Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival promotes health issues
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01/22/13 Lenka Davis
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

Last weekend marked the beginning of the 13th Annual Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival. It continued through Martin Luther King Day and until the upcoming weekend. On Saturday organizers in Tampa emphasized the importance of health in the African American community.

According to statistics from American Cancer society, African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the US for most cancers. This reflects social and economic disparities more than biological differences. Pat Turner, the event coordinator for the festivalĀ“s 5K walk, thinks African American health mirrors the problematic health of the whole nation.

"We are obese, we have high blood pressure, we have cancer, we have diabetes. Some of these things are more prominent in the African American race partly because of the non-health care we got in the past and partly because we grew up eating fatty foods, salt, etc."

The 5K walk is dedicated to the legacy of Felecia Wintons Taylor. She was one of the founding members of the Black Heritage Festival and a bookstore owner.

"She was an entrepreneur and she started a book store carrying books for black readers because there was nothing around the area. I would say nothing around Tampa but I don't even think there was even in Tampa Bay that they had anything like it. "Books for Thought" was the name of the store."

Taylor died of breast cancer in 2009, a disease that is less likely to develop amongst African American women but once diagnosed, they are more likely to die from it than non-Hispanic whites. Pat Turner says this is why the organizers of the Tampa Bay Black Heritage festival decided to raise awareness and provide the festival participants with free health checks.

"We take blood sugars and blood pressures before the walk. Then after they've done the walk and they come back we do it again, if they want it done. There is a difference. The blood sugar has gone down, the blood pressure has gone down. It's amazing, you'd think they'd be out there walking really fast and the blood pressure....unh, unh, it brings the blood pressure down. In the health fair you're going to find people from Moffitt Cancer Center, you're going to have people from the Cancer Society, people for diversity from USF health department alone brings their dental people out and they give out tooth brushes and information. The lead people from the health department will come out and warn everybody about lead and where you find it. The health bus is going to come up and they'll do HIV checking and they will help us out with the cholesterol."

But the festival is dedicated not only to African American health issues. Ruby Jackson, the festival chair says the festival is anchored around the works of Martin Luther King and those who continued the fight for equality.

"The mission of the Black Heritage Festival is to promote and just build a vehicle for African Americans in the community and to keep the legacy and the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King alive. African Americans have contributed a lot to the world and we like to celebrate that through our festival here in Tampa Bay."

While some of the festival events have already taken place, Jackson thinks there are still events worth attending.

"On Tuesday evening we have a living history event at the John F German library here in downtown. We are going to showcase Harry T and Harriett V Moore who were to civil right workers back in the early 1900's who fought for equality. On Wednesday we have a wonderful leadership luncheon from 11:30 to 1:30 at the University Area Community Center. Our speaker will be Shirley Sherrod. On Thursday is a very exciting evening because we dedicate that evening to youth in the community, we'll have a speaker Dr. Rev. Calvin Morris who was a part of Operation Breadbasket after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. So he'll be here, we have a wonderful movie at the Tampa Theater here in downtown."

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