At St. Joseph, parishioners are well aware of these statistics. Octavia Fennidy, a longtime member of the church, recalls how her parents used to cook.
“I remember growing up as a little girl going to the boucherie where they actually shot the hog in the head and they made blood sausage and they fried everything — the cracklings and the chicken,” she said. “That's how they were brought up, and I know a lot of people in the community still do that.”
Fennidy serves on the church’s Health Ministry team, which has been around for a few decades. The goal is to teach the community how to be healthier through the help of other parishioners, as well as church members who are licensed nurses or have worked in health care.
Fennidy, who is a nurse, has diabetes and has survived cancer twice. She knows how difficult it can be to go to the doctor. Practical issues like lack of insurance can get in the way, which Fennidy says can force people to decide between paying an expensive medical bill or putting food on the table.
On top of that — there’s often judgment, a lack of cultural sensitivity, and racism in the medical field.
“I feel like the doctor does not take as much time with me as they do with a Caucasian patient. So I don't feel like I get the right treatment,” Fennidy said. “So why go?”
These opinions are shared by many of St. Joseph’s parishioners, so the Health Ministry has looked for ways to ease their concerns — like hosting health fairs where they invite nurses to do routine check-ups and educators to come and speak on topics like exercise and diet.
Lifelong church member Rita Williams said her husband benefitted from one of the Health Ministry’s programs, using it to find out he had kidney disease. Williams, who used to work in health care business administration, said she saw through her line of work how patients are often not treated as people, but simply as customers. It’s something that often left her husband reluctant to go to the doctor, delaying his diagnosis.
“I know how important it is for us to encourage our community, our own family members, to seek free services and take advantage of it,” she said. “So we look forward to any help we can get.”