Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the leading causes of death for African Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 percent of black men and 48 percent of black women have some form of cardiovascular disease. In addition, about 38 percent of black men are obese, while more than 57 percent of black women are considered obese.
These figures are the driving force behind a coalition of churches and partnering agencies who want to bring awareness about a healthy lifestyle to Tyler area African American communities.
For the third year, the coalition will host the annual Community Faith-Based Health Walk Saturday at Woldert Park. A 1-mile and half-mile course walked in the shape of a cross is at the center of the event, but organizers also have planned faith-based entertainment and activities. This includes a male chorus, praise dancers and mimes.
Derrick Choice, one of the event's organizers, said cultural activities are added to get people’s attention.
“We try to get people to stay around in the park when they finish walking," he said. "Then we have a little celebration, a little church.”
While the event is open to the general public, the coalition is targeting the black community, especially churches. Organizers want pastors to lead their congregations to the faith walk for exercise, information and services.
“We’re targeting the African American community and African American churches because of the high burden of disease in our community," Choice said. "We are at or near the top in all categories."
Preventive screenings, flu shots, the UT Health Northeast’s Breath of Life Mobile, and an opportunity to win a child car seat is all provided at Saturday event.
Choice said pastors are highly influential when encouraging the community to think more about their health.
“For years, our pastors and our preachers have been our leaders in our community, way back to Martin Luther King and other pioneers,” he said. “Nothing’s changed. Our community still relies on our pastors and our preachers to give information on things that’s going on in our community so why not health?”
Calling it the “elephant in the room,” Rev. Ralph Caraway, pastor of Saint Louis Baptist Church, said he encourages more conversations about diet, which is a great factor for a higher risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and cancer among black people.
“I’m not trying to eliminate our cultural values as far as the heritage of our food, but I think we have to be mindful of moderation and we have to be aware that fried food is not good for me everyday,” he said.
Making social and cultural connections are important but the emphasis on a faith-based health initiative runs deeper, Caraway said.
“We understand that man is a trichotomy, meaning he’s mental, physical and spiritual," he said. "In order to address the spiritual needs, we also have to address the health needs. I just believe a healthier church has the benefits of being a more spiritual church.”
Over the years, Caraway has practiced what he preaches. His church has hosted health fairs, health education classes and other health-related events. At the last two health walks, his congregation received recognition for having the most participants at the walk.
“We try to address not just the spiritual side," he said. "We try address the physical as well as the economic part of a person’s life to do every and any thing we can to enhance it.”
But the former runner admits he slacked up when he stopped exercising a couple of years ago.
“This past year, I said ‘I need to be an example if I’m going to talk about this,’” he said, noting he’s lost 12 pounds in the last two months after adopting healthier habits.
The first faith walk event in 2013 attracted nearly 300 people. The following year’s event saw less than 200, as it was rescheduled due to rain.
Faith walk coalition members say they want to turn the event into a movement. They’ve mulled utilizing local facilities for cooking classes and health conferences.
“My objective is for us to be health conscious, not just one time a year, but year-round,” Caraway said.
IF YOU GO:
What:Third Annual Community Faith-Based Health Walk
When: one-mile and half-mile walks begin at 8:30 a.m.; Activities begin at 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: Woldert Park, 701 W. 32nd St.
Info: Call Shan Flowers at 903-533-5208 or visit www.Facebook.com/TylerFaithWalk