Byron Oden Shabazz
2:30 pm
Mon April 9, 2012

Minority Health Month

From guest commentator Byron Oden Shabazz:

As the US Supreme Court deals with President Obama's health care plan, here in western Illinois we are celebrating Minority Health Month as a reminder of our community's -- and the nation's -- commitment to educate all people about the need for comprehensive health care.

But this doesn't just mean Washington, DC -- a true health care policy puts the responsibility of a healthy populace, in whatever neighborhood or ethnic group, in the hands of the community, the schools, and in the hands of each of us.  In truth, beyond the debate over President Obama's health care plan, we all pay for unhealthy communities in many ways.

Two areas, in particular, are critical for a healthy community: Education and Food.  And both areas are crucial in not only transforming our communities into healthier environments, but reducing our nation's costs and tax burden.

Take food.  As the ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates wrote: "Let medicine be your food , and food be your medicine . " And yet, most studies show that rural and poor urban neighborhoods lack even the basic access to fresh food.  Supermarkets are rarely found in the most economically depressed areas.  

In Los Angeles, however, just as former NBA star Magic Johnson took the initiative in opening healthy food markets in underserved areas and enjoyed great success, western Illinois could take the lead in providing small business loans and tax incentives to encourage start-up markets, family farm and garden deliveries and greater access to fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products.

Such a food initiative should also go into the classroom.  Here in the farm belt of the heartland, WIU and Macomb and local farmers could work closely together to take part in the growing farm-to-school food initiatives, insuring that our children eat locally grown, organic and healthy meals, instead of industrial packaged foodstuff.

Minority education, in fact, is the key.  What is minority education?  Real minority education for a healthy community transcends the classroom or single ethnic groups--we need to offer a new definition of education that exposes our children, students and community to both new and traditional cultures. 

We need to explain how the health of our community is dependent on the health of all of its citizens; that the way we live gives meaning in how to apply these diverse and varying lifestyles into a healthy life today.  In a west African village, for example, children learn the concept of ubuntu, which means: "I am, because we are."

Byron Oden Shabazz is Co-President of the Western Illinois University Black Caucus and is a member of the Minority Health Month Committee. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of WIU or Tri States Public Radio.