Northern Nevadans gathered for soul food and soulful conversations Wednesday in Carson City at Adams Hub. The Ideas on Tap event highlighted national Black History Month, recognized and celebrated annually during February.
Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, a practicing physician and medical director for Saint Mary’s Medical Group, fielded organizer Mike Smith’s first set of questions about Black health and wellness. She discussed the disparity that Black patients face in getting quality care.
One example she cited: the GFR test, which measures the health of human kidneys. When doctors put a patient’s data through the algorithm that calculates GFR, the equations add a 1.2 percent multiplier to Black patients’ scores, making their kidneys seem healthier compared to patients of other racial groups, even if that is not the reality.
In turn, doctors are less likely to quickly identify illnesses like kidney disease in Black patients. That hinders preventive action and contributes to higher mortality rates.
“That disparity and how that affects you down the line is a huge issue,” Curry-Winchell said.
But it’s not just direct medical disparities like the GFR test that affect Black patients and minorities, she added. Social and environmental determinants of health can create inequities.
Throughout the pandemic, minority groups have had less access to resources and educational materials, Curry-Winchell said. Medical infrastructure is more concentrated in white communities than Black communities. It’s leading to a higher Black mortality rate.
And even when Black patients do have access to those resources, doctors like Curry-Winchell have to overcome their patient’s long-standing distrust of medical establishments. That distrust is partially rooted in the U.S. history of forced sterilization of minority groups, including African Americans, all the way up to the 1970s.
One thing Curry-Winchell said she’s done in the past to overcome that hurdle is partnering with local congregations to build trust in healthcare among Black churchgoers. She said that recognizing her patients’ faith and belief systems helps her better meet their healthcare needs.
“I am hopeful that we have more of these conversations, and the conversations lead to a disruption in the current trends that are happening in Black wellness in respect to physical and mental well-being,” she said.
Alongside Black health and wellness, another conversation is going on in higher education – how to teach students about Black history within American history. Dr. Jody Lykes is in the middle of that discourse. He’s a hip-hop scholar and diversity professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and he took the mic after Curry-Winchell.
“Can we discuss the realities of Black life in America without protests?” he asked the audience.
He said that, as a professor, he tries to get each of his students genuinely interested in something about Black history.
He added, “We are not as small as we think,” speaking to African American populations in Nevada.
Las Vegas has a large Ethiopian population, about 40,000 strong. Reno has lots of Black residents that trace their roots to western Africa.
Nevada history and Black history are intertwined. Some of the people helping write that history were among the audience, representatives with Our Story Inc. Lykes thanked them for their work – he said that he browses the site often for facts.
From Our Story Inc., some prominent Black Northern Nevada residents who have shaped the future of the state include Ben Palmer, who was one of the first Carson Valley settlers, Henry W. Lockerman, a Civil War veteran who served as a porter of the state Senate, Ruth Giles Jones, who published the Reno Sentinel, and many more.
Lykes encouraged folks in the audience to visit www.oursotryinc.com to explore the stories of Black and minority Nevadans.
In his closing remarks, Lykes said his best memories are from his younger years, picking up his grandmother and her friends on Thursday nights for a drive. Talking about structural racism is important, but it wears you out, he said. He takes comfort in the happier moments.
Smith, Lykes and several participants joked that Carson City’s African American population increased 200 percent Wednesday night. Lots of audience members commuted from other parts of Northern Nevada to join in on the forum.
Folks with Our Story Inc. posed a final question that had the whole room talking. They’re soon opening the Northern Nevada African American Firefighter Museum in Reno. When Black history and Nevada history collide, how do you separate the two? Which is it?
The audience’s consensus: it’s both.
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