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'We've got to help people to trust' - Health literacy initiative is aiming to improve the lives of Rockford's underserved individuals

Rockford Ready - Screenshot from health literacy video

A health literacy video featuring several Rockford Black faith leaders was recently released. WNIJ’s Yvonne Boose spoke with a few of the key players to find out what actions are being taken beyond the screen.

Rockford Ready is led by the city’s Health and Human Services Department. The purpose of the group is to help improve the health of all residents. They are doing this by making sure everyone is aware of their health options. Being health literate means that you have access to health information that allows you to make personal health decisions. A few years ago, the group started an initiative that focuses on the health of underserved individuals in the community. Trust was one of the determining factors, which is why Black clergymen were chosen to push the message in this year’s video.

Anqunette Parham is the executive director of Health and Human Services for the City of Rockford and the project lead for Rockford Ready. She said these Black pastors were already pushing the message of health literacy.

“Some of them were serving as testing sites, or as vaccination sites, during the pandemic,” she explained, “or they had health ministries that were active in the church. And they had taken other efforts and steps towards really helping to bring up the topic of health.”

Parham said a survey was done prior to creating the video and it showed the pastors were the main leaders that the Black community trusted.

Becky Kendall is the executive director of the Rockford Regional Health Council. She is also on the task force of this Rockford Ready initiative. She said the Black community is comfortable with asking the pastors questions and they need to be just as secure with asking questions when it comes to their health care providers.

“We've got to help people to trust. Yes, there have been circumstances but let’s throw away some of that,” she said, “Put it in the sea of forgiveness, as one of my deacons said at my church. Put that in the sea of forgiveness. Listen, communicate with others.”

K. Edward Copeland is the pastor of New Zion Baptist Church. He said he sees a lot of morbidity in his congregation.

“So, if you come to our church every Sunday, you can ask any church member,” he said, “every Sunday, aside from whatever scriptures were memorizing, all those kinds of things, people have to repeat after me, our motto, ‘eat your colors, drink more water, move your body then lay your fat head down.’”

Copeland said in addition to that, the church has a community garden and when the congregation comes together for church meals, healthy food is served.

“Twice a year we have a Daniel Fast for 40 days where there's no meats, no sweets, no carbonated drinks,” he said. “So, it's sort of creating a culture that this is what we do here, that we eat healthy, we hold each other accountable.”

Copeland said his congregation holds each other accountable and make sure they are checking in on each other. He also said the mindset of some African Americans need to change.

“There are some lifestyle choices that we can make, that can dramatically impact those things,” he said. “But to the extent that we have issues that are beyond just our ability to control with diet and exercise and rest, we have to be our own best advocates.”

Shelton Kay is the former vice president of community relations at Crusader Community Health. He said he’s dealt with a lot of people who feel they are not equipped to have a conversation with their health care providers.

“And they make healthcare secondary, you know," Kay said, "and again, if you are not comfortable with something with yourself, you're going to avoid it.”

He said pastors are the perfect vehicle for getting that message to the community.

“Years ago, I did a project where you know, when the HIV program was getting started, and it was an issue in the African American community,” Kay explained, “I reached out to different pastors in the Black community to just get that HIV message. And they embraced that. They worked together, we put together a coalition.”

CURA Strategies is an organization that provides communication support for the city’s health literacy initiative. A representative from the company said the video is the product that the public sees but other things are happening behind the scenes.

They recently held their eighth health literacy training for community-based organizations. These training courses were previously targeted towards clinicians. The representative said the organization is reaching health care providers and service providers.

Kendall said it is important for people to make connections when they attend health events. She said this could increase their knowledge and better equip them to advocate for themselves in health care environments.
“You don't have to do it all the time," she added, "But just once in a while. Those of us who are ambassadors or advocates of this, we too have to spend our time preaching the word. Because all the knowledge that we give is power.”

Additional resources are available at rockfordready.org. The video can be found on the City of Rockford YouTube page.