As we seek to better the health of Black communities and improve our health outcomes, one thing we need to realize is that part of the solution is simply this: living in Black community.
These days, studies on the long, healthy lives of various populations of the world are very popular. I first came across such studies in the book 50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People by Sally Beare, in which she documents the life practices of long-lived communities in Okinawa, Japan; Symi, Greece; Campodimele, Italy; Hunza, Pakistan; and Bama, China. Beare extracts the “secrets” of the way each group lives to provide somewhat of a framework of how other groups can adapt their lives to experience similar health and longevity.
Indeed, much of Beare’s findings in the book include consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, avoidance of overeating, and other such practices as contributing to the longevity of these populations. But one of the other most prominent practices that she uncovers is that these populations live in very close-knit communities.
In these close-knit communities, everyone helps everyone. During harvest time, for example, Campodimele residents help each other gather the year’s bounty from each other’s gardens. If anyone is in need, the community makes sure that those needs are met. Everyone contributes to society, from the youngest to the oldest, and the oldest are respected and revered by the whole community. Similarly in Okinawa, residents hold special celebrations for the oldest members of their communities.
Can we do this as a Black Christian community? I believe so. As a matter of fact, I contend that this is already a part of who we are.
As a child, I recall visits to my grandparents’ home in Anderson, South Carolina. They lived on a cozy street with a cul-de-sac where everyone knew everyone. My grandparents, as well as the many other families on the street, regularly left their doors open for people to come in and talk. I recall many a person walking right in to sit in the living room and “shoot the breeze” with my grandma and granddad. They talked about happenings in the community and commented on how big my brothers and I had gotten. At times, both my grandparents would sit on their porch for hours with others who would walk up to talk.
One elderly man who lived across the street would bring his delicious potato salad over periodically. A lady from next door would share crates of oranges that she would get from her Florida family in abundance. We would often ride old, rusty bikes found in my granddad’s backyard in the cul-de-sac with other children who lived in that neighborhood.
I suspect that even if you don’t live like this now, you have someone – some grandparent or great-auntie or great-uncle – who has told you about living in this kind of community.
Not only do many of us have this as part of our Black experience, but let’s not forget what the Bible tells us about the first Christian community. As documented in Acts, a steadily growing group of Christ’s followers spent their time together to support each other. It is said that they had “everything in common” and that they would sell their individual possessions to meet the needs of others in the community (Acts 4:32-35). These early Christians constantly ate together, worshipped together, and did life together. Isn’t this wonderful?
So we as Black Christians, even in a suburbanized world that has encouraged us to become more isolated and self-focused, have both a faith and family heritage of community. Regardless of what we have become, community is who we are. It’s no coincidence that our churches are still considered to be the heart of our communities; this is evidence that we retain part of this community aspect.
But for us to actually improve health in our communities in community with others, perhaps it is time to embrace life together as we once did and as our faith demonstrates, sharing with each other and taking care of each other. We can make sure that none of us is in need and that none of us have to do life alone. We can hold each other accountable to healthier lifestyles and eat healthy meals together. I risk sounding idealistic, but with some knowledge, self-sacrifice, and a little elbow grease, we can do this. We can live in community like this again. I am convinced that to be healthy, we must live like this again.