Black Health Matters: Bring the Revolution Home

Black Lives Matter protesters and supporters march from the Minneapolis Police Department's Fourth Precinct to the Federal Building in Minneapolis, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. The fatal shooting of Jamar Clark, a black man, by a Minneapolis police officer, has pushed racial tensions in the city's small but concentrated minority community to the fore, with the police precinct besieged by the makeshift encampment and many protesters. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

By LaTroya Hester

We have been chanting that Black lives matter — that our lives matter — for some time now. To be true, past generations have chanted that Black lives matter since slavery, the Jim Crow era, voting suppression and the civil rights movement.

Calls from the current generation have ranged from written commentary on the subtle microaggressions that lead to oppression, to city riots that cry out so loudly that continued injustice can no longer be ignored. The revival has been as invigorating and as unapologetic as if it were straight out of the west coast’s 1990s. Its sparks have hinted at the revolution that is surely upon us.

Our demand has been on American society to value African American lives. And why not? It is 2016, and the disparities that still affect African Americans are appalling. Daily we endure the impact of poverty, unemployment, poor education and low access to quality healthcare. While Washington seems to piddle with the plights of the privileged, African Americans remain at the top of the class for almost every major disease and bad habit that leads to them. Smoking-related illness? Yes. HIV? Number one. Diabetes? Absolutely.  Plus we lead in death rates for just about EverySingle. Cancer.

Despite the challenges and barriers posed by systemic institutional racism, the revolutionaries are rising up. We have protested on the frontline of the streets, but know that the revolution has long been welcomed at the front door of our homes — that’s where justice hangs its hat.

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Perhaps the tobacco industry is finding new and innovative ways to dispense their toxins, thinking we won’t recognize the new face of nicotine. Do they think we can be enticed to give up our freedom for an e-addiction?  Have they forgotten that we are the hope and the dream of the slave? They may make menthols cheaper and easier to get in our neighborhoods, but we will no longer allow such an industry to profit from our destruction. The revolution is settling in.

The vibrations of the revolution permeate the walls of our homes and into our personal lives. Some of us revolutionaries are college students who are honoring the ground of their sacred HBCUs by declaring them entirely tobacco-free. Some of us revolutionaries are simply kids who aren’t afraid to throw shade in the direction of a hookah lounge. To those who have committed to a smoke-free life and to those who are quitting for the third time, we hear you loud and clear. The revolution has come home.

Are the grocery stores still out of our reach? Is it still more convenient to get a burger than a banana where we live? Let’s not forget that we are the descendants of revolutionaries who marched for miles to give us the education we had long been denied. So don’t be surprised that even the youngest of our revolutionaries work with local corner store owners to stock healthy options for their neighbors. There are revolutionaries who advocate for sidewalks and streetlights. And there are revolutionaries that simply make it their business to speed walk and jog because, yes, Black girls do run, and our health does matter. The revolution has come home.

And for those who would perpetuate stigma and prejudice in our very own community, please know that as the church finds its way and our school systems begin to rise to the occasion, the revolutionaries will be handling their business. Our revolutionaries are educators who don’t hesitate to discuss the HIV epidemic in public. They are ball kids who pass out condoms, women who get tested regularly and a people who know their status. See, the revolution starts within.

We are wholly sure that our health matters because our lives matter. This inner knowing has called us to join the ranks of those taking action in the streets, on the Hill and in our personal lives. The revolution is seated on our couches. It’s sleeping in the back room and using our toothbrushes. We welcome the revolution to come on in this house because MLK’s dream was for us to live the dream.

And we must live.

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