We were born in the segregated South during the Jim Crow era and we’ve lived to witness the changes brought about as we transitioned from Jim Crow laws to the civil rights and the women’s rights movements. We’ve seen how people, organizations and events have shaped who we are as African-American women. We’ve made enormous progress, but there is still work to be done.
As we reflect on how this progress was born from injustice, we are reminded of the many black women whose lives or deeds led the way and changed history. Fannie Lou Hamer, the great civil and voting rights activist, suffered the injustice of sterilization against her will. Without her knowing, Henrietta Lacks’ cervical tumor cultures were used for medical research to create the HeLa Cell Line which is used in scientific research to this day. These are but two of the injustices that spur our hope that the Affordable Care Act will right the continued disparities in care found within our fragmented health care system.
No one can reach their full potential if they are not healthy in both mind and body. As women who have devoted our lives to health care and in particular, to black women’s health, we are celebrating Black History Month by continuing to fight for the healthiest generation yet. We know firsthand why it’s critical for women and men in the — American community to have access to preventive health care services, and we are determined to move our country closer to a health care system that treats all people with dignity and provides affordable, high-quality care for all. These are the promises of the Affordable Care Act.
We live in a country where people of color are still more likely to be uninsured or under-insured than their white counterparts, and are therefore often delayed in getting the care we need. African-American women are twice as likely to die of cervical cancer as white women. We are more likely to succumb to breast cancer. We have the nation’s highest rate of unintended pregnancy and of the approximately 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in this country, more than half are African Americans
Our community came out en masse to support President Obama and the Affordable Care Act because we understand that health is important and that prevention is a critical part of being healthy. Thanks to the ACA, 3.8 million African-Americans stand to gain health care coverage, providing millions of women, men, and young people access to preventive care such as lifesaving cervical cancer screenings, breast exams, birth control, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
We are inspired in this work by the independent, strong black women we see working hard every day, despite the odds, to make better lives for their children. And we are inspired by the courageous and visionary –American health activists who live their lives with the clear purpose of achieving health justice for ALL.
One of these trailblazers was Dorothy Irene Height, who was unwavering in her six-decade fight for racial and gender justice. Throughout her 98 years, she never stopped fighting for equal rights for women and African-Americans. Her life is an inspiration to all activists who work for change in our communities and who understand how important it is to reach our full health potential as individuals and as a community.
As we celebrate African-American history month, let us not give up the fight to create health justice for all. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” This is the time for us to move forward and see health care as the human right that it is.
Eleanor Hinton Hoytt is the president & CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the only organization devoted solely to advancing the health and wellness of America’s 19.5 million black women and girls through advocacy, community health and wellness education and leadership development. She is the co-author of Health First!: The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide.
Dr. Vanessa Cullins is vice president for external medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), and is responsible for leadership and administration of the Medical Affairs Division. Dr. Cullins has extensive clinical and administrative experience in reproductive health.