When the Tom Joyner Morning Show comes to town, you know fun is going to be part of the program. But at this year’s “Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day” event at the Liacouris Center, a serious message came along with it. Celebrities local and national came out for the event, including the TJMS crew – Tom, Sybil and J. Anthony Brown, who did a live broadcast from Philadelphia on Friday morning – singers Johnny Gill and Vivian Green, actresses A.J. Johnson, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Tamela Mann and motivational speaker Les Brown, along with some of the nation’s leading African-American doctors. All had the same goal – to encourage African-Americans to make health a priority.
“I believe that your health is your greatest wealth,” said Ralph, who attended the event with her husband, Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes. The two are noted activists in the battle against HIV/AIDS, doing charity and awareness events to encourage the public to be tested. “I always tell people how important good health is. It’s important to be able to get up in the morning, put your feet on the ground and move forward in a healthy body and healthy spirit. When you are in good health, you’re least likely to be angry, irritable and upset. And when you’re angry and upset, you pass that bad vibe on to others. What can we do to get people to have a better vibe? Get them healthy in mind, body and spirit.”
Ralph’s sentiments were echoed by just about everyone who came out to the event, which featured free health screenings for high blood pressure, dental, and other health-related challenges. There was also a booth offering and introduction to CPR training and African-American doctors and dentists who were available to answer questions from the public. Panels included ones on women’s health, men’s health, children’s health and a "State of Our Health" town hall.
On the “State of our Health” panel, several leading Black doctors discussed the impact of poor health on the overall community, including mental health. “We are suffering tremendously in that area,” Hughes told the audience. “The disparities that we experience are sometimes self-inflicted,” said Dr. Rahn Bailey, head of the 37,000 member National Medical Association of practicing African-American doctors. “Don’t allow stigma, misperception and bias [keep you from getting help].”
Politics came up on the panel as well. Hughes encouraged voters to give Obama four more years, given that his widely criticized “Obamacare” has already shown positive results in the Black community. “Vote in your own self-interest,” Hughes said.
The women’s health panel, hosted by “TJMS” personality Sybil Wilkes, focused on an issue very personal to Wilkes. Nineteen years ago, her beloved mother Bettie Anne Wilkes, succumbed to breast cancer. Wilkes is now an ambassador for Susan G. Komen Circle of Promise, an initiative by the nation’s leading breast cancer organization to help African-American and other minority women get screened and support them through diagnosis and treatment. Although breast cancer strikes African-American women less, it kills them more, possibly due to a lack of adequate screening and resistance to treatment.
“My mother was the finest person I ever knew and my best friend,” Wilkes says. “Because of her, I feel compelled to do as much as I can and that’s why I was so glad to work with Komen."
Wilkes says that while there are genetic predispositions to cancer and breast cancers do run in families, our health choices or lack thereof are part of what is making the disease so difficult to combat.
“We are not always raised or living in the best health conditions so there are things there that we have to be very cognizant of, as well as our diets. Obesity certainly plays a part, so we have to be very proactive about our exercise and there are things we can avoid eating and don’t have to put in our bodies.”
Actress/fitness expert A.J. Johnson is a poster girl for the benefits of exercise. The petite actress, who admits to being in her 40’s, has no evident body fat, but says she does eat and doesn’t work out all the time.
“We’re living in a time where disease has taken over,” Johnson says. “I know for my own lifestyle that when you clean out your food, your stress levels and your lifestyle overall it’s just a better, healthier way of living and I wanted to be a living example of that.”
Johnson says that choices are what separate the healthy from the unhealthy and that change is accessible to everyone. “Choose to commit to improving your health. Focus on prevention and not just survival. Let’s not wait until we get a diagnosis and then fight like hell to survive it. Let’s live a lifestyle where we can prevent things.”
Mental health was not overlooked. Dr. Robin Smith, who has a new book coming out in February called “Hungry: The Truth About Being Full,” says that loving yourself in the face of the racism and sexism African-American women receive is necessary for total health. “We have learned to live with stuff that is so painful and destructive because ‘it don’t hurt that bad,’ she said. “But we’re hungry to be who we [really] are. How can we create an identity for ourselves that is not dependent on others?”
“Take A Loved One to the Doctor Day” ended with the best medicine – laughter. The comedy show hosted by J. Anthony Brown featured Rodney Perry and Damon Williams and was one of two free entertainment events along with the health seminars. On Friday night, Chubb Rock, Monie Love and Kwame and others came out to perform at the Old School Basement Party.