As you lay in your bed at night, maybe you feel a sharp, persistent pain in your chest that will not leave. Or perhaps it is a sunken feeling in your stomach that feels like you swallowed a golf ball. For another person, it might be an inability to click the off-switch on your thoughts. Like waves, one thought continually crashes over the other until, eventually, it feels like you’re drowning in an ocean of thoughts that you cannot escape. Still, for another, the opposite may be true. Instead of a flood of thoughts, there is an obsession or a constant preoccupation with a single thought. Whatever it feels like for you, we have all felt it. It’s worry. It is one of many things that God warns us against, and yet, countless people still wrestle with this feeling on a daily basis.
For me, worrying was a way of life. In the morning, I would lie awake in bed and work myself up over all that I had to do that day. As I dwelled on the what-ifs, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as it beat faster and faster. What if I fail? What if the money never comes in? What if I drop the ball? What if they don’t like me? What if I’m not as intelligent as they say I am? What if my child gets sick? The shackles of worry became so familiar to me that I did not realize I was bound by them. I had no concept of life without worry. As a result, I became dependent on my worry and anxiety, and I stopped depending on God. I relied on my endurance to overcome each day. I trusted my intelligence and my accomplishments to assure me of my future. I put my hope in measurable and calculated outcomes that I analyzed over and over in my mind. Slowly, my faith began to dwindle. Deep down, my heart was satisfied with wallowing in worry, and I started to think that God had left me stranded.
My story, and so many others, remind me of how God’s chosen people lost their faith even though God redeemed them from hundreds of years of oppression and slavery. When the Israelites were challenged by difficult circumstances, they worried and they complained. Their immediate reaction to trouble was not to trust God—instead they trusted their worries. When the Egyptians chased after them, they worried that they would die at the hand of their oppressors (Exodus 14:10-12). Two months after they escaped Egypt, they came to a wilderness and the waves of worry came crashing down on them again (Exodus 16:1-3). There was probably no food or water in sight and they all thought, what if we die out here? They complained to Moses and Aaron saying “You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel.” (Exodus 16:3 The Message). Like me, they became so comfortable in their fear and worry that they thought God had left them stranded to die.
Yet, it was not too long before that moment in the wilderness that God instructed his people to remember their redemption through the celebration of the Passover meal. Could it be that God instituted Passover because He knew the Israelites would succumb to their worries? Could it be that God knew that their worries would chip away at their faith, so He gave them a strategy to rebuild it? For the Israelites, Passover was their wake-up call. It was a reminder of God’s redemptive power, and if God could free them from slavery, He could save them from anything.
So, why worry? One could only speculate, what if the Israelites’ story would have unfolded differently? If they had clung to the story of their redemption instead of worrying, maybe they would not have crafted a powerless god made of gold. If they had remembered the day they were set free, maybe they would have mustered up enough faith to escape their worrying in the wilderness. If they had only remembered the meaning of their Passover meal, and the freedom that it represented, perhaps we would be reading a different story today.
Our story, however, is not finished. Every single day, when life’s troubles seem to be closing in on us, we have to make a choice—will we worry or will we remember? As we reflect on the Passover story and its representation of freedom, we should also remember our own redemption stories. I remember mine quite well. When I was a little girl, my parents thought I was going to die. After a severe allergic reaction, I laid on my parent’s bed in my childhood home, breathless. As my father administered CPR he cried out to God in his heart. He began to make plans for funeral arrangements and he thanked God for the six years that he spent with me. And then, as he retells the story to me, he heard a gentle voice affirmatively tell him that I was not going to die. Seconds later, I coughed—and then I took a breath. In my adulthood, I now often recall the day that God saved my life. I really mostly recall waking up in the hospital, because I was unconscious during the most severe moments of the allergic reaction. And when I awoke, I saw my mother and father by my side and they said to me, “You almost died.” When I think about that moment in time, it reminds me that God saved me, and my worries slowly begin to disintegrate. The pain in my chest goes away, and the waves of anxious thoughts transform into still waters of peace and clarity. Thinking back on my day of redemption freed me, and the freedom from worrying was in the remembering.Remember your day of redemption. Remember the day that God freed you. Remember the day He rescued you. Remember, and watch as your worries melt away into triviality.
Racism Derails Black Men’s Health, Even as Education Levels Rise
More education typically leads to better health, yet Black men in the U.S. are not getting the same benefit as other groups, research suggests.
The reasons for the gap are vexing, experts said, but may provide an important window into unique challenges faced by Black men as they try to gain not only good health but also an equal footing in the U.S.
Generally, higher education means better-paying jobs and health insurance, healthier behaviors and longer lives. This is true across many demographic groups. And studies show life expectancy is higher for educated Black men — those with a college degree or higher — compared with those who have not finished high school.
But the increase is not as big as it is for whites. This comes on top of the many health obstacles Black men already face. They are more likely to die from chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer than white men, and their life expectancy, on average, is lower. Experts point to a variety of factors that might play a role, but many said the most pervasive is racism.
Researchers note that Black women face many of the same challenges as Black men, but Black women generally have a longer life expectancy than Black men. (They also point out that it is hard to draw conclusions about Hispanic residents because of a lack of studies on the issues.) As a result, many experts said that the health problems stem from a persistent devaluation of Black men in U.S. society.
The precise difference in health gains between educated white men and educated Black men is hard to pinpoint because of differences in study designs. Some studies, for example, look at life expectancy, while others look at disease burden or depression.
Experts said, however, that the evidence is strong and convincing that these gaps have persisted over many years. A 2012 study published in Health Affairs, for example, found that life expectancy for white men with the most education was 12.9 years longer than for white men with the least education. For Black men, the difference was 9.7 years.
In addition, other research shows how that gap plays out. A 2019 study examined years of “lost life” — years cut off because of health challenges — between the groups. Educated Black men lost 12.09 years, while educated white men lost 8.34 years, according to the study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Racism affects Black men’s health and it is persistent, experts said.
“No matter how far you go in school, no matter what you accomplish, you’re still a Black man,” said Derek Novacek, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Emory University and is researching Black-white health disparities at UCLA.
S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois in Chicago and lead author of the 2012 study, said possible risk factors for various diseases and environmental issues could also play a role: “I’d be very surprised if this wasn’t part of the equation. The risk of diabetes and obesity is much higher among the Black population, even those that are highly educated.”
Among other possible causes that researchers are probing are stress and depression.
“When you follow other groups, with more education depression declines,” said Dr. Shervin Assari, associate professor of medicine at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles County, California, who studies race, gender and health. “But when you look at Black men — guess what? Depression goes up.”
Depression is often an indicator of physical well-being as well as a contributing factor to many chronic illnesses, such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes.
Isolated at Home and Work
Researchers who study the health of various racial and ethnic groups, as well as the social factors that influence health outcomes, see cause for concern. The findings suggest that the power of discrimination to harm Black men’s lives may be more persistent than previously understood. And they could mean that improving Black men’s health may be more complicated than previously believed.
“What has surprised me is how powerfully and consistently discrimination predicts poor health,” said Williams.
The covid outcomes, Williams and others suggested, helped point out that the health and well-being of middle-class, educated Black men have been overlooked.
Higher education hasn’t brought about the health equity many experts had expected. While Black men have worse health than other groups if they are not educated, they can’t catch up to their white peers even when they are.
“What society has done to Black men is to corner them,” Assari said.
Black men, even with an education, have less of a financial and social safety net than white men. That brings added stress, the experts said. Also, as Black men climb a corporate, academic or managerial ladder, many feel isolated. And social isolation harms health.
Thomas LaVeist, a sociologist and dean of the school of public health at Tulane University, said that in a white-dominated society Black men are less likely to have family members with high incomes or social and business connections who can open doors for them. And once hired into the workplace, they are less likely to have mentors, LaVeist said, and that lack of connections is associated with stress, depression and other factors that can lead to poorer health.
“There needs to be a designated effort to provide an on-ramp” for Black men, he said.
And they may have experienced more cumulative adversity and continued racism.
“Your high socioeconomic status doesn’t protect you from the impact or from the incidence” of racism, said Dr. Adrian Tyndall, associate vice president for strategic and academic affairs at University of Florida Health.
“That is difficult,” added Tyndall, who is Black. “If I were to walk out of this institution and into the community, where people don’t know me, I could be called the N-word. And yeah, that’s pretty depressing.”
The Need to Prove Yourself
The cumulative effect of discrimination takes a toll psychologically and physiologically — but so does the anticipation of it.
“It’s not just the actual exposure in dealing with these kinds of experiences, but it’s ‘What do you do before leaving home?’ You’re careful about your dress, your behavior, the way you look because of the threat of discrimination, and so you react,” said Williams, the Harvard professor.
For example, when Williams, who is Black, first became a professor at Yale University, he wore a coat and tie every day. No one else in his department did that. And yet, he said, he kept up the practice for years.
LaVeist remembers getting onto an elevator at an academic medical center around 1990, shortly after earning his Ph.D., and a passenger wearing a white coat — presumably a doctor — assumed LaVeist worked in housekeeping. The man asked LaVeist, who was dressed in a suit, to clean up a spill on the sixth floor.
“When I told him that I was a professor, he didn’t speak,” said LaVeist. “He simply didn’t speak.”
Greg Pennington, 67, of Atlanta, has a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of North Carolina and an undergraduate degree from Harvard, owns a professional consulting firm and has worked with hundreds of men individually as well as dozens of Fortune 500 companies. “It’s not so much that [Black men] experience discrimination and depression ‘even after’ they have advanced degrees,” he said. “It’s more descriptive to say ‘throughout the whole process.’”
Despite their academic credentials, Black men said, they often feel they need to prove themselves, which adds another layer of stress.
“It’s almost like I can’t fail; I’m representative of other Black males,” said Woodrow W. Winchester III, director of professional engineering programs at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. “Your value and your success are around advancing the collective.”
The bottom line, experts agreed, is that discrimination has a lingering effect on health.
Dana Goldman, director of the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, was co-author of the 2012 Health Affairs study on these chasms. Goldman said he agrees that the underlying cause is racism and added that he thinks one solution is to improve education.He and others suggested that schools, starting in the lower grades, need to provide Black students with more culturally appropriate curricula that bolster their self-image and help build social relationships between white and Black youngsters. Those efforts need to continue as students progress into higher education.
“The policy remedy is not just less racism but to improve the quality of our schools, occupational safety and public health,” Goldman said.
Others agree that the findings suggest a need to reconsider broad policy changes — in education, housing and the justice system — so that Black males feel confident and supported in pursuing better educations and jobs.
It will be a long-term project, said Williams, the Harvard professor.
“We need a Marshall Plan for all disenfranchised Americans,” he said, but one that especially addresses implicit biases and how American society views and treats Black males.
Republished in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.
When you see a man walking down the street talking to himself, what is your first thought? Most likely it’s, “He is crazy!” What about the lady at the bus stop yelling strange phases? You immediately become guarded and move as far away from her as possible. I know you’ve done it. We all have.
We are so quick to judge others on the surface level without taking the time to think that maybe God is placing us in a situation for a reason. Maybe it is a test and in order to pass, you must show love and compassion for something or someone that you do not understand.
Perhaps the man or woman you judge are suffering from a mental illness. However, do not be deceived by appearances, because mental illness does not have “a look.”
More Than What Meets The Eye
When most people look at me, they see a successful, 20-something-year-old woman who is giving of herself and her time. In the past, they would only see a bubbly, out-going, praying and saved young lady who is grounded in her faith. When outsiders look at me, they often see someone with two degrees from two of America’s most prestigious institutions, an entrepreneur who prides herself on inspiring others to live life on purpose, and simply lets her light shine despite all obstacles.
However, what so many do not know is that there was a time when I was dying on the inside. On a beautiful summer morning, at the tender age of 25, I suddenly felt sick. It was not the kind of sick where one is coughing with a fever and chills. I felt as if there were a ton of bricks on top of my body and I could not move my feet from the bed to the floor.
Then, there were times when I was unable to stop my mind from racing. I had a hard time concentrating on simple tasks and making decisions. My right leg would shake uncontrollably and I would get so overwhelmed by my mind.
It was in those moments when I inspired to begin researching depression and anxiety. I had the following thoughts as I read the symptoms: “This sounds like me. But, if I’m diagnosed with depression and anxiety, does this mean I am no longer grounded in my faith? Would I walk around claiming something that the Christians deemed as not being a “real” disease? Am I speaking this illness into existence?”
NAMI also describes anxiety as chronic and exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish routine daily tasks.
As the months passed, my symptoms became progressively worse and I became so numb to life. I slowly began to open up to my church family and some of the responses I received were so hurtful. I received a variety of suggestions on everything from speaking in tongues for 20 minutes to avoiding medication because it would make my condition worse.
As a result, I did not know what to do. I felt lost and alone, because a community that I turned to first in my time of trial and tribulation did not understand me. I was so deep in my depression that praying and reading my Bible was too difficult of a task to complete.
As time went on, I eventually went to the doctor and guess what? I was right. I went undiagnosed for over 10 years. Imagine the consequences if a person with cancer, AIDS/HIV or diabetes went undiagnosed.
The Breaking Point
I eventually found myself in the hospital after a friend called 911 to notify them of my suicide attempt. I was so removed from life that when the doctor asked me the day of the week and date, I could not tell him.
Honestly, I can tell you a number of reasons why I tried to commit suicide. Some of them were external factors, such as finances. Some of it was burn-out. Some of it was unresolved childhood issues and genetics.
However, after learning my family medical history, I discovered that several members of my family battled mental illness during their lifetime. Both of my parents battled mental illness, and my grandfather informed me about the time he tried to commit suicide at the age of 14. My uncle was admitted to the hospital due to schizophrenia.
A Bright Future
Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed. God has placed amazing people in my life from family members, friends who are simply extended family, doctors, therapists, and medication.
While my goal is not to rely on medication for the rest of my life, I am grateful that I found something that works while I work through recovery. Looking back to where I was about two years ago, I would have never saw myself living life with depression and anxiety.
I believe in the power of prayer and God’s word. As the scripture states in James 2:17, “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” This leads me to believe that no matter how difficult the situation is, I will have to work towards healing and recovery even though I have a strong foundation and faith.
Do you have words of encouragement for someone who is battling mental illness? Share your thoughts below.
In college, I was quite the busy-body. I found my self-worth in participating in every possible activity, club, and organization. I was in the band, played tennis, and a member of student council. I was also a member of the student television news station, volunteered with the Chapel every Sunday, and I pledged a sorority. Can you say, “busy?!” The less I slept, the more meals I skipped, and the more coffee I drank, the more valuable I felt.
I was not taking care of my temple. Instead, I was abusing it as if that was a way to win God’s approval. As I write this now, it sounds so silly. I’ve matured a lot. But in my younger years, I had some serious insecurities and lacked self-worth. I literally hated everything about the body I was in. I hated my mind, I hated my body, and I hated my spirit. As a result, every part of me was mistreated by…me.
Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since my college days. I’ve learned that there is nothing I can do to earn God’s love and make him value me more than He already does. How could I forget that He was the one who formed me in my mother’s womb? How could I forget that He created me in His own image? How could I not honor Him by taking care of the body, mind, and spirit that He formed—in detail—when He created me?
Since taking care of myself was a completely foreign concept to me, it didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t wake up one morning and begin eating healthy meals and taking time for myself. I truly struggled with how to start valuing and treating myself like a daughter of The King.
“Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that are as healthy in body as you are strong in Spirit.” — 3 John 1:2
God is glorified when we take care of the temples He gave us, and it is important that we do so in body, mind, and spirit.
Feeding your temple: BODY
In college, I was barely eating. I skipped meals to make time for all of my activities, and when I did eat, I only ate cereal, ramen noodles, and fries from the dollar menu at fast-food restaurants. Talk about nutritious! However, I realized that I wanted to be energized to do work for God’s Kingdom, but the way I was fueling my body was leaving me tired, weak, and lethargic. It was time for a diet change.
If you’re active on social media and spend your life online—like most people do—you are most likely aware of the constant pressure to eat healthier, lose weight, and feel your best. However, with my focus being on God’s glory, I chose to change my diet to ensure that His temple that He created was thriving. He is my motivation for healthy living – not how my body looks.
So, if you are looking to make some changes in how you feed your temple, here are a few tips:
Take time out to prepare three healthy meals a day. Breakfast is as important as lunch and lunch is as important as dinner. It is so tempting to skip a meal when we are on-the-go, but we are truly doing ourselves a disservice when we do this.
Start small. It can be overwhelming to change every eating habit at once. Start with breakfast. Set an alarm for 20 minutes earlier than you normally get up to allow yourself time to prepare and eat a nutritious meal.
If you have a sweet tooth like me, look up healthy alternatives online to satisfy that craving. My go-to is a chocolate peanut butter smoothie that is made with raw cacao powder and organic peanut butter. Super healthy and super delicious! It doesn’t have to be hard to feed your body delicious, nutritious meals. You will feel more energized and your body will thank you.
Feeding your temple: MIND
I believe that this falls under the category of taking time for yourself. Let’s face it. We are busy people. This society thrives on “busyness.” I fell into that trap in college and I still have trouble with it today as a wife and mom.
Things have to get done! There is no time for myself! Sleep? What is that?
However, if we neglect sleep and fail to take time for ourselves, our minds become cluttered. And, I realized that when my mind is cluttered, I struggle to hear God and stay in tune with His presence. I am here to glorify the Lord through my every step and if I can’t hear Him, due to a cluttered mind, how can I glorify Him?
I recommend writing down areas in your life that you can see as mind clutter. For me, it’s social media, my busy schedule, and a constant need for perfectionism. Once you figure out what your areas are, write down ways to clear your mind from these things.
I’m going to make a commitment to find time every day to be social media-free. I am going to commit to saying “no” to something on my agenda that just isn’t important and replace that time with something a bit more relaxing.
What commitments can you make to clear your mind? Whatever they are, write them down to help you stick to them. Place Post-It Notes around your house with your commitments. Set reminders on your phone. Write them down in your planner. Ask an accountability partner to remind you of your commitments.
Feeding your temple: SPIRIT
Finally, it is important to feed your spirit. It is the spirit of The Lord that lives inside of you. It is the spirit that God intricately created that makes you, YOU. It is your relationship with the Holy Spirit. Feeding this area of your temple is so important.
However, can I be honest with you? This is the hardest area for me to feed and keep healthy. Can anyone else relate? Why is it easier to scroll through social media than it is to open our Bibles and receive the Truth?
I’ll be the first to admit that planning a healthy meal is much easier for me than devoting time to my relationship with God. I am so thankful for God’s grace and strength in this huge area of weakness for me.
One thing that has truly helped me in this area is getting connected in my church community. Serving in the Church and being a part of small groups Bible studies are both ways to fuel my spirit. They are great ways to ensure that I am taking time out to refresh with The Lord.
However, alone time with the Lord is equally as important and should be a part of our daily lives.
One of my favorite ways to incorporate alone time is to worship in the car while I am driving. No phone, no distractions, just me and the Lord.
While working on your relationship with God, keep in mind that we are not earning God’s approval by spending more time with Him. We cannot do anything to make Him love us more. We are strengthening our relationship with Him because He desires us so much! Don’t let the enemy turn your efforts into a guilt trap when you fall short, because, the truth is, we will always fall short. We are human.
Our Heavenly Father gave each of us these beautiful temples that were made in His image. It is imperative that we take care of them and treasure them just as He treasures us. When we do so, we are making ourselves even more available for Him to use us at His will for His glory, and we are fueled and ready to live the lives that God has called us to live.
What are some healthy ways that you use to feed your temple? Share them below.
Being healthy is pretty simple, but most people in the United States find it pretty hard. And for an African American, it’s over-the-top hard. Not only is the struggle of getting healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle embedded in the culture, but there are sometimes actual physical and financial obstacles to overall health.
There are many things in life that are simple and hard. Like staying committed to your spouse. It’s simple. Just stay faithful to one person for the rest of your life. It’s hard because there are all kinds of ups and downs you go through.
Alongside various temptations, you will also lose that euphoric feeling you had when you first met. That’s what makes it hard for the long haul.
Following Jesus seems simple. Jesus is to be the Ruler and number one priority in your life.
Sounds simple, right? It is but it’s also hard to do it. It means you have to deny yourself. Who wants to do that?
It means that you have to trust someone you cannot see. That’s a pretty high expectation, and if you have ever tried it, it’s extremely difficult.
Application is Key
The simple part about being healthy is summed up in a maxim from Michael Pollan, the author of TheOmnivore’s Dilemma andFood Rules: “Eat [real] food, not too much, mostly plants.” It can also be summed up in the overall guideline of staying active. That seems simple enough but even in the overall culture, it is a tall order. Folks who try often get buried in a mountain of guilt over late-night binges and how that occasional donut in the morning becomes habitual.
There seems to be no end to the people telling us that we need to eat better and stay active. The problem is not more information but application.
Usually where application fails is when we try to break ourselves from our normal routine. It’s all about habits. Habits are what shape our lives.
In his book the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says that habits can be broken down into three basic steps.
First, there is a cue or the trigger that tells our brains that we need to do something. The next step is the routine, which is the behavior that leads to the reward. The next step is the reward that reinforces the habit.
This is something he has labeled the habit loop.
Breaking Old Habits
It seems simple to break a habit then. All we need to do is recognize our cues. Then we can choose alternate behaviors that lead to a different reward.
The problem comes when your whole culture is made up of cues that go against the habit you are trying to break. That’s when the mountain of unhealthiness seems insurmountable.
At that point, you have to choose between your cultural identity and your personal well-being. What do I mean by that?
It’s Sunday afternoon at Big Mama’s house and everyone is famished after spending hours at church. Big Mama’s table is full of all kinds of things that are detrimental to your health: creamy mac and cheese. Fried chicken. Chocolate cake.
The only thing that’s decent is the collared greens and those have been overcooked with ham hocks. So the health factor is reduced.
What do you do? Do you skip the meal? You’re hungry and after all, you don’t want to disappoint Big Mama. Plus your family has been eating this way for years.
Besides that not only has your family been eating this way but millions of African American families have been eating this way. It’s embedded in your culture.
You begin to remember that time when your unusual cousin from California came and ate a salad the whole week and everyone ridiculed her and said she had been hanging around white folks too much.
You don’t want to be thought of as betraying your race. So you reach for the fried chicken. It’s only right.
Limited Time and Resources
How about the many African Americans who are single moms? You don’t have time to cook healthy meals for the kids. You are just trying to make it through the day and get some peace once they are finally put to bed.
So what do you do? You give them the quickest and easiest thing.
Most of the time the quickest and easiest thing is also the unhealthiest. It is loaded with sodium and sugar. It is targeted to parents and children and has been tested and refined to produce a bliss point.
I learned about this concept from the book by Michael Moss titled Salt Sugar Fat
The bliss point is the perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that will get people craving for more. You don’t want to hear this but you’ve been had.
The food companies are deliberately making you unhealthy so they can make a profit from your lack of time to cook healthy meals for your family.
What if you did choose to live healthy in spite of the inconvenience of cultural identity and time? You still may face other challenges.
Let’s say you decided to follow Michael Pollan’s food maxim of eating real food and mostly plants. The economics are against you. Real food just costs more.
When you’re faced with feeding your family with the amount of money for food in your budget you have to make some choices. If it doesn’t add up you will buy the junk. And then you’re pulled back into the cycle.
There is also the existence of food deserts that totally trump eating healthy. A food desert is a swath of a usually urban community that does not have a grocery store.
There is no access to healthy food and families resort to buying food from the corner store which is usually processed and packaged. No fresh fruits or vegetables in sight.
If you are part of the 23.5 million people (mostly African American and Latino) in the United States who live in a food desert, this is a huge obstacle.
Let’s Talk Money
How about if you said that you wanted to stay active? You want to get a gym membership. That’s going to cost. You also have a family to take care of and a job to go to. You have to find time to squeeze it in.
Not only that but when most of your friends are not active then you won’t be active. Jim Rohn, the popular self-help guru, is often quoted as saying “You are the average of the five people you most spend time with.”
When it comes to being active, most black people don’t hang around other active black people. Watching sports on TV doesn’t count.
This is the essence of the struggle many black people face when it comes to health. On the surface, it seems like the struggle that anyone who wants to make a major change faces.
In many ways it is. What makes it unique is the cultural factors surrounding health.
For most African Americans eating processed, cheap, nutrient-absent foods and sitting on the couch watching reality shows has become a way of life.
Gathering around the table to consume salt, sugar, and fat in copious amounts has become the symbol of what it means to be family.
History of Soul Food
Don’t get me wrong. I love soul food. I think that the distinct flavor of the cuisine that we grew up with is worth having once in a while but I also believe that some of the ingredients have gone the way of just wowing the taste buds instead of delivering the sustenance we need.
He recalls the meals that his Ma’ Dear made in Tennessee and how they were organic and contained ingredients from the garden. It is important to note that we didn’t always eat like this.
So what happened? Corporate America happened. Concern for profit became more important than concern for humans.
In the 1960s, Soul Food became a hit and the recipes became more dangerous to our health. We have come to equate soul food with the fare showcased in the episode of the Boondocks about the “itis.”
You know, that feeling you get after a big meal and you just want to fall over and go to sleep.
TV or play video games on the couch are not what we are designed to do.
It’s a way of life I’ve seen played out in too many homes. Personally, I’ve tried to break away from it. I do it in fits and starts.
Some leafy greens here. Some HIIT workouts there. Then sooner or later the holidays come. That’s when the temptation levels are the highest.
My mind has two thoughts battling each other. The first thought is to not give in and pursue my highest ideals. The second one is that I’m not only missing out on the stimulation of my taste buds but the community that I’m a part of.
Most African Americans are a part of the church. It would seem that this makes things even worse. When church people get together, they eat.
And they don’t just eat but they eat good (or bad depending on your point of view). Treating our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit seems to only apply to sex, smoking, and drinking in the church world. Packaged foods and large meals get a free pass.
I can remember when I was a strict vegan for six months in college. I was filled with energy and it was mostly from the food that I was eating and not eating.
I felt like I was lighter than air. My mind was clear and I didn’t have any illnesses. Why did I stop? Family telling me I was eating rabbit food.
To put it simply I had no community to support me. And when it comes to food and many other lifestyle choices, the community always wins. That’s why for most African Americans, eating healthy is simple and hard at the same time.
In the middle of lively conversation over dinner with a friend recently, he paused, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath while placing his hand over his chest. The pain was evident on his face. When I asked what was wrong, he shared that he had been experiencing chest pains and fatigue with regular occurrence.
“Have you been to the doctor?” I asked.
“Nah. It’s probably anxiety. I’ve been stressed at work lately.”
We talked honestly about the severity of his symptoms and when they started. And because we’re cool, I asked about the results from his latest physical examination. Turns out, not only had he not seen a doctor about his recent episodes, he had not had a regular check-up in three years. I urged him to go to the doctor as soon as possible in the event that his symptoms were evidence of a significant illness.
Health is wealth.
If health is wealth, and it is, then many African Americans are guilty of not knowing the balance in our accounts. Meaning, annual check-ups and preventative care are not what we do. For my friend, it was a perceived lack of time that moved annual doctor’s visits to the bottom of his list of priorities. I can identify with him. While I do not skip my annual visits to my primary care physician and gynecologist, often when I am sick, I ignore the symptoms. My husband has to gently encourage me to call the doctor. Between keeping up home, shuttling our girls to their activities, ministry, and work, who has time to sit in a waiting room for hours?
For others, lack of insurance coverage, fear of disease, and historic exploitation of black bodies in medical science that fostered a distrust of doctors keeps them from scheduling preventative exams and following up on symptoms. The reality is that preventative care costs less than treating a preventable disease and browsing Dr. Google can invoke more fear that having concrete information and making informed decisions about your health. There is also the systemic racism, trauma and devaluing of our bodies that African Americans have and continue to face — experiences that have caused us to normalize pain to the point that we ignore the signs when our bodies are suffering. I am reminded of the woman recorded in Luke 13:10-17 who was bent over for eighteen years. The Bible does not tell us that at any point she sought healing. She went about her business living in chronic pain until Jesus saw her and healed her.
We are living in grind culture, where many of us skimp on sleep and spend countless hours scrolling on devices while eating conveniently packaged foods packed with sodium, fat, and sugar. And although African Americans are living longer in general, reports show that younger African Americans (18-49) are afflicted with and dying of treatable diseases like heart disease, stroke, and complications from diabetes at an alarming rate, according to the CDC. In fact, younger African Americans are living with diseases that commonly affected older adults. The stressors from unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and lack of access to healthcare negatively impacts their health. We are living longer, but we are getting sick earlier.
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.
Psalm 118:17 (NRSV)
What are we to do? The first thing is to make a decision to live. Part of that decision is to make annual physical examinations a priority. As the proverb goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I schedule all of my appointments—annual physical, gynecological exam, mammogram, and eye examination around my birthday. Doing so helps me to remember my appointments and also helps me to recognize the blessed gift of life that God has given me to steward. The other part of that decision to live is to listen to our bodies and to follow up with a doctor if even the slightest thing is off, with the recognition that we are worthy of care and that we do not have to live with chronic pain and disease.
Because our health is so valuable and important, I would suggest finding doctors that you feel comfortable with, that you can trust, and that are sensitive to your particular needs. Word of mouth from family, friends, and coworkers is the best way to find a good doctor. Developing a relationship with a doctor will also allow them to know your baseline levels, recognize patterns in your health, and know immediately when something needs additional attention.
The bottom line is that we have to see our doctors as if our lives depend on it…because they do. Whether you need to cram in a visit to the health center in-between college classes or you are scheduling your very first mammogram, here’s a list of the exams you need by decade, courtesy of Tri-City Medical Center:
For informational purposes only. The information in this article is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.
Rev. Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah is a preacher, chaplain, teacher, artist, writer, thinker, and dreamer who loves to study the Word of God, encourage others, and worship God. Rev. Owusu-Ansah holds a BS in Studio Art from New York University, an MFA in Photography from Howard University, and a Master of Divinity, Pastoral Theology, from Drew University. You can check out her website at https://www.reverendmotherrunner.com.