This year, the theme of Black History Month is African American health and wellness. That’s according to the group that helped found Black History Month, The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). It’s a crucial issue for the African American community, which has suffered a long history of health care disparities, lending credence to the often-quoted line: “When White folks catch colds, Black folks get pneumonia.”
This year, a pandemic rages, and African Americans are more likely to be hospitalized or die from Covid-19 than White people.
ASALH president, Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney, says that’s why one of his group’s main messages this year to African Americans is: get vaccinated.
“What we’re trying to do in our focus on health and wellness, is to get people to not have suspicions and do the things that are necessary to protect their health. The top of our list – take the vaccine.”
Dulaney believes there are many reasons behind this including long-standing injustices like the lack of accessible treatment and insurance. But the ASALH president is hopeful that spotlighting the importance of Black health will get more people in the community thinking about their physical wellness.
“It will inform the community and hopefully encourage African Americans to get regular checkups. The issue is, in many cases, African Americans don’t have the health insurance and the financial means to do all the things that we think should be done for our children and getting regular checkups. So that’s our focus.”
In honor of this year’s focus on wellness, here are a few ways to make this Black History Month a healthy one.
Be a donor
There is an urgent need for both blood and bone marrow donations, which could be lifesaving for people with sickle cell disease.
The Red Cross is currently in the midst of its worst blood shortage in over a decade. It recently launched a sickle cell initiative providing free sickle cell screening “on all donations from self-identified African American donors.” (Less than 3% of all blood donors are Black.) The Red Cross will also provide free mini-health screenings to the donors, giving them information on their blood pressure, pulse and hemoglobin levels.
The BeTheMatch Foundation needs African American bone marrow donors to help sustain life for people facing blood cancers and disorders like sickle cell disease. According to the foundation, Black people are least likely to find a suitable match, 29%, because they only make up 8% of the foundation’s US registry.
“In an effort to serve all of our patients, we want to see their chance of finding a match increase year over year. Seeing that 23% for Black and African American patients increase to 29% – that’s what it’s all about for us,” Kate McDermott of BeTheMatch says.
“In line with our commitment to serve our patients in providing equal outcomes for all, we are trying to remove every barrier to donation,” says McDermott. The foundation will cover all related expenses to make donations possible. For example, BeTheMatch will pay for a donor’s child care costs, lost wages, and travel.
“By 2023 we would like to double the number of lives saved in underserved populations – with no discernible difference in outcomes. So, patients who have undergone transplants are living a healthy life post-transplant with very little complications,” McDermott explains.
Mental health plays a large part in overall wellness, but Dulaney feels that this is another aspect of health disparity in the African American community.
“There’s been a stigma among some African Americans about getting mental health or getting help period in terms of mental conditions. As a result, African Americans are less likely to seek help, whether they’re depressed or having other issues.”
Here are some resources that focus specifically on mental wellness in the African American community:
Therapy for Black Men provides access to a growing directory of more than 200 therapists providing “multi-culturally competent care” to Black men.
Black Men Heal provides a list of available African American therapists, plus resources on how to get eight free therapy sessions. (The site acknowledges there will likely be a waitlist for no-cost services.) The organization says it has provided more than 1,000 free therapy sessions.
Therapy for Black Girls is an “online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls.” On the site, users can search for therapists that offer in-person or virtual appointments according to their address. Therapy for Black Girls also features a podcast and the option to join a “therapy for Black girls sister circle” for a monthly subscription of $10.
Also, Psychology Today offers a portal to search for African American therapists by cost, location, issue and therapy time.
And websites like Alkeme Health provide mental health content specific for Black and African American users. The site says it “fuses digital and wellbeing to improve your life.” On its website, Alkeme Health provides guided meditations and “live labs” where users can register to learn about practical ways to improve personal well-being.
A healthy future
Any day is a great day to start setting up for a healthier tomorrow. Whether in need of a doctor or a workout buddy, here are a few resources that can be helpful in setting up a healthier lifestyle.
Sites like Blackdoctor.org provide a search engine tool that connects patients to culturally sensitive physicians in their area. Users can locate health care professionals according to ZIP code, specialty, and insurance plan.
Groups like Outdoor Afro help promote diversity and inclusion in nature. Outdoor Afro is a non-profit with chapters across the country that host meetups for hiking, biking, fishing and more. CEO Rue Mapp says it’s all about using nature to show people how to “live their best life, how they can be more healthy and how they can find healing and connection.”
For educational purposes, ASALH will be holding events all month long on a wide range of topics involving African American contributions to medicine and health. While the organization’s main focus is history, they are still striving for a healthier tomorrow.
“We are trying to encourage African Americans to be aware of the history of Black health and wellness and also see it in a more holistic perspective. Let’s look at the history of African American healthcare in this country and see what has been done in the past and, indeed, how we can in the present, prepare ourselves so that we won’t be the victims of pandemics such as this one.”