When TBWA/WorldHealth launched the #BlackHealthNow initiative in February, it was an in-house campaign to raise awareness around medical bias and to empower black communities with health education.
At that time, no one saw the Covid-19 crisis overwhelming the globe or was prepared for the disparate impact it would have on people of color.
Now, #BlackHealthNow is launching a new series of virtual sessions with doctors, athletes and other fitness experts and community leaders to help promote preventative healthcare and Covid-19 information specific to the needs of black Americans. Led by TBWA\WorldHealth svp and group creative director Walter T. Geer III, associate managing partner Wallye Holloway and W\LDTYPE ecd Bryan Gaffin, the project takes the form of livestreamed conversations on social media with a different guest each week.
These aren’t just any guests. On Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. ET, track and field athlete Tianna Bartoletta—winner of three Olympic gold medals—joins Geer on Instagram Live (@3rdGeers) for an at-home workout. And this Saturday, Ashley Everett—also known as Beyoncé’s lead backup dancer—will lead a dance class.
“We know that in order to stay healthy, you need to exercise. So here are 10 minutes you could do at home every single day,” said Geer.
The African American community struggles with higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and other preexisting conditions that can make it harder to fight off Covid-19. With preventative health in mind, the team hopes to continue to feature pro athletes as well as chefs who can guide viewers through healthy home-cooked meals.
The first two guests on #BlackHealthNow’s Covid-19 series were emergency physicians working on the frontlines of the pandemic: Edward Lathan of Mount Vernon, N.Y. and Garth Walker of Chicago.
“We’re in the middle of the pandemic, and there’s a lot of myths out there,” said Holloway. “There [are] some questions that people just need [answered.] How do you get through this? What’s the impact specifically on our community? Hearing from black physicians on the front lines was important because I got to ask those questions.”
When Lathan spoke with Geer on April 17, he explained why the coronavirus is referred to as “novel” (it’s new, so no one has immunity to it), how black Americans often lack adequate access to healthcare, why some preexisting health conditions can lead to higher rates of Covid-19 infection in black communities and other essential information.
Walker spoke with #BlackHealthNow on April 21 and helped explain why 72% of people who died from Covid-19 in Chicago were black. Walker cited, among other issues, the population’s “troubled history with the healthcare system” based on exploitative past medical practices such as the Tuskeegee experiment—a 40-year medical study in which doctors observed syphilis in black men without treatment or even informing the patients they were infected.
Geer also asked Walker to tackle some of the pandemic misinformation spreading, citing the myth that higher melanin levels in skin can protect black people from infection. But misinformation doesn’t just take the form of gossip and Facebook posts, it can also become a problem when healthcare workers themselves don’t have a complete understanding of how signs of illness might be different for different people.
A viral tweet from April 16 helped illustrate how Covid-19 information sometimes fails to be inclusive of everyone.
Medical bias can take many forms. Jason Hargrove, the Detroit bus driver whose Facebook rant about how riders should wear masks went viral just 11 days before he died of Covid-19, was turned away from the emergency room twice despite requesting oxygen treatment after his fingernails turned blue, according to his widow Desha Johnson-Hargrove. It’s unclear why Hargrove was turned away from the hospital, but he was admitted on his third attempt—and died shortly after.
While the first series of #BlackHealthNow videos in February addressed medical bias with personal stories, the team’s current goal is to provide the community with actionable steps they can take.
“A lot of people of color live in intergenerational homes, where there are children, parents and grandparents,” said Geer. He brought that up with Walker, who offered some guidelines on how to socially isolate yourself within a home full of family members.
May’s first #BlackHealthNow guest, National Urban League CEO Marc H. Morial, will join Geer to address the overall racial disparities of the pandemic. The issue of racism in healthcare aside, the fact of the matter is that anyone with Covid-19 symptoms should immediately seek help. But it doesn’t hurt to have some tailor-made information on your side before you go.
“When something like a disaster strikes, it’s still gonna require that we engage with the system in some way,” said Holloway. “And therefore we’re going to need to be prepared. That’s where #BlackHealthNow is really trying to help.”