Although February is Black History Month, we must be careful not to restrict the subject to merely one month of the year. As an educator who was often the only teacher of color on staff, I saw this happen in the classrooms of my colleagues. In an effort to reverse this pattern, I brought the issue to the forefront by speaking up about my concerns. I made it my business to help young, elementary students expand their view of the world. Black history goes beyond the color of one’s skin. Black history impacts world history.
During Black History Month, we are often exposed to men and women who have contributed to fields such as medicine, education, science, entertainment, politics, and sports. I believe that health history should be factored in to what is highlighted during Black History Month. In the same way that learning about the past can help us understand and appreciate our present so that we can prepare for the future, the same is true of our health history. We need to know what is being passed from one generation to the next.
Perhaps it’s a cultural “thing,” but family health matters are often considered “hush hush” and swept under the carpet. You know, the proverbial “elephant” that everyone sees, but no one talks about. This is not beneficial and has gotten us no where – except to an early grave. I encourage dialogue about family health as part of my platform as an inspirational and experiential speaker promoting health and wellness as a lifestyle. We must have the conversations, ask the questions, and then use the information to take action.
Some chronic illnesses can have a generational impact. If we don’t know what’s in our family blood line, then it’s possible to be blindsided unnecessarily. Let’s look at breast cancer. Guidelines state that women should get their first mammogram at age 45. However, a daughter of a survivor needs to get her mammogram 10 years earlier than when her mother was diagnosed. Without this knowledge, the daughter may miss that early screening and find herself embarking upon her own cancer journey. Did you know that even though white women are diagnosed more frequently than Black women, Black women are dying at higher rates? Additionally, Black women are being diagnosed with advanced stages of breast cancer. This can limit treatment options and result in higher death rates.
Diabetes and high blood pressure are other chronic illnesses that can impact multiple generations. These conditions may be the result of something more than heredity – cultural upbringing. Lifestyle plays a role in the presence or absence of disease. I’m referring to the foods and beverages that are/are not consumed, food preparation, as well as whether we are/are not engaging in exercise. We can control and change these variables. But if no one is willing to have the conversations, to ask the questions, to do something different, nothing changes and the unhealthy patterns continue.
“Nothing changes if nothing changes.” How true. We have to address the health history in the Black community and in every community. It may mean the difference between life and death for current and future generations. Did you know that in some places of the world, babies are being predisposed with conditions such as diabetes in utero due to the food and drink choices made by their mothers? What?! Life is tough enough as it is. We should want the unborn to enter the world with the healthiest start possible.
Conversations about family health history have to start somewhere, with someone. YOU can be the voice that initiates an ongoing dialogue. To help you get started, the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition has created a Family Health History Tree.
Print it out and do your research. Then, talk to family members and your physician about genetic risk factors that may exist, as well as lifestyle changes that can be made.
History is just not something we celebrate – it’s something we create.