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HEALTH MATTERS: Starting a dialogue on health issues

Today marks the launch of a new weekly health column.

“Health Matters,” is intended to start a dialogue within the African-American community about the health concerns and issues that affect us.

To know where to take the column and begin the discussion, required me to acknowledge Booker T. Washington as the founding father of the National Negro Health Week.

More than 100 years ago, in April 1915, Washington penned a letter to an African-American newspaper urging the Negro people to participate in a national movement dubbed “Health Improvement Week.” It was borne out of his observation that, “The future of the race depends upon the conservation of its health.”

Washington outlived two of his three wives. He died Nov. 14, 1915 from hypertension resulting in kidney failure seven months after the launch of his health campaign — renamed National Negro Health Week. The campaign lasted until 1951.

Washington’s efforts were not in vain and the week evolved to the National Minority Health Month. His relentless quest for the health and well-being of the Negro community is a fight that continues today.

Now in its sixth year, the Affordable Care Act, aka the “healthcare law,” has helped close the medical coverage gap for millions of Americans. However, health disparities in the minority community still exist.

African Americans continue to suffer and die from preventable diseases, largely because many people have not been able to successfully connect the dots to obtain medical insurance, get the knowledge about disease or have access to preventative medicine.

Baby boomers and the senior population struggle to gain access and understand the steps to secure the medical coverage.

Bobbi Owens, the former executive director of the Mini Twelve Step House Inc. and now a business consultant after retiring from the corporate world, is a prime example of an educated senior whose experience with Obamacare and Medicare is “complicated.”

Owens explains, “If it’s a challenge for me as an unusually tech-savvy senior, it is especially frustrating for seniors that are tech challenged.”

Owens said her greatest concerns are adequate health care and the financial burden of a hospital visit required to treat culturally disparate conditions.

“It makes me feel that seniors are not a high priority in this country,” she said. “I have not found a match for my gap in Medi-Cal or Obamacare even though I have repeatedly inquired.”

My call to action to the readers, “Send me an email to give a helping hand to Ms. Owens and other seniors in need of guidance to navigate the process.”

We are reminded by the Office of Minority Health at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services during National Minority Health Month’s that their charge is to strive to provide the information and access to address the issues of disparity.

This year’s theme, “Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation,” emphasizes the initiatives that are in motion by HHS and the Obama administration to “reduce disparities, advance equity, and strengthen the health and well-being of all Americans.”

The HHS released a report, “Disparities Action Plan” to monitor the nation’s efforts to reduce disparities in health care for minorities.  Read it and make the HHS accountable. The Obama administration set the wheels in motion; let’s make sure it continues to turn in our favor.

Each week, this column will focus on health issues that are prevalent in the African-American community.  For the month of April, let’s continue the conversation with these upcoming health observances:  National Autism Awareness, Sexually Transmitted Infections Awareness, and Alcohol Awareness.

Washington was on point when he argued that the “African-American community needs to pull together and unite, because without health and long life, all else fails.”

He knew 100 years ago, that the African-American community was in jeopardy. We owe it to his legacy to work together and to get and stay as healthy as possible.

Let’s do more than just acknowledge the 12 months of health observances — create a personal action plan to be elevated and educated.

So what’s next? I need your interaction by submitting your “Health Matters” questions to and to look for my column on Thursdays.


Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, is a public relations consultant, the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR.