West Siders attend event to strengthen the body, mind and spirit

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The “little church with a big heart” hosted a health event Feb. 25 with guest speaker Dr. Terry Mason, who discussed how racial discrepancies in the community, along with harmful messages from the food industry, can affect healthy living.

The “Body, Mind and Spirit” presentation at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, 5710 W. Midway Park, included videos, a discussion and a question-and-answer session covering issues of poverty, diet and black history.

“The idea here is to challenge everyday thinking,” Mason said.

The chief medical officer at Cook County Health and Hospitals System combined issues of a forgotten black history, going back to before the days of Egypt’s pyramids, with the realities of poverty and health discrepancies found in the community today.

“Poverty is probably the major carcinogen, no matter where you are in the world,” he said. “So the question is why?”

The answer to that question has a long and sordid background, Mason said, contributing to what have become the highest death rates for chronic disease and other health problems among blacks of all ages.

Mason correlated those statistics with Americans’ poor diets, including a higher than average intake of processed foods compared to many other countries – foods high in sodium and too much red meat.

“That’s what I call the ‘that’ part of this,” he said.

In short, “that” involves a hidden and altered black history that disconnects the current community from it’s historic and influential roots. Mason illuminated this point with a well-known experiment in which young black girls are given the choice of a white doll and a black doll, and asked which is “good” or which they prefer.

The children choose the white doll, as opposed to the doll that looks more like them, up to 80 percent of the time, he said.

“So what does that say to your psyche about your own make up?” he asked. “And what does this have to do with [health]? It has everything to do with it.”

His point was the way individuals in the black community view themselves can have an impact on how parents feed their children and the choices those children make for future generations.

In other words, self-image can, in part, affect dietary choices, which can have harmful consequences.

Mason also highlighted how various food industries play a role in shaping self-image and health by spreading misinformation about products in pursuit of a profit.

There’s no quick answer to these problems, he said.

But talking about them can be a step in the right direction.

“Our motto here is linking spirituality with social transformation,” said the Rev. Christopher Griffin. “And this was a perfect bridge.”

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