State Representative LaShawn Ford (8th Dist.) thought the best way to celebrate Black History Month was to bring attention to African-Americans’ health. Ford organized a health forum asking, “What’s killing us?” on Saturday, Feb. 16, at St. Martin’s de Porres Church.

“African-Americans are faced with many deadly health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and HIV/AIDS,” Ford said in a press release. In conjunction with Circle Family Healthcare Network, Ford hosted the health forum and fair where well known community physician Dr. Fred Richardson conducted interactive panel discussions.

“As African-Americans, we need to find out what is killing us,” Ford said, “and find out how to treat the diseases that are killing black people-like heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure, cholesterol and all those things.”

He said it took about a month and a half to pull all the people together for the forum, which he hopes will become an annual event.

The opening panel discussion began with Ford thanking all the participants: American Heart Association, Loretto Hospital, Black Nurses Association, American Cancer Society, ChildServ, Circle Family HealthCare Network, Cook County Dept. of Public Health, Illinois Dept. of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago, St. Martin de Porres and the Chicago Dept. of Health.

“It’s always important to find out ahead of time before it is too late,” said Ford. “It’s very difficult to get people to come and find out if they are going to be sick. Most people just want to know when they are sick. When we had the health fair for kids, they came out in very large numbers. Sometimes kids are smarter than adults when it comes to our health.”

Participating in the panel discussion facilitated by Dr. Richardson were Mark Peysakhovich, senior director of advocacy, American Heart Association; Tisa Ross, nutrition specialist, U of I; Zyra D. Gordon Smith, R.N., family nurse practitioner;

Janice M. Henry, R.N., Chicago Chapter National Black Nurses Assoc.; Michael Wilson, M.Ed. LCPC, Psychotherapist II, Ucan (Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network); and Pastor Dennis Conway.

“When we started our family medical group here at the church,” Dr. Richardson said, “we addressed a lot of issues that were important to us. As we got together a few months ago, we talked about Black History Month and what we could do as a community to provide access to people who normally don’t have access. What I want to do is not have the audience listen to a lecture, but I want a discussion to talk about cases that are important to you and questions you have.”

Richardson began his interactive discussion by asking the audience, “What do you think is killing us?” Answers ranged from fast food, stress, fried food, high blood pressure, and too much salt and sugar. Nutritionist Ross explained the overuse of salt and sugar, and its harm to African-Americans. Psychotherapist Wilson explained that medicines can be good, but we need to start looking at some other options.

Booths were set up so that people could be tested for high blood pressure, cholesterol, HIV testing and various health screenings. The health fair conducted three panel sessions discussing nutrition, healthy eating and what African Americans can do to start living a healthier lifestyle.