John Singleton, acclaimed movie producer, director and screenwriter, made his transition at the age of 51 – apparently from a stroke caused by uncontrolled blood pressure. All untimely departures give us reason to pause, reflect and often grieve. But a preventable untimely death sounds an alarm that we must heed. African Americans cannot afford to lose anyone unnecessarily – famous or not – especially when we can stem the tide.
Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, Inc. (SHIRE) made a commitment in 1997 to help African Americans of all ages “stem the tide”. Since 2006 we have worked tirelessly to help DC residents to “take charge of our health.” Our initial focus was on preventing childhood obesity,but it soon became clear that embracing health and wellness had to be a family affair. In 2014 we began a partnership with AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia (ACDC) to conduct Wellness Circles for their members with diabetes and hypertension. Our collaboration has been hugely successful as confirmed by ACDC data. Members have lost weight, lowered their blood pressure and blood sugar levels. They have supported each other, family members and neighbors in making lifestyle choices that help them manage their conditions and improve their health status. ACDC has reported fewer visits to emergency departments as another benefit. SHIRE and ACDC have worked together for five years and have helped launch Wellness Circles conducted by other community leaders that serve residents in five DC wards.
We know that Wellness Circles work. Participants receive the latest information about diabetes and hypertension which helps them understand causes and how to manage their conditions. Experts share tips about label reading, portion size, foods for health and foods to avoid. We promote movement at every session – Tai Chi, yoga, and especially exercises you can do at home. Breathologists and meditation practitioners guide members through stress-reducing techniques. We provide a healthful meal at each session and incentives, such as grocery gift cards and prizes for improved health numbers. A key success factor is creating an environment that encouragesparticipants to take that first step on the path to wellness, and to set and achieve health improvement goals. Also essential is the engagement of community residents as peer educators and site assistants who recruit participants and follow-up to encourage their continued participation. These individuals have become wellness champions in the community as they serve as role models for self-care and lifestyle changes.
SHIRE is planning a new Wellness Circle series this fall. We encourage eligible AmeriHealth members to say “yes” when invited by SHIRE and other outreach teams. SHIRE also invites health providers and agencies to contact us that seek to really involve those they serve as partners in their own healing process. We are also looking for partners who share our desire to involve young people in Wellness Circles that are designed withand for them. Interested parties are welcome to reach us at 202-371-0277, extension 1317. Please also visit our website at www.shireinc.org for more information about SHIRE.
It is time not only to “stem” but to turn the tide. To quote civil rights heroine Fannie Lou Hamer, we don’t have to continue to be “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” In 400 years, we have set the high mark and led the way time and time again. It is time, way past time, for African Americans to take charge of our health and our lives so that we can fulfill our God-given potential.
Ruth T. Perot – Executive Director/CEO
Canary Girardeau – Senior Program Associate
Dawn Covin – Program Manager