With March being Women’s History Month, California Black Media and Los Angeles Focus collaborated to feature the work of Los Angeles-based first ladies that focus on health outreach ministries and their communities.
During a gathering, 13 preachers’ wives from predominately African-American Los Angeles-area churches discussed fashion, what it means to be a church leader, and other topics pertaining to being the first lady. Many said it was important for them to have a leadership role in tackling health challenges that exist in their congregations, because they want church goers to be free of ailments like cancer, diabetes, and mental health calamities.
Southern St. Paul Church first lady Rinnata Thompson said church folks lift themselves spiritually, but sometimes forget to take care of their bodies.
“The Bible says that our bodies are the temple of the God,” she said, “and that doesn’t mean just spiritually. That means if we are walking around tired, sick, may fall out with a stroke that we can’t give God our best because our body is not at its best.”
Regina Taylor, a first lady of Park Windsor Baptist Church, said helping congregation members lead healthier lifestyles begins with food choices. She said her church members are always eager to let her know about their dining decisions.
“They say, ‘first lady, I have a salad’ or ‘first lady I’m eating healthier,’” said Taylor, who established a health ministry at Park Windsor three years ago. “When different groups within the church have events, we try to serve healthy food.”
Unhealthy eating habits are one of the many wellness issues that plague the African-American community. CDC numbers reveal that Black Americans have a high propensity for obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, and the American Heart Association says African Americans are more at risk of being afflicted by heart disease or stroke than any other race.
In California, 6.9 percent of African Americans do not have health insurance, per 2015 numbers from Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange. Also, as of last June, Blacks have the lowest enrollment numbers of any race in Medi-Cal or health plan coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
The leading church ladies at the L.A. Focus event said they combat health problems and the low amount of health coverage plaguing people sitting in their pews with health ministry work.
Holman United Methodist Church first lady Judi Wortham-Sauls said her church’s health ministry has a diabetes awareness group, exercise classes and organizes blood pressure and other screenings. A sodium awareness program began at the church on Monday. Wortham-Sauls also said she and her husband, Rev. Kelvin Sauls, try to lead by example.
“My husband and I are very serious about our own health,” she said. “We are both on weight reduction programs. Our own personal health awareness makes us want to bring it to the congregation.”
Faithful Central Bible Church first lady Togetta Ulmer said she puts an emphasis on physical activity. She tells members to exercise at least 20 minutes a day and eat in moderation. Ulmer said on May 20 she and Faithful Central members are going to bring workout mats to the church and instructors will teach them meditation, exercise, and healthy eating.
“Just because you are skinny doesn’t mean you are healthy,” Ulmer said.
Thompson, a co-chair of a first ladies health initiative in Los Angeles, organized a project on March 26, that focused on health professionals from various wellness groups on more than 30 church campuses across Los Angeles. The vendors conducted vision screenings, HIV/AIDS screenings, dental checks and other health evaluations for church and community members.
“We just want to tie the spiritual and physical together,” she said. “These screening are free for those in the community.”
The historical Weller Street Baptist Church first lady Kera Tullos said one Sunday a special offering was held at her church to raise funds for a breast cancer patient who needed to pay for a mammogram.
“I’m just trying to provide beneficial things to people,” the first lady said. “It means a lot because people’s lives matter.”
Since the Medicaid program (called “Medi-Cal” in California) expanded its eligibility criteria for enrollment under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, more than 13 million low-income Californians have gained access to healthcare according to the California Budget and Policy Center.
Wortham-Sauls said access to healthcare is needed now more than ever in the Black community because African Americans historically have not done what is needed to take care of themselves health-wise.
“So, now we need to get it correct,” she said. “Our struggle with diabetes and hypertension. We see people dropping dead on a regular basis. There is no reason to lose anybody, if there is help out there.”