By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
When Carter G. Woodson’s 107-year-old Washington, D.C.-based organization chose the nation’s 2022 Black History Month theme, “Black Health and Wellness,” no one actually picked up a red magic marker and scrawled big, red lines through chronic health conditions like obesity, cancer, hypertension, asthma, stroke, and gunshot wounds.
Instead of focusing on the CDC’s Top-Five African American Killers, in other words, members of The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) decided the 2022 Black History Month theme would focus on medical treatments, rituals, and initiatives that have already helped many African Americans. Also, this year’s theme will focus on doctors, birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, and herbalists.
Here is an illustration. You have a cold but attend a Thanksgiving dinner thrown by Dr. Jane Cook, an African American who graduated from New York Medical College in 1945 and worked with her father, Dr. Louis Wright at the Cancer Research Foundation in Harlem.
During the dinner, you shake hands with her paternal grandfather Dr. Ceah Ketcham Wright, a former slave who graduated from Meharry Medical School. You raise a glass to salute her step-grandfather, Dr. William Fletcher Penn, the first African American graduate at Yale Medical School. You drink coffee and enjoy dessert with Jane Cook’s father, Dr. Louis T. Wright, one of the first African Americans to earn a medical degree from Harvard Medical school, as well as the first African American doctor appointed to a public hospital in New York City.
The point is you are surrounded by medical experts at this event. It’s a “Physician Heal Thyself” moment.
This means you are sitting at a well-spread table with several renowned medical experts who look like you. Either you respect their expertise, or throw up your hands in confusion or disgust when they begin to suggest treatments for the common cold.
“At this point in the 21st century, our understanding of Black health and wellness is broader and more nuanced than ever,” ASALH organizers explained in a recent press release.
“We observe (the 2022) theme in the midst of a worldwide pandemic in which racism has been labeled a “public health crisis” and during an ever-growing awareness about the ways in which African Americans have been disproportionately affected by health concerns.”
This means many African American communities already know how to cure or treat the Top-Five African American Killers, the chronically ill, and the common cold.
But let’s say you are a stabbing or gunshot victim. Do you know that trailblazing African American doctors like Chicago Cardiologist Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open-heart operation on a knife-fight victim on July 10, 1893? Specifically, Williams successfully repaired the pericardium-the sac surrounding the heart of a man who had been stabbed in a knife fight.
Or do you recognize the name, Dr. Laurie Punch? She is an African American trauma surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. She has treated multiple gunshot victims to the point that she testified about gun violence in September 2019, to the House Ways and Means Oversight Committee.
She also teaches “Stop the Bleed” classes in St. Louis, where she teaches ordinary citizens how to stop a gunshot wound and staunch a hemorrhage. (Punch practices medicine in St. Louis, a few miles from where Michael Brown, an African American teenager, was shot and killed in Ferguson in 2014 by a white police officer).
“Violence is a true medical problem doctors must treat in both the operating room and the community,” said Punch, a single mother, who was born in Washington, D.C., to a white Midwestern mother and a father from Trinidad. She grew up in an interracial household. Her parents separated six months after her birth. She completed her medical studies at Yale University, the University of Connecticut’s medical school, and the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
“Until they do that (treat violence as a medical problem),” she said, in a Dec. 5, 2019 interview with NPR, “violence victims will continue to be vectors who spread violence.”
She told members of Congress during her testimony, “The disease that bullets bring does not yet have a name. It’s like an infection, because it affects more than just the flesh it pierces. It infects the entire family, the entire community. Even our country. If you can stop the bleed, you can save a life,” she said. “Time is life and minutes matter.”
In her “Stop the Bleed” classes, students pack and press gauze into gunshot wounds.They tighten tourniquets — first on foam cylinders, then on each other.
Punch knows one of the doctors who created the “Stop the Bleed” training program after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. She realized the same training could save lives in St. Louis after street shootings.
This means you just finished reading a few stories on several accomplished African American physicians who have already launched proven medical procedures, including treatment for victims of stabbings and gunshots, (one of the Top Five Killers of African Americans).
“At this point in the 21st century, our understanding of Black health and wellness is broader and more nuanced than ever,” ASLAH noted, in a recent press release that explains its 2022 theme, “Black Health and Wellness.”
This is the point. Yes, COVID-19 has hit many African Americans like a brick through a window; but social media, podcasts, YouTube, and numerous websites also aim to make an impact on health and wellness in the African American community.
The problem is the pandemic hit at a time when many African Americans were already struggling to enroll in low-cost health-insurance programs. Specifically, in 2018, 11.7 percent of African Americans in the United States had no health insurance, compared to 7.5 percent whites, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Meanwhile, a February 2020 Brookings report noted, “Prior to implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), nearly one in three Hispanic Americans and one in five Black Americans were uninsured, compared to about one in eight white Americans.”
Worse, (racial) insurance discrepencies dominated the headlines, at a time when CDC records show that nearly 48 percent of all African American adults were clinically obese (including 37.1 percent of men and 56.6 percent of women, compared to about 32.6 percent of white Americans).
This means many African Americans were juggling several serious ailments when the pandemic began. Struggling on one hand to obtain affordable health care coverage, many African Americans were also struggling with obesity-related diseases, as well as cancer, hypertension, heart disease, asthma, stroke, and fatal police shootings nationwide from 2015-2021.
Specifically, African Americans who were killed by police officers stood at 37 per million of the population, while the rate stood at 15 fatal police shootings per million of the population for white Americans, according to Statista.
Another example of how treatments or cures already exist or wait in the wings in African American communities surfaces in Alabama’s Black Belt.
Dr. Marlo Paul and her plant biologist husband, Anthony Paul, developed a new alternative for about 200 African Americans facing the COVID-19 pandemic.To help area residents fight COVID-19, they treat patients in their 116-acre acre farm located on rolling hills in Alabama’s Black Belt.
There they mix and distribute free herbal remedies during free home visits in a region that has some of the worst COVID-19 infection rates.
COVID-19 accounts for 37 percent of all Alabama COVID-19 cases. Nearly half of all COVID-19 deaths occurred among the state’s African American residents despite the fact that they make up only a quarter of the state’s population, in an area where most farms are still owned by whites, and African Americans hold marginal jobs in housekeeping, trucking, manufacturing, food processing, and agriculture.
Dr. Paul, who is the only African American female doctor within three neighboring counties, operates a health and wellness farm in Alabama’s Black Belt, where at least seven rural hospitals have closed in the past decade. The ones that remain, 88 percent operate in the red. Many rural hospitals and clinics are unable to afford even basic necessities, including gloves, masks, or coronavirus tests, not to mention ventilators.
“There are no specialists and the hospitals are not equipped to do most of what people need,” Dr. Paul said in a July 14, 2020 interview in Civil Eats, a website that focuses on food policy, environmental issues, food-related health, and farming issues.
In plain terms, here are a few alternatives that Dr. Paul and her husband offer patients. First, they do not charge patients for visits. Second, they offer patients free herbal remedies. Third, they make free after-care calls. The estimated 200 patients they’ve served during the pandemic have survived, the couple said, although records show more than 1,000 people in the state have died and about 40 percent of the population is uninsured.
“There are no specialists and the hospitals are not equipped to do most of what people need,” said Dr. Paul, who once operated a private practice in northern Alabama and offered free clinics on weekends.
Her husband finished Oakwood University in Alabama, taught classes there, and launched the National Association for the Prevention of Starvation, a nonprofit Christian-based relief organization that worked with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which vigorously supports African American farmers in the Black Belt.
They left their jobs, bought land about 40 miles south of Tuscaloosa, naming it Eden Land Farm. They treat rural African American communities in Alabama’s Black Belt.
Still, any discussion on “Black Health and Wellness” must include a useful discussion on obesity and obesity-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
This is where the Black Weight Loss Success website somes in.
Scroll over to the website and eavesdrop. Women who have lost from 16-160 pounds, write reviews and testimonials. They offer each other moral support, weight-loss strategies, and a 30-day weight-loss program.
Chrissy, for example, lost 173 pounds. Aiming to lose weight after her father passed away, another woman, Nerissa said she lost 126 pounds. Latonya lost 101 pounds. Kaekae lost 80 pounds. Yollie lost 74 pounds. Brandy lost 37 pounds.Kristen lost 22 pounds.
“This site is what kept me going when I wanted to give up so badly,” Latiffa Carter wrote. Another weight loss participant, Yolanda Preston McLemore wrote, ” I just found this site. . . . I love the stories of how these ladies kept it moving and lost the weight! They all look marvelous! It’s time for me to get serious about my health.”
This year’s Black History Month theme urges African American to look for treatments, remedies, and cures that already exist right up under your nose, instead of assuming the grass is greener elsewhere.
Perhaps, racism is the only ailment that does not yet have a cure or even a treatment regimen. It’s deadly, systemic and lethal toll has surfaced in many well-documented studies. But its hidden cumulative impact surfaced in a comment made by Florida Congresswoman Carrie P. Meek– years before she died after a long illness in November 2021 at age 95 in her Miami home.
“The only shadow in my life was the segregation,” said Meek, one of the first African Americans since Reconstruction elected to represent Florida in Congress, where she spent five terms fighting for minorities and low-income people.
“The worst kind of segregation,” she said, “was not being allowed to try on shoes in a shoe store, and playing with other African American children in a vacant lot while white children had a park with ball fields and a pool.”