By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Fellow
Saving Lives celebrated the culmination of several months of hard work and determination by each church in the health and wellness advocacy program on Sept. 18 at the Bryant Conference Center.
Before being given certificates of achievement and expressing what the program meant to them individually, the 19 Saving Lives advocates from five area African-American churches displayed posters detailing each of their advocacy projects.
At Plum Grove Baptist Church, Shaunta Sanders and Javelin Lewis served as the advocates. Their project was to create a Healthy Eating Expo by connecting and engaging community members. Lewis said the program “empowered” her to take its health message back to her congregation. “We got out into our church and we felt equipped. We were excited about it and our church got excited.”
For Lewis the Saving Lives message held a personal meaning. “It took me some time before I could make the connection, but I kept thinking about my own mom. She didn’t work out, she didn’t eat healthy and she smoked for as long as I think I’ve been alive,” Lewis said. She explained that her sister from Tennessee called to tell her that their mother had collapsed at church. Nine days later she died.
“It was a hard thing to swallow,” Lewis said. “She’d had an aneurysm while at church praising God.” She added that the Saving Lives Initiative has given her hope. “I feel like we can save some mamas. I feel like we can save families. It’s called Saving Lives. We can do that if we take this information and we take it into our churches and we put in the hands, minds and hearts of people. People can live.”
Lewis explained how the program has made a difference and can continue to make a difference in the African-American community, because knowledge is empowering.
“Sometimes these things happen because we don’t know. We don’t have the right information. We don’t have the right direction and we don’t know which way to go,” Lewis said. “Well, Saving Lives gives us that. So, to the advocates here, please know that this is not a little task that you’ve undertaken. This is a very big thing. But just know that God is with you and will take you from beginning to end.”
Lewis’ sentiments were echoed by other advocates. “I just want to thank God for the Saving Lives Initiative. I want to thank God for giving me the information through the Saving Lives Initiative. I don’t think there is any other organization where I have learned so much about health” said Valerie Cleveland, who works as a counselor at a nursing home.
Cleveland is a member of Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church and she helped to organize a program entitled “Let’s Talk” which helped start a conversation about death and dying, advanced directives, powers of attorney, funeral arrangements and more. “We know we are going to die. So let your family know of your wishes. Don’t leave that stress on your family,” Cleveland said. “This is so dear to my heart because I work in a nursing home.”
During their initial meeting they engaged members of their congregation through presentations by an attorney and hospice staff members. “We did reach our goal because we got our participants to thinking,” Cleveland said. “I’m hoping that when we have our second workshop, those papers that we hand out, they’re going to bring them back and we’re going to notarize them and that’s all they need.”
“I was personally convicted to start to thinking about the conversations that I need to have in my family,” said Dr. Nicole Prewitt, who serves as the director of programs and partnerships for community engagement at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP) and directs Saving Lives activities. Prewitt recalled her father explaining to her family his final wishes before his untimely death. “My dad passed away at 59 unsuspectedly, but I remember how he was kind enough and loved us enough to share that information.”
Letrell Peoples, who attends New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Northport, said her church had struggled to create a senior ministry for years, but she lacked the motivation to start the program until connecting with Saving Lives. “The academy gave us the little push and the structure and the guidance that we needed,” she said. “It took seven years for us, but this was the time and we thank Saving Lives.”
Saving Lives is a faith-based wellness program established to advocate for healthy families and communities through faith. For more information about the program, email Prewitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 205-348-9819.