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Satcher urges Baptists to focus on health issues
By Brandt Williams
Minnesota Public Radio
September 5, 2001
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U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher told the National Baptist Convention in Minneapolis Tuesday the church can play a major role in reducing health disparities between African-Americans and whites. The Baptist group is the largest black religious group in the U S. The theme of the convention is health and wellness.

U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher urged delegates to the National Baptist Convention in Minneapolis to use their churches to advocate for better health care, including responsible sexual behavior.
(MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
THE NATIONAL BAPTIST CONVENTION USA HAS AN ESTIMATED MEMBERSHIP of eight million. The organization was shaken several years ago after its former president was sent to prison for the misappropriation of $5 million in convention funds. Despite that incident, it is still sought after for its potential to organize millions of African-Americans.

Surgeon General David Satcher urged the group to use the power of its membership to help reduce the health gaps between African-Americans and whites. Satcher says African-Americans suffer from certain health conditions more often than whites because of several factors, including lack of access to health care and poor behavior. The surgeon general says when it comes to AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, the church can play a vital role in advocating responsible behavior.

"We need churches to be involved in sex education. Sex is talked about in all the wrong places in all the wrong ways, and it ought to be talked about in the right places and the right ways. The church is one of those places," Satcher said.

Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman spoke before a group of delegates at the Target Center, and urged them to do more to help at-risk children. Edelman says churches can do many things, like keep their doors open longer to provide children with structured activities, and turn their vacation bible schools into freedom schools in the summer. She said churches must get the word out to families that help is available.

"We need black churches to let parents know that they are - six million children are currently eligible for healthcare - most of them in working parent families, and they don't know about it," she said.

Edelman also encouraged the convention to support the Leave No Child Behind Act, which calls for $500 billion over 10 years to be put toward child welfare programs. Following her address, NBC-USA president Dr. William Shaw said the executive board voted to endorse the legislation.

National Baptist Convention-USA president Dr. William Shaw, speaking to delegates at the convention's meeting in Minneapolis.
(MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
National Urban League president Hugh Price also came to the convention to urge delegates to make literacy a high priority in their home churches. Price presented the Urban League's latest effort called Read and Rise.

Delegates gave warm receptions to the speakers who - while patting the church on the back for its work in the past - prodded the church to do more. Dr. Bernett Johnson of the University of Pennsylvania hospital had many suggestions for how churches can help facilitate the better health of its members. He says churches can hold health fairs, set up clinics, and use the power of the pulpit to encourage church members to heal themselves by adopting healthier lifestyles. However, Johnson says the first thing a church should do, is urge their congregations to exercise their political clout as voters.

"I want you to vote. And that's sounds strange. I didn't say don't eat grits and greens and chitlins. I want you to vote. Two things this country understands - political power and dollars. So elect people who care about your health care," Johnson said.

The convention continues until Friday. NBC-USA officials are expecting 25,000 to 30,000 delegates to participate in the week's meetings and activities.