Toxins in the Hood

By: Cassandra Bazile

When we hear of racial injustice, we tend to think of police brutality or the criminal justice system’s war against minorities; but what about the air and water we consume? “Environmental racism”, a term coined in the 1980s, plagues the United States as many illegal dumps, chemical plants and sewage treatment plants reside in the backyards of people of color and the poor. Polices and practices are implemented to discriminate against people based on race and social class by forcing them live in areas near facilities that are major causes of pollution. These waste facilities contain toxins and carcinogens such as lead, cobalt and Styrene. People who live in these areas are inhaling and consuming toxins that can cause generational defects. Research has shown that middle class African Americans who make between $50,000-60,000 a year are more likely to live in a polluted neighborhood than white Americans who make just $10,000 a year.  Don’t believe me? Let’s talk about some cases of environmental racism.

Along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge there are over 150 industrial factories that produce a quarter of the nation’s petrochemicals. The 85-mile stretch, infamously known as “Cancer Alley”, has been known for the unusual cases of cancer and mysterious illness that happen in its vicinity. How do these chemicals ultimately lead to cancer?  Well, it first started with the residents awaking to mysterious ash on their cars every morning. The ash soon caused putrid smells which, eventually, the residents became accustomed to. After a while the residents became used to the pollution, unaware of their diminishing health.

With the decline of industries such coal mining and petroleum, many white Americans suffer from environmental bias as well. The decline of industry also brought the decline of the livelihood of those that depended on those jobs.

Flint, Michigan recently made headlines for a water crisis in which Flint changed its water source from Lake Hurton to Flint River, which had major lead contamination. Exposure to lead causes developmental problems in children including impaired cognition, delayed puberty and a variety of behavioral problems. Between 6,000 and 12,000 children where exposed to lead and are now haunted by  life-long impending health problems. Coverage of this crisis raised the debate of whether the race and social status of Flint’s residents had to do with this situation.

Flint was once an industrial powerhouse and housed General Motors’ largest plant. The plant downsized in the 1980s, taking the jobs from residents and negatively impacting the livelihood of the city. Many of Flint’s residents live below the national poverty line and over 40% are African American. The state’s actions following the exposure of the contaminated water being pumped into Flint were questionable to say the least, leaving questions about whether the situation’s handling had to do with the racial and socioeconomic demographics of Flint.

So what now?

Laws to protect Americans against environmental bias have long existed. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed a bill to ensure the goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities.  It has been shown that areas of impoverished people have not reaped the benefits since the bill was never enforced. Over 20 years later, we are still battling to enforce these laws in areas where the people aren’t heard. The environmental protection agency (EPA) has a department that is specifically concerned with civil rights and in its 22-year history the office has not found a case of discrimination. Surprised?Environmental racism doesn’t just affect the generation of people living there. Environmental toxins can cause generational damage. The cycle of bias when it comes to the environment in which we are born and raised, or where we play, live, and work perpetuates the oppression of minorities and low-income communities.

Cassandra Bazile is a Graduate Student at the University of Miami, currently pursing a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology. She graduated from Morgan State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and then moved to Boston where she worked at MIT for 3 years. Cassandra has a deep rooted love for science and research. Her Interest Include Women’s Health, Fitness, and Community Outreach.  


1. Huffington Post, (2016) “EPA to Weaken Civil Rights Protections Under Obama”. New York, New York.

2. The New York Times. (2016) “A Question of Environmental Racism in Flint”. NEW YORK, NEW YORK.

3. Pollution Issues. “Cancer Alley, Louisiana”.

4. Lee, Trymaine. MSNBC. .(2014) “Cance Alley: Big Industry, Big Problems”.

5. (2013) “Mapping the Cancer Corridor along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast”.

Internet Resources



3.“Environmental Racism explained”. Online Video clip. Youtube, 29, Jan 2016.















Toxins in the Hood

Health Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

By: Delphine Gervais, LCSW

This May will mark five years since my mom was “officially” diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and two years since she transitioned.  There were plenty of days that I replayed the rush to the hospital, the exposure of her upper body to the doctors, the shock at what I saw. I remember the doctor questioning my mother, “When did you feel the first lump?”  I remember hearing my mother respond, “four years ago”. (hence my reference to the word “official”).  My mother was a resourceful Haitian woman, who never missed a doctor’s appointment and who never missed out on an opportunity to eat healthy.  Olive oil was a staple in our home.  Processed food was not.  She did everything she knew how to live a fit life.  In her mind, that lump negated every effort,  and it was then that her life completely changed.

For the purpose of conversation, I opt to turn my lense to black women and what their attitudes towards receiving services imply for their ultimate well being.  The stats are not favorable for communities of color.  Heart disease, cancer, hypertension, mental health–people of color lag behind in prevention and are dying at faster rates for lack of both prevention and intervention services.  In the case of breast cancer, although screenings among black women tend to be on level with those of their white counterparts, follow-ups for negative results were much lower.  Death rates among black women are 42% higher than their white counterparts.  It is one thing to schedule and conduct one’s mammogram every year.  Everyone can do that.  It’s another thing to follow up after receiving some not so favorable results.

I didn’t believe my mother loved me and my brother less because she didn’t seek the help she needed.  It couldn’t have been an easy pill to swallow to suffer in silence. Help seeking behaviors among African-American and Afro-Caribbean women have historically been a point of concern among those in the health profession.  The cultural construct surrounding help seeking behavior for physical or mental health concerns boils down to “it’s nobody’s business but mine.” If you couple that with the religious and spiritual impact on decision-making and you likely have a woman who will keep secrets from her loved ones and bear the entire emotional burden of disease.  To say that women of color reject the notion of prevention or intervention services is a fallacy.  It is best to first understand that normalizing health seeking behavior is the first order of business.

Imagine walking into a space where medical jargon is thrown at you left and right.  Machines are beeping.  People hurry about their work day, some stay long enough to inquire as to your well-being, while others just come long enough to poke and prod and leave with nary a word.  A person who speaks the king’s English would have a hard time navigating the health system.  A person who speaks limited or no English would drown in fear and embarrassment.  There is also the matter of inequitable access to services in the communities of color.  Are clinics within walking distance or near a bus stop? Do those who provide services understand the complexities of a person of color coming to their spaces in search for help?  Are they immediately placed at ease?  Are there people present in these spaces who can walk among the emotional minefields of their patient’s mind?

I remembered offering to take my mother to a cancer support group comprised of Haitian women.  The social worker in me thought it would be best for her to be among others who were grappling with similar issues.  She gave me a blank stare and a firm “No”.  I never brought it up again.  At times, we professionals believe we know what’s best for those who need help.   Imposing our norms and expectations lessens the opportunity for the person to establish personal ownership of their circumstances.  They’ve heard about the church member who became ill, went to the hospital and never came back home.  Walking into foreign spaces and experiencing a new normal is difficult for the average human being.  Being a woman of color compounds those feelings of helplessness.  When the strong black woman mystique had been challenged and the figurative “S” was off her chest, my mother didn’t want a support group.  Attendance at weekly church services was support enough.

There cannot be a one size fits all approach to healthcare.  My mother’s doctor knew well enough not to say the big “C” word in sessions.  She was delicate and respectful in her approach, she maintained deference in her tone and she left the hard discussions during one-on-ones with me.  At times she would practice her Creole on my mom.  This would make my mom smile.  The feeble attempts at seeking commonality met with ultimate respect.  For my mom that was enough to keep her committed to returning every month.  Even when the blood work started coming back with less than positive news, she kept her appointments without fail. Being seen by doctors and nurses who knew her name and smiled with their eyes made the trips that much bearable.  Half the battle is won when communities of color are provided with opportunities to maintain their personal dignity while seeking the help they so very much deserve and need.

This is not a mandate to learn a new language or join Doctors Without Borders.  It is however a call to action for professionals in the healing arts to take stock of how they approach their patients of color.  What works for Jane Doe may not work for Marie Pierre and Mary Johnson.  Cultural norms play a big part in how they each approach seeking help.  Knowing Jane’s cultural constructs and not Marie/Mary’s should cause one to pause and assess their effectiveness in providing service.  As the Haitian daughter of a Haitian woman I thought I knew all there was to making sure my mom received the services she needed.  My westernized approach to therapeutic intervention failed miserably.  I should have known that my mother cared less about support groups than ensuring she had a nurse aid to provide meals.  She cared less about the blood work coming back negative and more about when the bus would come to take her to her prayer service.  It didn’t take me long to stop hitting my head against the proverbial wall.  It was less of what I wanted and more about what she needed.  Once I made peace with that, it was smooth sailing.

Delphine is a licensed clinical social worker with experience in education, health, social welfare, community development, and individual/family/group intervention services. Her professional background emphasizes a special focus on community involvement and service; utilizing social networking for the purpose of bridging the gap between those with established needs and those with access to the resources to meet those needs. Read more on her blog.

Source:  American Cancer Society


Health Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

HN Kitchen: Zucchini Boats

These zucchini boats are a simple and easy way to incorporate various macronutrients into a wholesome meal.

Zucchini is an outstanding source of manganese, vitamin C, and dietary fiber that will keep your body in the best shape for the long run. It also contains vitamin A, magnesium, folate, potassium, copper, and phosphorus .

The high fiber content of tomatoes helps improve satiety, and they are also a rich source of potassium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin A.

The ground turkey and jasmine rice provide lean protein and carbohydrates to give you fuel throughout the day.

Zucchini Boats

Continue reading “HN Kitchen: Zucchini Boats”

HN Kitchen: Zucchini Boats

LoveHER: Stay Healthy During the Holidays!

Delicately purposed for the nation’s Black women; brown girls, black girls; light-skinned, brown-skinned, and dark-skinned:

 It’s the time of the year when families, friends, colleagues, and loved ones gather around to enjoy food, laughter, and thankfulness. You can’t wait to eat grandma’s sweet potato pie, auntie’s ham, your favorite cousin’s macaroni and cheese, and whatever else comes from the kitchen that smells and looks oh so good!

However, remember to eat reasonably over the holidays! It is known that many traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas foods are high in carbohydrates: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and others. Truth is – we have to consider our diets and what places us at greater risk for the health conditions that ultimately disproportionately affect our community.

November was Diabetes Awareness Month, but I would like to share some tips that always apply for staying healthy on the road and at holiday gatherings with friends and family. You don’t have to give up all of your holiday favorites if you make healthy choices and limit portion sizes!

Healthy Holiday Tips

  • Eat a healthy snack before the main course to avoid overeating.
  • Try a healthier version of your favorite dish. There are so many recipes that are healthy and tasty!
  • Enjoy your holiday favorites but watch out for the heavy hitters such as honey glazed ham and turkey smothered in gravy! Maybe do without the gravy and choose skinless turkey.
  • Watch out for side dishes loaded with butter, sour cream, cheese, or mayonnaise.
  • Drink in moderation! Maybe one glass of wine is enough for one gathering.
  • Don’t forget to get some physical activity going! Offer to help clean up after a meal to get you moving around.
  • Most importantly, remember to take your medications for any chronic conditions you may have.



P.S. Be selective, eat reasonable portions, eat your veggies, and be healthy for the holidays!

American Diabetes Association. (2014, July 11). Six Holiday Tips: American Diabetes Association®. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, November 17). Managing Your Diabetes During the Holidays| Features | CDC. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from

LoveHER: Stay Healthy During the Holidays!

HN Inspiration: Mirna Valerio & the Redefinition of “Looking Healthy”

Mirna Valerio takes her usual run.

This month’s HN Inspiration is Mirna Valerio, mother, distance runner, and writer of Fat Girl Running. We find Mirna to be an inspiration because she challenges the stereotypes of fitness and health and provides a powerful example to others.

Health Noir (HN): I understand that your weight loss journey began with your doctor issuing you the warning that you would not live to see your son grow up if you didn’t lose weight. Had you thought about losing weight or pursuing a healthier lifestyle before that moment?

Mirna Valerio (MV): About a year before this incident, I lived in Maryland, where I was still adjusting to having to drive everywhere, living and working where I had no family support network (my husband stayed behind in New York to work), where I had a very stressful job, and also where my son spent many days home from school because of asthma and other ailments. I was stressed out. It was also new to me to have to drive absolutely everywhere. I noticed that I was gaining weight fairly rapidly and tried a few times to lose it through exercise and some modifications to my diet. I would go for a few weeks and then my son would be ill again, or I would be ill, or work consumed my life. I decided to move to New Jersey.

This new job was also stressful. My son contracted pneumonia in our first couple of weeks. I was also commuting back and forth to Maryland on the weekends to continue teaching my private voice and piano students. My lifestyle was one of work and family and fitness did not, and as I perceived it then, could not fit into my schedule.

That all changed, of course, after I had been issued what amounted to an ultimatum from my cardiologist.

Health Noir (HN): What would you say is your biggest motivation for staying active? Why did you choose running?

Mirna Valerio (MV): Being active makes me feel good. It really comes down to this. It makes me feel strong, powerful and able to conquer most things. Also, I am a healthier person because I choose to be very active on an almost daily basis. In addition, it is my job to be a positive role model for my son, my family members and my students.

Health Noir (HN): How did you eventually come to accept your body as it is meant to be? What advice would you give to people who haven’t reached the same level of acceptance you have?

Mirna Valerio (MV): I have always accepted my body the way it is. I come from a family full of people who appreciate bodies in whatever size or shape they’re in. Body image has never been an issue for me. This is not to say that I didn’t know that it needed some changing for the better.  There are still things that I’m working on body-wise and spirit-wise. It’s all an incredible, beautiful journey.

We have got to honor and respect our bodies for what they can do RIGHT NOW. Were you able to get up out of bed and walk to the bathroom? Yes? Your body did that? Were you able to walk to your car? Yes? Your body did that. Let’s honor our bodies now, and continue to honor them by doing what we need to keep them.

Health Noir (HN): What is your response to people who think fitness and health are all about aesthetics?

Mirna Valerio (MV): People have vastly different reasons for trying to achieve fitness and health. Some people do it for aesthetic reasons. Some people do it to feel better inside and out. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  BUT, people who think that fitness and health are both exclusively about looks are, in my opinion, misinformed about what these things look like in different bodies and in different situations.

Health Noir (HN): Do you pair your physical fitness activities with other mental, emotional, or spiritual health activities? 

Mirna Valerio (MV): Not really, although when I do my longs runs I am usually alone. This gives me much needed space, quiet, and time to focus on what’s going on in my head. I guess you could say it’s a meditative practice.

Health Noir (HN): As an African American woman, you know that we as a community tend to have different perceptions about health and wellness than other communities. Stories like yours are very inspiring and inclusive because they challenge stereotypes that have excluded us for a long time. How do you think we can begin to reframe conversations about health and fitness to improve our health as a community?

Mirna Valerio (MV): I think that women in general, and African American women in particular have this idea that we need to take care of everybody without ever really thinking about or knowing how to take care of ourselves first. We are often guilted by society and ourselves into thinking that we are the sole keepers of our families and the world. This has a tremendously negative effect on our health and wellness. We’ve got to take charge of our own bodies, our own health (emotional, physical, spiritual) and get ourselves out of this kind of destructive thinking. Life doesn’t wait, but death does. I’d rather live my life than wait on death.

HN Inspiration: Mirna Valerio & the Redefinition of “Looking Healthy”

Need to Know: Who’s the Champ?

Today marks the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, an annual event designed to encourage smokers to kick the habit once and for all. For those of us in public health, it’s a pep rally of sorts where we launch cessation tools into the crowd instead of t-shirts, and huddle up to devise new strategies that will give our team the upper hand in the fight to quit. While this year’s theme, “Quit like a Champ” is motivating enough, I have to wonder if Black people, who tend to take the gold in many competitive endeavors, are invited to the winner’s circle when it comes to quitting smoking.

It’s not that Black people aren’t breaking a sweat in effort to quit. In fact, Black people are more interested in getting to the smoke-free finish line than other ethnic groups. According to the CDC, 74% of African Americans report wanting to quit smoking compared to only 69% of whites and 58% of Hispanics. They even try more often to quit smoking. Unfortunately, though, Black people are less successful and have lower quit rates than whites.

When it comes to tobacco, it seems that the fight ain’t fair.

It’s not just the unmet need to succeed in quitting that raises suspicion that the fight might be fixed. While other life-long smokers start their race to addiction by 18 years old, African American youth don’t initiate smoking until much later in life. What’s more is that when Black people do start smoking, they smoke fewer cigarettes per day. Yet, with these “advantages”, African Americans are more likely to die from smoking-related illnesses than whites.

That ain’t right.

More than 46,000 Black lives are lost to tobacco-related disease each year. This makes smoking the number one cause of death for our community – above homicide, AIDS and car crashes combined.

So, what’s going on? Some reports cite the fact that African Americans don’t take advantage of cessation treatments such as medication and counseling. It’s likely, though, that the issue is more complicated.

Are these cessation tools readily available and easily accessible to African Americans? Is a lack of insurance a barrier to receiving assistance? Are we doing our job to tailor cessation resources to the African American community?

Next comes the big question. Could the challenge actually be racial or political? Is there a system of injustice in place that contributes to our difficulty in quitting smoking? Some offer an enthusiastic yes whilepointing to the issue of menthol as a primary example.

We know that menthol is a top choice for Black smokers. What may be lesser known is that menthol provides a cooling sensation and makes the harshness of smoking easier to handle for new smokers. For veteran smokers, menthol has been known to make smoking more challenging to quit. Simply put, menthol makes smoking easier to start and harder to quit.

Here is what comes at no surprise. The tobacco industry has disproportionately marketed menthol to Black communities, adjusting the price of the product and associating menthols with Black culture.

And the FDA has recognized the industry’s tactics as effective.

In recent years, the FDA has worked to protect the interests of adolescents by banning flavors such as candy and fruit that attract young people. Their aim? To save lives by preventing youth smoking.

However, when it came to the king of flavors – menthol – the FDA seemed to turn a blind eye. They acknowledged that a ban on menthol would save African American lives in particular, but they still called for further investigation of the matter.

Whatever the challenges, African Americans must stay in the fight to quit smoking – today and every day. African Americans can quit like champions, too.

There are resources such as Pathways to Freedom and information about menthol that can help African Americans to get on their marks.

It’s time to get energized and win this race. Quit smoking.

This is a guest post by LaTroya Hester. 

Need to Know: Who’s the Champ?

HN Kitchen: Peach Waffle Breakfast Sandwich

Summer is an amazing time. Not only is the weather warm and beautiful, but summertime fruit is just.. yum.  Right now peach season is in full swing and I have the perfect recipe to use them all up. This peach waffle breakfast sandwich will keep you in a good mood for the entire day. Peaches are not only sweet and juicy, they are also low calorie, high fiber, and rich in potassium and Vitamins A & C, if you are into that kind of thing.

Peach Waffle Breakfast Sandwich Continue reading “HN Kitchen: Peach Waffle Breakfast Sandwich”

HN Kitchen: Peach Waffle Breakfast Sandwich