I’ve seen too many women die over the past few months. Women that had so much life left to live. Women that had virtually conquered the world and transformed lives. Women who were gone too soon. I took their deaths personally.
I was angry that I didn’t know about their cancers before they died. I was angered by their secrecy. I was angry at the disease that caused them to turn inward and remain invisible. Could they have been saved? I took it exceptionally hard because, just a few years ago, my own life was saved because of my sister.
February 2007, at the age of 35, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided to visit the Emergency Room for a migraine headache and requested a mammogram due to a feeling she had. Not an actual physical feeling, but a gut feeling.
She almost dismissed that gnawing in her stomach and came close to chalking it up to her being somewhat of a “hypochondriac” but she pushed past her own internal judgment to ask the doctor to give her a mammogram. It was in her self-advocacy that she learned she had breast cancer.
My sister elected to have a mastectomy and began her journey to survivorship March of that year.
Too Close to Home
My sister’s diagnosis raised my awareness to the disease. I knew about cancer, as many of my aunts died of the deadly disease. However, this time, it was a little too close to home.
I shared my sister’s diagnosis with my doctor and she advised me, at 32 years of age, to get a baseline mammogram. I’m glad I did.
Three years later, in 2010, before my 35th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years earlier I had a lumpectomy as a mass was discovered but it was benign. But it was due to that discovery that routine screenings began for me.
My routine mammogram in 2010 was one of the most difficult ones I had. The squeezing, pulling, and tugging of the technician to get a good picture was unpleasant. Waiting in a room for a few people to look at my results also caused great anxiety. The repeat exam caused great alarm. The letter in the mail carrying the news that I needed a biopsy was mortifying.
The fine needle aspiration and the diagnosis later sucked all the air out of my lungs. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer…#worldstop!
My doctor advised me to have genetic counseling and it was through a blood draw and genetic testing that I learned I had the BRCA2 gene mutation. My doctor encouraged me to use that information to make an informed decision about my treatment. I decided to have a double-mastectomy.
There is a more technical term for it but essentially one breast was removed due to cancer and the other was removed as a preventive measure.
My Sister’s Keeper
The same BRCA2 gene mutation also increased my chances of having both breast and ovarian cancer so in 2011 I also had my ovaries removed. Everything had to go!
I am sharing this story because I want to save a sister. My sister did for me what I hope to do for you, and that is to encourage you to become an advocate for yourself and take charge of your health. I was diagnosed with cancer but not given a death sentence. I am still here, 7 years later, sharing my story with you because I want you to live, too.
- Get tested. Early detection is the key.
- Share your story. Let someone else know what steps you took for survival. Let them know your journey so that they too can become vigilant in their health.
- Break the silence. It’s time to stop hiding.
Going Beyond Breast Cancer
I am pleased to announce that another sister of mine is breaking the silence related to a health issue experienced by thousands of women, infertility. The Rev. Dr. Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn is the founder and president of, Fertility for Colored Girls, NFP (FFCG).
FFCG has been around for roughly four years and has made its mission to be a resource, advocate, and fertility coach for men and women looking to create the families of their dreams.
FFCG has been bringing awareness to the issue of fertility among black and brown women across the nation. The organization has 7 chapters in 7 metropolitan areas and is looking to open 5 more chapters this year.
Dr. Edwards-Dunn just released a book, Hold on to Hope: Stories of Black Women’s Fertility, Faith, & Fight to Become Mommies earlier this month. The book is to help other women know their options for creating the family they long to have. Dr. Edwards-Dunn is working to save a sister. I am here because my sister saved me. Who will you save?
More information about Rev. Dr. Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn’s book can be found at www.drstaceyledwardsdunn.com
Do you have a story of silent survival that you’d like to share? Leave it below.
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?”
Who Can I Turn To?
According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain and mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt and one cannot “just snap out of it.”
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.
The idea of suicide is absolutely unthinkable to most. However, if you look at it through the eyes of someone in the darkness of depression, the anxiety of schizophrenia, the confusion of bi-polar disorder and so many others, many people may consider ending it all to have peace.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans. However, mental health is nothing new in the black community, and those who are suffering silently may not always feel that they have a welcomed seat at the table to be comforted or healed.
Mental health is sometimes undermined in the Black community because those who have suicidal thoughts feel that they may be considered “insane” or too weak to withstand life’s circumstances. And then, there are those within the faith community who may say that dealing with suicidal thoughts is as simple as giving it to God or “pray it away.”
But what happens when you’re a Christian and still suffer from mental illness and suicidal thoughts? And what is the church’s role in in helping these people?
Josceleyne, 28, had a late diagnosis of bi-polar disorder. Amidst the diagnosis she injured her back, lost her job, and lost her insurance; however, she continued to pursue her Master’s degree while being loved by her loyal husband and children.
Due to her sudden loss of income, Josceleyne accrued more student loan debt and extremely was anxious about her financial stability. As a result of all she was going through, Joscelyne, a devout Christian, turned to her pastor for assistance and didn’t receive the response she was expecting. She also felt a lack of emotional support from her church family after her diagnosis, due to what she believed was a lack of understanding, according to family members.
And like others before her, Josceleyne was told to “pray harder,” instead of seeking professional help on how to cope with her current situation.
As time went on, Josceleyne began to take a combination of pain medication to subdue the wrenching back pain and sleeping pills because of her insomnia. Then, one night she accidentally overdosed on her medications and ended her life.
Josceleyne’s family says there was an overwhelmingly negative response to her accidental death that included gossip on her mental state, speculation on why she did not hand her issues to God, and limited support from the community.
Often, the stigma of mental illness in the Black community is that it is a personal issue, not a result of chemical imbalance. However, when people have cancer or other incurable diseases the community may offer sympathy and prayer. There is nothing immoral about seeking medical attention for those ailments, so why would there be criticism for incurable, mental illness?
As Christians, we cannot place the burden on those who suffer. According to Ephesians 6:18, we are told to “be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”
“Don’t Give Up Like Me.”
Often, members of the black community are raised to avoid cracking under pressure and staying strong even in the midst of chaos. So, mood disorders, such as depression, are viewed as a weakness instead of an illness, which often leads to thoughts of suicide.
Angie, an educated woman in her 20’s, knows this story all too well.
Just a few years ago, her budding, post-recession career was falling apart repeatedly, along with her long-term relationship. And although she appeared to have it all together, she lived a just above the poverty line.
As a result of all that was going on, and despite her prayer and praise, Angie finally gave up hope. She made peace with ending her life because she got tired of repeatedly failing, being poor, and felt like a waste of God’s time. Upon making her decision she called her best friend, Elle, and said, “Don’t give up like me. I can’t do it anymore, but you can make it. Just don’t give up.”
On that day, Elle immediately became one of God’s vessels by crying with Angie, discussing her decision, offering encouragement and pushing her to get back up. Then, Angie received additional support from her cousin, Dylan, who sat up with her well into the night to bring her to the source of pain so she could begin to heal.
Soon after, Angie reluctantly went to her pastor and feared condemnation, but instead her concerned pastor simply asked, “Why.” And, even after she explained all of her reasons for wanting to end her life, Angie’s pastor offered both scripture and words of encouragement during her time of need.
Angie says that having Elle, Dylan, and her pastor allowed her to know that nothing was greater than love, especially self-love, which is an extension of God’s love.
How many of us have already written our mental obituaries with the headline, “Don’t Give Up Like Me,” because it was assumed that no one would be there to help us? Is it truly better to suffer alone when we are all a part of God’s family?
By bringing the issue to the forefront, it will help to erase the stigma, recognize the signs/symptoms, and create an avenue of help for those who are suffering.
Ways to Help Those Suffering from Mental Illness
- Establish an understanding of what mental illness and mood disorders really are
- Consider establishing resources right there in your church, including in-house training for staff, informational videos and pamphlets for parishioners.
- Invite speakers who have survived mental illness to come in and speak to members of the congregation.
- Consider preaching sermons on mental illness and mood disorders.
- Organize events centered around mental health
- Provide resources that will connect those in need with the right programs and medical professionals.
Available resources and support for people with mental illness
Breast cancer is often associated with older women. However, young women are not exempt.
Although October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness of the disease, many women still take their health for granted, particularly millennials. However, breast cancer, a form of cancer that originates in breast tissue, is the most common cancer among women worldwide.
In fact, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 American women who reach the age of 80 will be diagnosed in their lifetime. Each year, over 246,000 women will be diagnosed; that’s one woman every 2 minutes. Roughly 25,000 patients under the age of 45 will be diagnosed this year alone, which includes millennials, the largest generation since baby boomers. Millennials were born between the early 1980s and late 1990s, making them between ages 18 and 35 now.
Christina Best, 24
Christina Best, a 24-year-old North Carolina schoolteacher, is one of those young people. She was recently confronted with some of the toughest news of her life. Earlier this year, Christina discovered some irregularities during a regular self-exam, then visited a doctor who broke the news: She had Stage 2 breast cancer.
“The most challenging thing for me was the period of not knowing after my initial diagnosis,” she says. “I had a lot of plans for the summer that I eventually had to cancel. I experienced a lot of anxiety by not knowing my stage of cancer initially and what my treatment plan was.”
During the summer, Christiana underwent surgery to remove her cancer and discovered that it hadn’t spread. She’s currently undergoing chemotherapy, which has presented its own challenges: losing her hair, living at home again for the first time since leaving for college and being on extended sick leave, which has given her more free time than she’s had in years.
“What has helped are the small goals I make for myself – walking around the neighborhood every day for exercise or going to see friends when I feel up to it. Additionally, my post-treatment plans of [going back to school to pursue] a third degree gives me a lot of motivation to finish my treatment and get on with my life and goals.”
For African-American millennials, the risk is among the highest of all diagnosed cases among women of all ethnic backgrounds. More Black women under the age of 45 are diagnosed than their Caucasian peers. While genetics and first-degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter) can influence a woman’s chances, 85 percent of women with breast cancer have no family history. And awareness about the disease in younger women is still hard to find. Christina wrote a blog post about walking into the cancer treatment center to find women much older than her who seemed surprised to see her there.
“I personally don’t know any millennials with breast cancer. It’s certainly not common at this younger age, but there is a growing presence and, thankfully, the Internet is allowing us to connect with each other and share our experiences.”
Painted Pink is one of those organizations helping to raise awareness of breast cancer among millennials. With a mission to “Educate, Support, Empower and Survive,” the Atlanta-based group focuses on preventative measures and funding for cancer patients. Founder Ann-Marie Appiah is a millennial and survivor that hosts an annual luncheon in Atlanta during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Christina emphasizes living a healthy life, knowing your body, maintaining regular self-exams and doctor’s appointments and being proactive about your health. While there is no single cause for breast cancer, doctors say that exercising, eating healthy, not smoking, taking caution around chemicals, and managing alcohol consumption go a long way to giving you the best shot at a cancer-free life.
If you do know someone who was recently diagnosed, Christina says to “be present and treat the person regularly. Also, listen to what it is they want and need but give them the time to know what it is they want or need. If they want to vent, let them do so. If they want encouragement, give them encouragement. If they want to be happy, let them be happy.”
Another is one of the biggest tools that people like Appiah and Christina credit for getting them through their diagnosis and treatment. “Faith has been the center of my treatment,” Christina explains. “I am naturally an optimistic person, but keeping my faith has been essential to peace and healing. I know that everything I go through in life is for greater, and I have much to offer through the blessings that I am given.”
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 The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food 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 a habitual.
There seems to be no end to the
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 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. 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.
Bryant Terry, author of Afro-Vegan, in his article “Reclaiming True Grits” points out that once upon a time African American food was nutrient dense and less processed. 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 is 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.
Thankfully there are those in the African American community who are banding together to promote good health. Here are just a few websites to help you find community for your new fitness habits:
Beautiful Women Do Workout
Black Fitness Today
Black Girl’s Guide to Weightloss
Urban Faith does not endorse any of the content on these sites. These links are provided only as a resource.
So what about you? Do you find it hard to live a healthy lifestyle? Do you find African American culture presents a barrier to a healthy lifestyle?