By Lorraine Lathen, M.A.
Throughout Black History individuals sacrificed their livelihood, wellbeing and even their lives for the greater good, and although African Americans have made substantial gains, bondage is still prevalent in many different ways—one being substance addiction. Corporate Tobacco unequally targets African Americans, and as a result, we carry a higher burden of tobacco than the general population.
As we celebrate the lives of those who have come before Lorraine Lathen us and made extraordinary sacrifices for our wellbeing, it is important to extract inspiration from their stories so that we may forge a path for those who will come behind us.
One individual who can inspire most, if not all, of us is Harriet Tubman. Embodying fortitude to the utmost, she risked her life to journey about 19 times down the Underground Railroad—a concealed network of houses used for refuge—to deliver more than 300 slaves from bondage.
Known as the “Moses of her people,” Tubman’s unparalleled displays of courage, persistence, resilience and discipline caused her to be the most well known Underground Railroad conductor. And according to Britannica, it is believed that she never lost a fugitive whom she was leading to freedom.
Each time Tubman went back to set others free, the danger increased. According to Britannica, rewards for her capture eventually totaled $40,000; however, Tubman was unmoved by the threat to her own life. She knew the bondage that others were in, and to her, helping them was more important than helping herself.
Many of us could learn from and find inspiration in Tubman’s story. Our society is plagued with social injustices, and people of all races and ethnicities are in need of help.
In Wisconsin, tobacco use causes nearly 7,000 preventable deaths each year. Among African Americans and other targeted populations, tobacco’s burden is even more damaging.
One third (33%) of Wisconsin African Americans smoke—compared to about 20% of the general population— making us twice as likely to die from a tobacco related illness. More specifically, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, approximately 45,000 African Americans will die from a smoking related disease each year. This is indeed an injustice— particularly because tobacco companies heavily market their deadly products to African American and urban communities.
A 2007 study published in the Public Health Report found 2.6 more tobacco advertisements per person in African American communities than in non-minority communities. In addition, the average African American is exposed to 892 advertisements per year. In comparison, the average minor is exposed to 559 ads and adult females to 617 ads.
Behind every statistic is a face—someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, friend or colleague. Nearly 7,000 smoking related deaths is a disheartening statistic, but there is hope. The hope lies within each of us. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We must become the change we want to see in the world.”
Oftentimes, people who are ready to quit smoking but are bound by their addiction need help from professionals and support from their social circles. Helping a loved one or a friend quit smoking takes, fortitude, courage, and dedication. More importantly, it takes a support network.
Tubman’s network (to name a few) consisted of other conductors and those who committed their homes to the cause. When we look at those who have made tremendous sacrifices for others in the past, it is important for us to take the essence of their sacrifice and apply it to current situations. Tubman’s essence showed us that preventing someone from perishing in or because of bondage was and is more important than the consequences of the effort to save them.
In Wisconsin, our Tobacco Prevention and Control Program is here for professionals, volunteers and smokers. The program supports people in making healthy decisions, and like the Underground Railroad, it helps people in bondage become free. Join a great cause today by helping someone you know become free from tobacco dependence. Networks like the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN) give residents an opportunity to become change within their community.
Lorraine Lathen is president of Jump at the Sun Consultants, LLC (JATSC). JATSC convenes the WAATPN.