Voice: Grant Jones

Grant Jones is founder and executive director of the Center for African American Health in Denver.

“African Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes. We’re No. 1 for heart disease – we have the highest death rate. Black women – not the highest rate of breast cancer, but the highest death rate. We have the shortest life expectancy. The general statement that I make is we’re sicker than most and dying sooner than we should.”

The debate about the Affordable Care Act was and is too simple. The conversation is dominated by institutions – what happens in hospitals and coverage and quality and access to care. They’re not talking about organizations like mine – they’re talking about hospitals.

Grant Jones

Grant Jones

There’s no venture capital for this kind of effort – i.e., there’s venture capital for clean energy, but not for programs and organizations that promote health through prevention and wellness efforts and projects aimed at chronic disease management. There is just this role that the community can play in both health literacy and in trying to treasure their health.

We held a voluntary blood pressure check. I saw men who didn’t want to get checked and found it frustrating. But then I thought about myself. I have a membership to 24 Hour Fitness, and I should go several times a week. But I’m busy, and I end up going only once or twice. I’ll think about going and then realize I have a meeting at 5 o’clock and I won’t go. And then I think, if someone told me that, I’d say, is that meeting more important than your health? I tell people that, but I don’t do it.

I grew up in the 9th Ward in New Orleans. It’s an area with very low income and a way of life that seems very different. Everything there seems like it’s high risk, at least to an outsider. But someone growing up there would hear gunfire and not have fear. Some kid that’s not in a gang is not afraid of the kid who lives down the street from him. They’re in the same circumstance. But what he is afraid of is being seen as a sissy. In other words, a kid not in a gang is more afraid of being seen as not macho than of gang violence.

The solution to these stigma, the solution to these community settings, is not in a hospital. If we can balance the communication and talk as much about what the community can do as what hospitals can do, we can have an effect.

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