African Americans walk through city neighborhoods to promote health equity

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Participants warm up before the walk begins (Photo by Hannah Byron)

Participants warm up before the walk begins (Photo by Hannah Byron)

A couple hundred women dressed in white t-shirts walked down a street lined with  buildings marked by chipped paint and boarded-up windows. Plastic bottles, paper bags and cigarette butts were scattered on the ground.

It was not the typical venue for a charity walk, which tend to be at locations with a more scenic view.

However, organizers of the 11th annual African American Walk for Quality Health deliberately chose to walk through the central city to call attention to racial health disparities. Participants walked from the Milwaukee Urban League at 435 W. North Ave. to the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum at 2620 W. Center St.

Dr. Earnestine Willis, co-chair of the walk and a pediatrician at the Medical College of Wisconsin, emphasized the importance of coming together as a community to address these disparities. Willis said it’s critical for community members to understand that health problems disproportionately affect African Americans.

The walk began at the Milwaukee Urban League and finished at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum. (Photo by Hannah Byron)

The walk began at the Milwaukee Urban League and finished at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum. (Photo by Hannah Byron)

For example, according to a report by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, infants born to African American women are two to four times as likely to die before their first birthday as infants born to white women. The death rate for cancer among African American males is 33 percent higher than among white males; for African American females, it is 16 percent higher than among white females.

The walk was sponsored by the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin. Funds raised from registration fees and sponsorships will go to the Wisconsin African American Eliminating Health Disparities Institute, established by the coalition, said  Clarene Mitchell, director of communications. The institute conducts research, runs programs and develops policy recommendations to address health inequities.

“By participating I’m hoping to support the cause,” said first-year walker Malitha Bostick said.

Long-time participant Shon Nizer has attended the walk since it started in 2003. “I like to do it for the exercise, to stay healthy and for networking,” Nizer said.

While Willis said the walk ‘s overarching theme is about achieving quality health care, this year organizers focused on women’s health, which Willis said is an important part of what she calls the life cycle.

“By that I mean all of us come here through a female. No matter if [we’re] male or female, we owe a lot of our health to how well a woman’s health is,” Willis said. “Taking care of women and making sure they are healthy affects the health of future generations.”

Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Bevan Baker noted that women are the backbone of the community.

“We recognize that women really are the CEOs of our homes and communities when it comes to our health and when women are healthier our community is healthier,” Baker said. “Women sometimes take care of everyone else and forget to take care of themselves. By focusing on women’s health I think we move our community forward.”

After the walk, participants could attend a job fair, take an HIV test and enroll in BadgerCare Plus at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum, 2620 W. Center St.

“(The walk) emphasizes that we have some control over our health,” Willis said. “We can … take on the responsibilities for our health care.”

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