The Color of Cancer:
Regina Kelley and Vanessa Smith
take turns leading the Saturday morning exercise class in the Ann Arbor
Bethel A.M.E. Church multipurpose room.
U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center works to eliminate racial, ethnic health disparities
They wear matching red T-shirts,
bedazzled by rhinestones spelling "GAP,"
shorthand for "God Answers Prayers." They
call out the steps choreographed to a mix of
rhythm and blues and gospel music. While
other exercise teachers might remind their
classes to breathe, Kelley and Smith don't
need to. The class quietly sings along to the
music, punctuating grapevines with claps
Ann Arbor Bethel A.M.E. Church hosts
a weekly exercise class for its members
to encourage healthy living.
The class is an extension of Body & Soul, a program designed by the National
Institutes of Health to encourage African-American churches to help the members
of their congregations adopt healthier lifestyles to prevent cancer and other diseases.
Ann Arbor Bethel A.M.E. is one of 14 churches that partner with the University
of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center through Body & Soul.
"It's part of our duty as Christians to stay healthy," said Bonita Cowan-Tucker,
a coordinator of the Health and Wellness Ministry at Ann Arbor Bethel A.M.E. "We
tell our members, 'You can't help anyone
else if you need help because you're sick.'"
The Body & Soul program is one of many activities under way at the U-M
Comprehensive Cancer Center that seek to address health disparities. Cancer statistics
show that African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are at
higher risk for certain cancers and suffer disproportionately high death rates. The
reasons for these disparities are complex. But through a combination of community
outreach and research, the Cancer Center seeks to better understand these trends and
reverse them. Here's a look at some of the
work under way.
CONNECTING THE COMMUNITY
For Bonita Cowan-Tucker of Ann Arbor Bethel A.M.E. Church, the goal is to
encourage members of her church to make gradual changes to improve their health.
Body & Soul has helped by providing structure for the church's health initiatives,
she said. In addition to the exercise class, the ministry prints educational information
in the church bulletin, organizes an annual five-mile walk, conducts regular blood pressure
checks and hosts speakers.
That's just the kind of work that Body & Soul is designed to foster, said Aisha
Langford, director of community outreach for the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Since 2005, the Cancer Center has provided training for church coordinators as well
as educational materials and support through quarterly meetings. A regular
Men's Fellowship Breakfast that aims to promote prostate cancer screening among
African-American men has also evolved through collaboration with area churches.
"Our health ministry teams say health education is becoming more engrained in
churches," Langford said. "Health behavior is slow to change, but there definitely has
been some progress. Conventional wisdom says that men don't pay attention to
their health and that African-American men won't turn out for health events. Our Men's Fellowship Breakfast has proved
The U-M Cancer Center's Community Outreach team hosts a number of other
events designed to include minorities, including cancer screenings and Día de
la Familia, an event to promote cancer awareness among Latinos.
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