Aetna

Introduction

Diverse Efforts Yield Real Results in Health Equality

By Rev. Dr. Fred Lucas

African American faith leaders across the country are “walking on water” and performing modern-day miracles of healing. They are doing this by creating ministries and programs that encourage people of faith to move beyond stained glass windows, elaborate domes, and prayer halls to serve the larger community.

Today, it is more important than ever for African American congregations and faith-based organizations to address health care gaps in their local communities.

We are encouraged by the individuals and groups featured in this calendar. They are using their faith practices to improve the health and wellness of their members. They are seeing positive results through their diverse efforts. This is a small sampling of the many faith-filled visionaries working in some of America’s most challenged, yet promising neighborhoods.

The work of these faith-based groups is part of African American tradition. From the period of slavery to the present, African American places of worship have been the hub of the African American community. They have responded to social, political, economic, educational and cultural needs. 

Over decades, the African American faith community has made major contributions. It has helped create hospitals, nursing homes and orphanages specifically for the African American community. Historically black colleges and universities have been formed, and continue to do important work. And this faith community has provided financial support; political power; volunteers; facilities and physical space; media ministries; and “bully pulpits” to develop the body, mind, and soul.

Many of today’s African American faith leaders are still preaching to communities in crisis. Death rates among the 41 million African Americans in our country are at least twice as high as those of non-Hispanic whites. This community suffers greatly from cancers (especially prostate, breast, and stomach); and experiences high incidence of heart disease, stroke, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, and infant mortality. 

HIV/AIDS stats are even more alarming. African Americans, who are 13.5 percent of the population, account for 49 percent of all cases. Approximately 24 percent of African Americans rely on public health insurance.1 Almost 20 percent of African Americans are uninsured.2 In so many ways, health equality is a key part of economic progress. 

There is so much more that can and should be done. The individuals and groups featured in this calendar are beginning to address these health gaps. They do so with diet, exercise, and nutrition education; healthful meal options for church gatherings; and aerobics, liturgical dance, basketball leagues, and marching bands. They also offer substance-abuse programs, culturally and biblically sensitive health literacy materials, health ministries and fairs, preventive services, and early detection. These ministries of healing provide on-site reviews, screening and training, along with medical institutions serving at-risk neighborhoods.

Public-/private-sector partnerships are important. More and more nonprofit organizations are obtaining large-scale, outside funding not available to religious groups. We are seeing new doors opening for faith-based groups led by well-trained and semiprofessional clergy and laity. Together with professional staff and dedicated volunteers, we all can make a real difference in the communities where we live and work, and preach and pray. 

Truly, this year’s Aetna African American History Calendar is a source of education, inspiration and hope!

Rev. Dr. Fred Lucas is senior pastor at Brooklyn Community Church; president/CEO of Faith Center For Community Development, Inc. in Brooklyn, New York; and an adjunct faculty member at New York Theological Seminary.

1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Office of Minority Health, African American Minority Health Profile, 2010, www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov.
2Ibid.