by Nayaba Arinde

“Black women are the bomb, but sometimes we get in our own way,” states Enid Knight. Ms. Knight, a healthcare coach and healthcare worker for almost 30 years, was referring to preventative health issues that disproportionately impact sisters.

“The doctor doesn’t go home with you, so you have to follow the instructions and do for self,” she added. “We are saying that we are ‘woke,’ but it is presenting like insomnia. We are not helping ourselves to protect our health, or get better from a health challenge,” Ms. Knight told The Final Call.

The Diabetes and Chronic Pain Manager at the Brooklyn Plaza Medical Center in New York City added, “We are more likely to get diagnosed with diabetes, but we do not always follow through.


We have to manage our health (and) advocate for ourselves so that we can monitor our health. We don’t want to be hit with any unhealthy shocks because we got caught up with every other facet of our lives and family.”

The American Journal of Public Health has reported that “African American adults are 50 percent to 100 percent more likely to have diabetes than are Whites.”

“Diabetes can occur due to an overconsumption of starchy vegetables, deep-fried foods, alcohol, bread and bagels, specialty coffee drinks, fruit juice, and soda,” said Manhattan nurse Oasia Holback.

“Mismanagement of the disease can lead to vision-altering eye damage, slow wound healing, heart disease, stroke, nerve damage which can lead to unintentional burns or the loss of toes or feet as well as an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

The “self-care memo” has been seen, but not read by so many women, sometimes resulting in extended health complications including asthma, anxiety, hypertension, stress, and diabetes.

“We get the information, but as women, we always prioritize everything else rather than the diabetes which is knocking on the door to give you blindness. If you don’t look after yourself, you may not be there to look after anyone else,” Ms. Knight pointedly stated.

Take charge of your health

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s world-famous book, “How To Eat To Live,” has taught that a healthy diet maintains a steady constitution. He showed a blueprint on how to prioritize health over gluttony and selected eating over emotional or mindless chomping.  Most people eat with their eyes, and not their needs.

In an eat-your-medicine frame of mind, including vegetarianism, choosing to eat fish, not meat, or limited meat consumption is a proposed life choice. Some uphold a diet of no white foods like flour, rice, and sugar.

Asked if diet affects our health more than we think, Dr. Vernon Muhammad, a member of the Nation of Islam’s Mosque No. 7 in New York, told The Final Call, “It (diet) is an actual fact that is borne out by the correlation between the poor eating habits of traditional Americans, and the health crisis that we see every day.”

He continued, “One of the methods used by our historical and present-day oppressor in order to subjugate us is teaching us how to eat the wrong foods, so teaches our God and Saviour, Master Fard Muhammad.”

One of the many disciplines that the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan teach about “How to Eat to Live” is not just what you eat, but when you eat and how you eat, Dr. Vernon Muhammad, a surgeon, explained.

He also pointed out that research on caloric restriction and “intermittent fasting” confirms its benefits to longevity and health. “It’s one of the areas that we as people have to start taking as seriously as our financial, social, and spiritual success. In fact, good health coming from good eating and diet allows us to enjoy all the successes that life has to offer,” added Dr. Vernon Muhammad.

But women often put their own health last, which can lead to preventable health maladies.

Dr. Safiyya Shabazz from Philadelphia’s Fountain Medical Associates told The Final Call that there is so much in Black women’s hands when it comes to their health.

As for the relationship between what folks consume and health, Dr. Shabazz said heartily, “Diet is fundamental to anyone’s plan for good health.

It starts there. Sometimes it’s not enough to get a condition under control, but if people want the best chance of living a long healthy life with minimal medication, it starts with a proper diet, and the right foods to eat, and the proper time to eat them.” 

Despite the serious distractions and responsibilities in the lives of many women, Ms. Knight presses the importance of the Black community to monitor their health. “If you don’t know, there is no prevention,” she added.

Dr. Shabazz compares the heart to the function many women in large parts of society take on to see to others first. She said that self-care is another way of doing just that.

“I like to point people to the analogy of the heart itself. The anatomy of the heart is where we know that the circulation of the heartbeat is so important to your entire body in order to get the  nutrients it needs, and to have everything circulating. And you know if your heart stops, you die.

The very first artery off of the heart feeds itself, and when that one is not open and not feeding the heart then the heart can’t do anything for the rest of the body at all. So, you have to put on your own oxygen mask first, take care of yourself first,” Dr. Shabazz explained.

“Even if you care about your loved ones so much that you’re willing to sacrifice yourself, then that means that you put in a lot of time and attention that you are whole and healthy and mentally as you can be so that you can better serve all of those people that you love,” she continued.

Diseases and ailments like diabetes, asthma, hypertension and heart disease also disproportionately impact Black people. 

Type 2 Diabetes is appearing in younger people at a disturbing rate, and Black adults are nearly twice as likely as White adults to develop Type 2 Diabetes. For the last 30 years, this racial disparity has been rising.

“Many diseases are preventable and manageable. We’ve got to show up when we get the information,” Ms. Knight explained. She also advises that people be their own best advocates while checking on their A1C regularly (test to diagnose Diabetes Type 1 or 2) and testing their blood sugar. A result or reading over 9, “It can impact your heart, your kidneys, your eyesight, your lower extremities,” she said.

Dr. Shabazz explained that there are a lot of things in our control. “We have to take responsibility for those aspects that are in our control. We have to make sure that we are optimizing our lifestyle habits that are often at the root of why we develop certain ailments, and the temerity of them.

In part because of the negative experiences interacting with the medical community, what I see all too often is that people are not getting the basic care that they need to manage their condition, to protect their condition early, or they’re really out of control, or just receiving treatment when things are so much more difficult to treat, or untreatable—whether that is heart disease, asthma, even cancer. People forget that because it is so common, but people die from asthma.”

The doctor says that she understands the trepidation regarding medication, but responds by pointing out, “While none of us wants to take medication regularly, if your lifestyle regimen still has you using your albuterol rescue inhaler multiple times a day, maybe [there are] other things in your regimen [not keeping] your lungs clear that you need to be rescued with the medication throughout the day.”

Humbly Dr. Shabazz added, “I am always hopeful that I can be trusted to help navigate people through these choices that can turn little problems, or manageable problems, into insurmountable problems.”

Inequities, disparities and handling stress

Problems like end-stage renal disease and lower-extremities amputations can be prevented if people know where they are in their health journey. Dr. Cynthia Quainoo has worked for over 10 years in gastroenterology/hepatology.

She has a special interest in raising awareness about colorectal cancer screening and prevention. She believes education, open discussions, and cultural competence are critical in bridging healthcare inequities.

Dr. Quainoo emphasizes the importance of preventative health care and encourages healthy eating, a balanced lifestyle, and regular exercise coupled with routine medical checkups and screenings.

Motivated partly by subtle and overt racist experiences, Dr. Quainoo said, “Black men and women make up two to four percent of all the doctors across the nation.”

But, she declared, “It makes me happy to know that there are Black women who travel from New Jersey, Philly to come to Brooklyn to see me because they are looking for a Black female gastroenterologist.”

Breast cancer is another disease that impacts Black women disproportionately. There have been great medical advances, but Black women are more likely to perish from the devastating illness than any other group.

Pregnancy-related deaths are another problem. During April’s Black Maternal Health Week, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso called it “one of the greatest inequities of our time,” with reports revealing that Black women are 9.4 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than White women and makeup one-third of all pregnancy-related deaths in New York City.

He established a Maternal Health Task Force, aimed at making Brooklyn the safest place in New York City to have a baby as a Black or Latina/Indigenous woman.

New York OB/GYN Dr. Sophia Lubin said that it is important that the mother-to-be feels empowered to know that she can challenge medical staff if she ever feels that there is mistreatment or implicit bias, or even if her wishes are blatantly being disregarded. She also said it is important for expectant mothers to “have a team in place that they are always working as your advocate.”

Dr. Lubin, a mother of two sons, said “Black women are told that we don’t have agency. We do. You have full agency over yourself. You know your body.”

Ms. Knight said there are so many disparities but asked, “But are we in the rooms, on the boards, in the political committees to propose legislation, strategy, and policy? Are we a part of that process? People are out here saying that they are ‘woke,’ but they just have insomnia, and they aren’t involved in changing the social or political landscape.”

She added, “Other people outside of our community cannot dictate the treatment and outcomes of our health issues. If it is a cold with them, we have pneumonia. So how do we deal with policies and strategies that aren’t good for us? We have to look at the challenges and the disparities. We have to prepare to do the work.”

Stress is another important aspect of life that can lead to health problems if not addressed. Black women are often dealing with stress.

“While you can’t stop stress from happening,” said Dr. Shabazz, “you can learn ways to control how your body responds to it.” Exercising and getting adequate sleep are important factors in dealing with stress. Shutting off electronic devices to “unplug” is also key.

“I know that some people’s finances can make it more difficult than for others, but I believe that we should take vacations like some people take medication. We need the opportunity to power down. We all have things to do. We are very busy all the time, but you have to cycle down from time to time and rest,” she said.

“And of course physical activity, most of us are not getting enough exercise. Stress is not going to stop, but there are some ways to manage and release some of the pressure.”

Nayaba Arinde is an Editor-at-Large, award-winning reporter and activist. Follow her on Instagram @NayabaArinde1