Abigail Boyd-Williams used to spend her Saturdays in bed, closing herself off from others and feeling depressed.
But over the last several months, the 50-year-old Vancouver woman has found motivation to get out of bed. She’s eating healthier foods. She’s getting active. She’s meeting new people. She’s smiling.
She credits a new culture-specific program, called Let’s Get Moving, that takes aim at health disparities among black people.
“This has changed my life,” Boyd-Williams said.
Black people have higher rates of chronic diseases and conditions — such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke — and are more likely to die at earlier ages than white people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black people ages 35 to 64 are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than white people. And black people 18 to 49 years old are twice as likely to die from heart disease than white people, according to the CDC.
Those types of disparities are what prompted Kelli Keyes, a community health worker at Vancouver Housing Authority, to launch the Let’s Get Moving program in February.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Keyes said.
The group of about 20 people meets for two hours every Saturday. The first hour of the program is devoted to diet and nutrition; the second hour focuses on physical activity. And each class is specific to the African-American culture, Keyes said. For example, one seminar focused on the African Heritage Diet, which is centered on food traditions of people with African roots, and an exercise hour highlighted rhythmic dancing.
The group has also explored spices, healthy oils and fresh fruit and vegetable juices. And every meeting ends with a walk through the neighborhood surrounding the Vancouver Housing Authority office in Uptown Vancouver.
Making the program culture-specific makes participants more comfortable, because they can identify with other participants and their life experiences, Keyes said. Keyes and Boyd-Williams said they haven’t seen a program like this in Southwest Washington before.
The 12-week series will wrap up this weekend, but Keyes hopes to secure funding to continue the program. The first series was funded with grant money from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and The Noble Foundation and with support from other sponsors.
Keyes hopes to eventually offer the series four times a year and wants to expand its reach to include other cultures. The goal of the program will remain the same, however: provide education to help reduce health disparities.
“If we can make just one small change, it can prevent some of these chronic diseases,” Keyes said.
Boyd-Williams is already making changes. Through the program, Boyd-Williams has discovered new foods and has found ways to make vegetables more appetizing. She’s also found the motivation to get active, she said.
Boyd-Williams has high blood pressure but said she’s working to get off of medications for the condition.
“Without this, I would just be sitting at home,” Boyd-Williams said. “My health, my physical ability would be down in the dumps.”
“It’s just phenomenal,” she said of the program.