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Celebrating Black History Month: An eye on the past and the horizon

Celebrating Black History Month: An eye on the past and the horizon

Celebrating Black History Month in February raises awareness about the accomplishments of Black Americans. Did you know the first Black American doctor had a thriving practice in New Orleans? Dr. James Durham was a formerly enslaved person educated and trained by his physician owners until he purchased his freedom. Dr. Durham practiced medicine from 1783 to 1801.

Honoring the past, our West Jefferson Medical Center team shares what we can do to keep Black Americans healthy and thriving during Black History Month and beyond.

How Black History Month came to be

Many people in the U.S. have marked February as Black History Month since the late 1960s, but President Gerald Ford first officially recognized Black History Month in 1976.

Before Black History Month, there was a week to honor Black history. Carter Woodson, often recognized as the father of Black history, advocated for public schools to teach about the roles of Black Americans in history. In 1926, this led to the establishment of Negro History Week, which later evolved into Black History Month.

It may seem like the timing of awareness months is picked at random, staggered throughout the year. That was not the case with Black History Month, which was placed in February for a reason. The second week of February includes the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, who played critical roles in emancipation and the end of slavery.

The awareness month focuses on a different theme each year, with this year’s month-long celebration featuring African Americans and the Arts.

Celebrate Black History Month by celebrating yourself

Wondering how you can celebrate Black History Month this year? Take time to observe it in two ways—look back at influential Black Americans throughout our country’s history and reflect on black history a little closer to home.

To ensure a vibrant future for Black Americans, our country needs to focus on reducing health disparities. While strides have been made in many areas of healthcare, Black Americans remain at a higher risk of many health conditions than other Americans. It’s time we take steps to change that.

Honor your ancestors this month by homing in on your health. Start with a checkup with a primary care provider (PCP). At your annual physical, your provider can check your vitals and order lab work to test for common health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

During this checkup, your PCP can also review your personal health history and your family medical history and make recommendations for screenings you should have, such as a colonoscopy or another type of colorectal cancer screening.

Once you know where your health stands, you can take steps to improve it if needed. Lifestyle choices contribute risk factors for health conditions such as heart attack, stroke and many types of cancer, so knowing your risk is higher can help you make choices to change that.

Whether you’re at high risk or not, you can work to stay healthy. Take steps toward a healthier future by practicing healthy lifestyle habits:

  • Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week
  • Add two muscle-strengthening workouts doing pushups or lifting weights
  • Eat a diet based on vegetables, fruit and whole grains
  • Try to get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit your alcohol consumption
  • Manage stress

Black History Month is a time to look back and give thanks for those who have come before us and to do what we can to ensure a healthy future for ourselves and others.

Honor Black History Month by taking the best possible care of yourself. Schedule an appointment with a primary care provider today.