Dr. Kalahn Taylor-Clark, research director at the Engleberg Center for Healthcare Reform, expressed one of her early stresses in graduate school. She remembered Caucasian males and females occupying her classrooms, while Taylor-Clark was the only Black woman.
“We tend to see fewer and fewer of ourselves when we get to high positions, which causes stress for African American women.” And because of this, Black college-educated women have the highest rate of infant mortality.
Taylor-Clark informed the workshop attendees that white college-educated women are not suffering from low-birth weight and pre-birth problems at the same rate as their Black counterparts. One reason for pre-natal problems is “allostatic load.” This simply means that stressors strain and take over functioning organs.
Dr. Kalahn Taylor-Clark insisted that having kids after the age of 30 should be a concern for African American women. “When you run your household, after being at work for nine hours a day, it is important that we take the time out to relax.”
Assistant deputy chief medical examiner Dr. Roger Mitchell informed attendees of the history of health disparity concerns for African Americans. Between 1910-1940, the two leading causes of death were Tuberculosis and the Red Summer, which were riots that lynched innocent African American men and women because of their race.
“One-hundred years later, for 21- 40-year-old African Americans, the leading causes of death are homicide, accidents, and suicide, consuming drugs, overdosing, and partying excessively. But at what costs? Being in abusive relationships? But at what costs?” he said.
“My request of you is to choose life," he said.
Dr. Pierre Vigilance, director of the DC Department of Health, called the three leading concerns affecting African-Americans, the three S’s: stress, sugar, and sex. Director of the National Center for HIV/ AIDS, STD and TB Prevention, Kevin A. Fenton, dealt with the sex concern. “one in 6 of Black men have a chance of being diagnosed with HIV. For Black women, there is a 1 in 30 chance,” expressed Fenton.
“The stigma and fear that these diseases carry are killing us, because we sit back and do nothing. Young gay men are having unprotected sex and become infected, teenage girls have multiple sex partners, sexual abuse runs rampant, and church leaders don’t speak about these issues,” said Fenton.
Founder and president of BonnieGirl Productions, Bernita Perkins found an interesting reason for the increasing number of overweight women of color. Perkins created a workout DVD geared towards African American women. During one particular year at the Essence Music Festival, a potential customer said, “I want to exercise but it’s going to mess up my hair!”
Another customer who was overweight came over to check out Perkins’ DVD. The customer’s boyfriend walked up to her and said, “Girl you don’t need this, I like you just the way you are.”
Bernita Perkins identified the two main concerns for women of color are the fear of losing their hair styles and losing their shapes.
“But we need to understand the difference between healthy and obese,” said Perkins. “If in your world, size 20 is the smallest size, you don’t have another perspective, more importantly, a healthier perspective.”
Each panelist provided ways to live a healthier lifestyle to combat the stresses of everyday. Kevin A. Fenton insisted that a good workout, a great breakfast, and retiring to bed for six or seven hours of sleep, increases life span. Also, learning to balance work and personal life correctly is also something that African Americans can do. “The same sacrifices you make for your professional life, it is okay to make them to enjoy your personal life”, said Fenton.
Dr. Corey Herbert, president and CEO of Herbert Medical Consulting, insisted that our community stops “super-sizing meals and drinking sodas.” Herbert continued, “and also, quit watching CNN 24/7. When you see everyone else’s stress, even if it is on TV, you naturally begin to stress and worry.”
Herbert wants people of color to stop using food as emotion. “When Hurricane Katrina hit, people gained weight. Divorce food from emotions and look for healthier options,” said Herbert.
Vigilance gave up his secret of relying on prayer and mediation. He noted, “No matter where you are, you can take time out to sit and pray. Even in board meetings, and trust me, sometimes you feel like praying then!”