Blacks' health issues take center stage at banquet


Published: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 3:07 p.m.
It was a packed house as hundreds attended the 22nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame Banquet.
The banquet, sponsored by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc. in conjunction with King Week 2007, was held Sunday evening at the Paramount Plaza Hotel.
In keeping with the theme, "Empowerment for the Next Decade: Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies," the keynote speaker, Alachua County Commissioner Cynthia Moore Chestnut, discussed health issues and prevention focusing on the deadly impact of HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart disease and obesity on the black population.
"We have a national crisis in the black community,'' Chestnut said. ''HIV/AIDS is an equal opportunity disease. Get tested. Are you positive that you are negative? The single most preventive thing you can do is to get tested and get empowered. You cannot fix what you will not face."
Chestnut, director of education and community outreach at the UF Shands Eastside Community Practice, provided a long list of alarming statistics to emphasize her message, including the fact that in the United States, 51 percent of blacks are living with AIDS, but yet blacks comprise only 14 percent of the population.
According to Chestnut, HIV/AIDS affects 1 in 120 black residents in Alachua County, blacks are 2.1 times more likely to have diabetes than whites, which can result in amputations and death, if not treated and managed; the cost of treating diabetes is $132 billion; in 2002-2004, the death rate for diabetes was 52.7 per 100,000 for blacks and 17.7 per 100,000 for whites.
Chestnut also said that heart disease is another leading cause of death for blacks and high blood pressure is the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Chestnut said these diseases are preventable and manageable. "This is why CHOICES is so important," she said referring to Alachua County's program that provides health insurance to residents with full-time jobs, but no insurance. Noting the enrollment for CHOICES is now at 600 and growing, Chestnut said funding has exceeded all expectations.
She quoted King saying, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane," adding "there can be no march for equality and empowerment without health."
Chestnut called on the community to eat healthy and to exercise. "We must address the issues of the heart,'' she said. ''I am not suggesting you give up fried chicken and chitterlings. All things in moderation."
In reference to the high incidence of HIV/AIDS in the black community, she said children are inundated with lyrics in music that glorify casual sex and drug use, and she called on parents to discuss these issues with their children.
"This is the most informative program we have had in 22 years," said Jacqueline Hart-Williams, executive director emeritus of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc.
Floretha Bryant, a teacher at Prairie View Academy who attended the banquet with the school's principal, Dr. Barbara Henry, said, "I think it was a fantastic keynote address and such a good way to bring awareness to what is happening in our community."
King Commission President Rodney Long, in introducing Chestnut before her speech, said Chestnut truly believes in education and health. "I don't know anyone who has better credentials to speak about health and education," Long said. He also praised Chestnut's achievements saying, ''When she wants something done, she gets it done.'' He also said Chestnut does not get things handed to her, she earns them.
The late Hertercene Turner Dee, a Gainesville resident, and Buchholz High School senior DeAdria Aneese Hilliard were recognized for "living Dr. King's dream."
The Hall of Fame Award, posthumously awarded to Dee, who died in July 2006, was presented by Hart-Williams and King Commission member Evelyn Foxx to Dee's sisters, Esther Crenshaw and Grace Farrell, who flew in from Los Angeles to receive the award.
"I think it is just wonderful, this honor to our sister,'' said Crenshaw. ''We love her so much."
Farrell said, "She is watching from above. Hertercene was very private. She laid out what she wanted us to do (when she died), and we ignored all of it. We had a lot of fun together. We love her and we miss her."
Carolyn H. Spikes, another King Commission member, presented DeAdria with the Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award. Hilliard received a $2,500 scholarship she will receive after completing of high school and being accepted by a college of her choice.
DeAdria's job Sunday was to welcome those attending the banquet. "It is with great pride and adoration that we gather here to give admiration to a great leader, and to salute someone so significant in our lives and heritage," she said.
Joel Buchanan, a member of the King Commission and Alachua County's black historian, provided a moment in black history, as he retold the story of how the commission was founded.
The King Commission President's Award was presented to Ida Rawls Elmore for her efforts and dedication to the commission. "We are going to miss you," Long said. Rawls, a member since 1985 who retired this year, said, "I think the last time I was speechless was right after the doctor smacked me at birth. Thank you for the opportunity to serve. But I shall not stop."
The Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame Banquet was a special event. The voice of Dr. King rang out in the room with his famous speeches. The Rev. Milford L. Griner offered the invocation and commission members Louis Kalivoda presided and DiYonne McGraw sang a solo.
The benediction was given by Father Roland Julien of St. Patrick Catholic Church after the audience held hands and sang "We Shall Overcome."

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