Merlene Davis: Body & Soul Lex's goal to eliminate health disparities among minorities

Herald-Leader columnistApril 21, 2014 

  • Soul Food Junkies

    Free showing of Soul Food Junkies documentary, as well as a health resource fair and tour of an urban farm, hosted by Body & Soul Lex.

    When: Noon-3 p.m. April 26.

    Where: Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. 3rd St.

    Information: Email bnslex@gmail.com.

A group of men and women meet at my house on Tuesdays for Bible study.

It just seemed right to serve snacks. I chose chocolates, chips and other junk food, with a bowl of fruit on the side for my health-conscious sister. She was the only one who ate the fruit.

After a lot of nagging from her and seeing her drop several pounds, I've changed what I offer. Now the group gets fruit and low-fat popcorn.

Sometimes we just need to have someone nudge us onto the road of good health.

That's what two women are trying to do with black congregations in Lexington.

Former Urban County Council member Andrea James and Alysha Lewis are community liaisons for Body & Soul Lex, a local effort sponsored by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program. REACH hopes to eliminate health disparities among minorities. The funding is disseminated through UCLA.

The purpose of the Lexington grant, which began in October and ends in August, is to encourage black churches to push their congregations toward more healthful eating habits.

James said they are seeing slow progress, partly because the cold weather was a hindrance in getting people to turn out to health fairs or discussions, and partly because change is embraced slowly.

The deepest inroads have come when the pastor sees the need for the congregation to have a health rehabilitation, James said.

"At New Beginning (Church of God in Christ), the pastor has been on board," she said. "Pastor (John A.) Harris is a health nut. He has encouraged walking groups, and that church has a bit of a younger congregation with children."

The church also has a community garden, which Seedleaf helped start.

James and Lewis have also conducted food demonstrations at Bethel Baptist Church, where Pastor Larry A. Wilson is asking the "great cooks" there to incorporate healthier choices.

"We are also going back there for a discussion on diabetes," James said. "We do the legwork that church members don't have the time to do. We package it up and take it back to the churches," showing them what resources are available to help them turn the corner.

And the resources are there, James said. The people who need information or help simply need to be connected with the people who have those resources, she said.

Body & Soul can help churches implement policies, such as no candy or empty caloric treats during Vacation Bible School.

"A healthy snack adds nutritional value to the body," James said.

Or the church could decide to have Sundays when those who are able should park farther away and walk a bit to church. Or maybe take the stairs when possible.

Various ideas such as those will be discussed Saturday before and after Body & Soul presents a free showing of Soul Food Junkies, a documentary film by Byron Hurt that premiered in the PBS Independent Lens series last year and was shown at the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center in March 2013.

The film explores the roots of soul food in Western Africa and how those flavors were brought to this country. It shows how the types of food consumed in black populations and the amounts of it can cause the preventable diseases prevalent among black families.

A lot of people missed the showing last year, but it sparked a lot of interest among those who did see it, James said. "We want to use that energy and further the conversation," she said.

During the film, there will be a brief period of exercise called "instant fun," James said, to show that three to seven minutes of exercise can be added to any meeting or setting.

The event at the Lyric begins at noon Saturday, with a resource fair where you'll find information about everything from starting a garden to changing recipes to improve your health.

After the documentary, there will be discussion groups focused on chronic illness, easy ways to insert physical activity in your life, and how to get Body & Soul for a meeting at your church. There will be free food to sample, too.

And there will be a tour of the 4th Street Farm, which was started about four years ago by Sherry Maddock on a 10th of an acre. It demonstrates the possibilities of urban farming.

If you can't make the Body & Soul event, James and Lewis will gladly come to your church with all the information.

"We want to create some change in the churches," James said. "They know what they need to do. We just want to give them the resources."

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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