Eliminating health disparities high on their agenda
By Robin James
Stepping into Spring with the “Minnesota Black Nurses Association” was the joyous theme at the organization’s first annual gala on Saturday, March 9, held at the Crown Plaza hotel in Brooklyn Park, co-sponsored by The Minnesota Black Nurses Association (MNBNA) and a number of other local organizations.
This special event was dedicated to fundraising for scholarships for the next generation of nurses and was attended by nearly 200 guests, who took part in festivities that lasted over three hours but didn’t feel like a long, drawn-out
occasion. According to event organizers, there are approximately 100 Black nurses in the Twin Cities area.
The overall polish and organization of the affair gave the distinct impression that the engagement wasn’t the MNBNA’s first go-around. Familiar faces in the crowd included Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter and Roxanne Givens, founder of the Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center.
Attendees received a warm welcome from mistress of ceremony Jearlyn Steele, followed by Representative Ray Dehn, who spoke on behalf of Governor Dayton. Other speakers included the president of the MNBNA, Shirlynn M. LaChapelle, Reverend Dr. Deidre Walton, and author Jonathan O’Dell. Activist-anthropologist Dr. Irma McClaurin served as keynote speaker.
O’Dell, author of The Healing (Nan A. Talese Books, 2012), grew up in the Jim Crow South and spoke briefly about his experiences of being born into Blackness and having what he described as “blinding glimpses into the obvious.”
McClaurin addressed the sharply dressed audience as “champions of the community” who have the power to improve conditions. She stressed the importance of eliminating health disparities and led the crowd in a call-and-response: “We’ve come a long way. How far have we come?” then adding, “Not far!” as the audience joined her in unison.
Additionally, McClaurin touched on the high cost of health disparities in America as she encouraged the audience to Google “race and health disparities” to better understand what she described as “an American tragedy.”
She also highlighted her work in the Caribbean, which included nontraditional Western methods that emphasize healing the whole body; the importance of healers; and their approaches to the combination of mind, spirit and body. She said that we need to return to nontraditional methods and pass them on to our children and Black nurses, since Black nurses are a part of a healing tradition with a great responsibility to our community and those underserved by the community.
She encouraged the audience to become champions of this “apartheid,” a word she said she didn’t use lightly, and also recommended that they take risks, and become soldiers. “I want a nurse that understands cultural needs, that treats me as a person, not a system, and that will treat me holistically.”
McClaurin closed by noting,
”Together with the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA), we are soaring like eagles, and you are the wind beneath my wings.”
To round out an excellent evening, gala-goers enjoyed musical entertainment by vocalist Thomasina Petrus, who was accompanied by pianist Sanford Moore. Vocalist Ray Covington also performed.
The MNBNA is passionate about their work and encourages the public to join them as they currently plan to host a variety of upcoming educational events around the Twin Cities area. The events will focus on preventative health and nutrition, the importance of knowing your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.), prostate health screening, and living a healthy, active lifestyle.
The Minnesota Black Nurses Association (MNBNA) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support, advocacy and programs to further advance the profession and eliminate health disparities through the delivery of culturally competent, quality health care in our communities. It is the local chapter of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA), which was organized in 1971 under the leadership of Dr. Lauranne Sams, former dean and professor of nursing, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama.
The mission of the Minnesota Black Nurses Association (MNBNA) is to reduce health disparities among African Americans and to provide a collective action by African American nurses to investigate, define and determine what the healthcare needs of African Americans are, and to implement change and make available to African Americans and other minorities health care commensurate with that of the larger society.
Robin James welcomes reader responses to [email protected].