February is Black History Month, and this year, as in years past, this important occasion is tackling a resonant and timely issue.
You might be wondering, what is the 2022 Black History Month theme? The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has designated "Black Health and Wellness" as this year's Black History Month theme, and it couldn’t be a more pressing subject to take on.
Health is a top priority for all of us, and a vital part of what it means to #LiveUbuntu To be healthy is to thrive, and thriving is key to living a more connected, joyful life. However, disparities in access to and quality of healthcare have historically had a negative impact on health outcomes for people of color. Nothing highlighted this more than the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought these social and racial inequalities to the forefront of public health. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released detailed research showing how the pandemic unequally affected many racial and ethnic minority groups, putting them more at risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.
One of the biggest issues facing Black health and wellness is trust. Implicit bias, poor clinical experiences and treatment, and misdiagnoses are just some of the factors that have resulted in African Americans' distrust of healthcare systems. To better understand the current situation and what can be done to address disparities, we talked to Michigan-based hospital administrator Cory Kelly. A member of Tribe Heart, Ubuntu Life’s global community of friends and supporters, Cory is also the son-in-law of our co-founder, Jeremiah Kuria. Advocacy, trust-building, and representation are three focus areas that he believes can change things for the better.
Cory left, with his wife Grace and Jeremiah & Mary Kuria
"I have always wanted to serve my community in one way, shape or form," Cory says. He pursued a Master's degree in health administration to be in the rooms where decisions on Black health and wellness are made. As the Senior Manager of Multi-Speciality Services at the University of Michigan Health-West, he has access and clout. In his position, Cory is responsible for organizing and coordinating healthcare services to assist individuals with complex care needs. Cory is part of a generation of Black healthcare professionals committed to tackling disparities and distrust of the American medical system from within.
There have been tremendous efforts at the University of Michigan Health-West to inform, educate, champion minorities, and push for greater diversity—steps Cory says are not unique in America's current social justice climate. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he lives, healthcare teams from various hospitals came together during the pandemic to reach out to the community and, in subsequent vaccine drives, partnered with trusted pillars, like churches, to provide services, care, and the COVID-19 vaccine. Advocacy like this is crucial in building bridges with the community and overcoming historical distrust of the healthcare system.
Representation—having healthcare workers who "look like you"—is crucial to reducing the gap in care for generations to come. This report from the Association of American Medical Colleges found that only 5% of American physicians identified as Black or African American. "If you can see it, you know you can become it," Cory says. Outreach to youth centers and schools is a crucial way to address this extremely important issue.
Want to learn more? Find Black History Month 2022 resources and a suggested reading list here.