This year, I was fortunate to sit down with some of public health’s most influential advocates — people like Rae Lewis-Thornton, who rallies for HIV prevention in the Black community, and attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the victims of racist hate crimes. 

I’ve learned a lot from them about the state of health among African-Americans: We continue to be disproportionately impacted by diseases and conditions like COVID-19, HIV, stroke, breast cancer, suicide, and Alzheimer’s.

It’s true, we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way too.

So many of our neighborhoods lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables, but Black farmers are supplying organic foods to low-income communities for free. 

Black birthing people and babies are still dying at high rates in hospitals, but birth workers are opening birth centers that offer wrap-around reproductive care. 

The list of folks creating solutions to health inequities could go on and on  — here are 10 of the most pressing issues I reported on in 2022 and the folks who are working to solve them. 

  1. This Device Used to Diagnose COVID-19 Doesn’t Always Work on Black Folks

Those tiny machines physicians clip on patients’ fingers to check their oxygen levels? They don’t always work on dark-skinned people. And even worse, researchers say this contributed to poor COVID-19 outcomes in Black and Hispanic communities.

When pulse oximeters are used on dark-skinned people, the oxygen levels could read inaccurately high. This could result in misdiagnosis or undertreatment of COVID-19 and other illnesses. Credit: Mufid Majnun / Pexels

2. Tobacco Companies Pushed Deadly Menthol Products on Black Smokers. That Could End Soon

Menthol cigarettes are known to be more addictive than non-flavored cigarettes — and they’re smoked heavily in the Black community. But that could change if the Food and Drug Administration bans menthol in tobacco products for good.

Big Tobacco targeted Black urban communities as a market for its deadly menthol cigarettes through magazine and newspaper ads and jazz concerts. Credit: Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising

3. The Rise of Black-Owned Birth Centers

Black birthing people and babies are dying at high rates in hospitals. That’s why birth workers like Chicago-based midwife Jeanine Valrie Logan and doula Shaquan Dupart are opening birth centers around the country. 

Black-owned birth centers have been found to produce outcomes that fare better than national averages. Credit: Shvets Production / Pexels

4. This Is Where Black Americans Live Longest

It looks like the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) is the real Wakanda. According to Dr. Andre Perry’s Black Progress Index, Black folks in the U.S. live longer there than in other places.

Coined as “Chocolate City,” D.C. has historically had a large Black population — making up 45% of the district’s population as of 2021.  Credit: Pixabay / Pexels

5. Black Women With Uterine Cancer Are Suing Companies Who Make Chemical Hair ‘Relaxers’

Word on the street is that chemical hair straighteners, also known as “relaxers,” may cause uterine cancer. The disease can ruin a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. That’s exactly what happened to Jenny Mitchell, who’s suing manufacturers that make the products she used since childhood.  

The U.S. has seen an overall rise in deaths caused by uterine cancer between 2010 and 2017, but Black women have been dying at over twice the national rate.  Credit: Mitchell v. L’Oréal Complaint / Ben Crump Press

6. Black Roller Skating Joy: Finding Health and Justice on Wheels

Rollin’ CLT is North Carolina’s first outdoor skating rink — and it’s Black woman-owned. Amid rink closures around the nation, Rollin’ CLT is making way for folks from all walks of life to experience the many health benefits roller skating offers, including anxiety relief.

Skating strengthens the heart muscle, improves blood circulation, and provides a complete workout by engaging all of the body’s muscles. Credit: Laura Stanley / Pexels

7. Food Deserts Are Deliberate, But Black Farmers Are Fighting Back

Food deserts didn’t happen by accident. They’re a product of racist redlining practices that left Black and low-income neighborhoods without resources. So, Black farmers like Bobby Wilson of the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm are standing in the gap by giving out fresh foods to local residents. 

The farm is located on the north end of College Park, a town that’s 80% Black with a 29.5% poverty rate, Credit: Bobby Wilson / Metro Atlanta Urban Farm

8. Henrietta Lacks’ Family Is Close to Getting Justice for Her Stolen Cells

Pharmaceutical companies have made millions off the late Henrietta Lacks’ stolen cells, and her family hasn’t seen a dime. But that could all change if the Lacks family wins a lawsuit against one of the companies. This is what Henrietta’s grandson, Ron Lacks, and the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, have to say about the case. 

The family announced the civil lawsuit last year after Henrietta’s eldest grandson, Ron Lacks, wrote and published “Henrietta Lacks: The Untold Story.”

9. Black and Breastfeeding: A Lactation Specialist on Helping More Women Do it

Black mothers are nine times more likely than white mothers to be given formula in the hospital. Sterling Grey-Simmons was among those women. She didn’t get the help she needed from medical staff after her baby was born, so she became a certified breastfeeding specialist to support nursing moms. 

Sterling Grey-Simmons offers virtual education classes to mothers, families, and even people who aspire to have children but aren’t parents yet.  Credit: Manojiit Tamen / Pixabay

10. Meet the Unhoused Community Advocate Lizzo’s Celebrating

Black folks make up 13% of the American population but account for 39% of people experiencing homelessness. Research shows that living without a home can cause low self-esteem, among other health challenges. That’s why Shirley Raines, founder of Beauty 2 The Streetz, offers beauty supplies and services to LA’s unhoused community for free.

Raines and her team can be found set up in LA’s Skid Row neighborhood, offering free hair washes, coloring, make-up, wigs, and showers.  Credit: Shirley Raines / Beauty 2 The Streetz

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