In between songs by Mahalia Jackson and Curt Franklin, the community of Springfield, Massachusetts can hear the words from me, Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker, streaming though out the gospel music listening community. For the past three years, they have heard me stress that if they do not have a spare body in the closets they best take of this one. With humor and catchy phrases, they listen, laugh and learn. With this 15-minute radio spot that was first slated for only 10 Sundays, the program called “Respect the Gift” has become a fixture to the Sunday morning gospel program hosted by Denise Stewart on WTCC 90.7 in Springfield.
To the radio station, I come! Armed with the knowledge that AIDS is increasing fastest among African American female and well aware of the churches reservation and silence about this subject, I come. Well aware that when I walk into a dialysis unit I will be faced with people that look either like me or like someone in my family, still I come. I come with the hope that I will make my world of medicine less frightening to my people. I come and sit before the radio mike because maybe my voice may make a difference and lead my people to understand that medical knowledge and prevention is the key that will open the door to better health.
Along with a host of medical information, for the month of June, I gave free blood pressure checks before my health segment on Sunday mornings. I often make written medical information available to them and I provide talks at churches and other venues throughout the community.
When I meet people on the street, they gladly provide their favorite statements. It may be:
- “I know you saw Beyoncé with that shopping cart filled with sodas. If you think your body will look like Beyoncé after drinking those sodas you are fooling your self.”
- “Is your blood pressure, less than 140/90, if not, Why Not”!
- “I know you know the slogan; American runs on Dunkins. But if you continue to eat those donuts every day you won’t be running, you will be wobbling.”
- “You cannot take your blood pressure medications if you don’t want to, but if you have a stroke your friends are going to run like roaches when the light are turned on. I have seen it too many times. They will not be there. They are not going to take you to lunch, because the minute you drooled on the plate, all bets are off. No more lunch outings for you. They are gone and often for good.”
Because I am an African American Nephrologist reared in the south in a community similar to Springfield. I know their fears, I know their concerns and I know what will move them. They want to be peached to but primarily in the church. I make them laugh and somehow force them to listen. They want to live but are often confused about the world of medicine. These are my people and I get up every Sunday morning driving from Amherst to Springfield for no pay to try and provide the best current medical information available because to me their health matters.