompson that caught national attention a few years back and left us all with tears in our eyes. Diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma cancer at just three years old, Ronan struggled and lost his battle one year later in 2011. Although he was gone, the brave fight he put up managed to inspire others long after his death — most of all, his devoted mother Maya, who launched the blog Rockstar Ronan to tell his story. Her touching words were even later used by Taylor Swift, when she penned the song "Ronan" in 2012.

In the years since her son's death, Maya has channeled her grief in many ways. Most notably, by launching the Ronan Thompson Foundation, through which she always looks for ways to spread awareness, knowledge and compassion for the nearly 2,000 children who die each year from cancer.

Which is why, one day last summer, the mom of four sat down to fill out a formal application to the Empire State Building. Seeing that the iconic, eye-catching building is often lit up for everything from the Fourth of July to Pride Day, she thought that maybe just once, it could be lit up in gold, to honor the thousands of kids who will suffer and potentially die from cancer.

Sadly, her request was denied. But to her surprise, she wasn't the only one who had been turned away. Over the course of the last year, it seems other parents have made similar requests, to no avail.

"Through social media, I started to hear the soft little roars from other parents in the childhood cancer community who had requested the same thing, only to be denied," Maya recently wrote in an open letter to the ESB on her blog. "One from an individual, and quite of few from other childhood cancer non-profits. These soft little roars soon started to become louder and louder and it seemed as if the entire world (at least in my mind) finally cared about this very important issue."

In fact, this summer she watched as the hashtag #EmpireGold started to go viral, and various Facebook pages were set up to coincide with the campaign. Soon, the voices of those who rose up to challenge the Empire State Building's decision were coming in faster and louder than ever.

And then finally, came an official response from the landmark. It read, in full:

The Empire State Building makes the following statement on behalf of its employees.

Recently, an individual requested a tower lighting for childhood cancer awareness. It is clearly stated on our Lighting Partner Application on our website that the Empire State Building does not accept lighting requests from individuals. A social media campaign has been launched to lobby for this individual’s request with a false pretense: that the Empire State Building does not care about children with cancer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In support of organizations which help people suffering from this terrible disease around the globe, the Empire State Building has provided lighting for “World Cancer Day” in partnership with the American Cancer Society, whose mission is to eliminate all types of cancer; for breast cancer awareness, with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation; for blood cancer research, with DKMS Delete Blood Cancer; and for pediatric cancer treatment and research, with St. Jude’s Hospital.

Sadly, there are over 200 different forms of cancer — in addition to all of the other diseases and tragedies for which we receive Lighting Partnership Applications. Each of us has a personal cause which is important, and many of our employees have had direct personal experience of loss from cancer as well as other personal health tragedies.

The Empire State Building is making this statement because this social media campaign has become abusive. Empire State Building employees have been personally attacked on the phone and harassed by email and the Internet by people who do not know them with profanity, threats, bullying and, perhaps the worst, wishes that they “get cancer.”

The Empire State Building is privately owned. All Lighting Partnership requests go through an application review process. There is no lighting in 2014 for organizations which address childhood cancer. Organizations which behave responsibly may newly apply for a Lighting Partnership in 2015 and future years.

In her open letter, Maya writes of how heartbreaking it was to read this, particularly when she herself filled out a formal application on behalf of her organization, the Ronan Thompson Foundation, and had never engaged in any "abusive" behavior. (The claims of abusive calls by others, however, remain in dispute.)

"The Sunday that I read the official response from the Empire State Building, I felt my knees go weak and the color drain from my face," writes Maya. "Your official response is a shining example of the major problem facing kids fighting cancer. People think that when they give money to a huge corporate cancer charity [such as the American Cancer Society], they are helping the very kids they see on those coin jars and posters. Unfortunately, the truth is much different. The American Cancer Society that you partnered with, pretty much does NOTHING for our children except use their shiny bald heads as a ploy to receive donations."

Maya ends her heartbreaking post feeling sad and defeated, wishing the Empire State Building itself a goodnight, as well as her sweet Ronan.

Goodnight, Empire State Building. You would look so good in the color Gold.
Goodnight, Ronan. I miss you. I love you. I hope you are safe.

You can read the rest of Maya's open letter over on Rockstar Ronan, or donate directly to the fight to cure childhood cancer on the Ronan Thompson Foundation official website.

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