By Lorraine Lathen, M.A.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Black History Month is ending, but celebrations should not. Let us continue the fight for a better future. When looking for commonalities among our historical role models, one attribute that sticks out is a helping heart.
Known for his peaceful disposition, Dr. King used nonviolent Gandhi tactics and was instrumental in tearing down institutionalized racial segregation while unifying others.
In 1964, Dr. King was the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, according to the Library of Congress. During his acceptance speech, he described his vocation as a ‘creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice.’ With a heart for humanity, Dr. King continued sacrificing his life for others until his 1968 assassination. Dr. King was one of many African American pioneers who paved the way for us.
Another was Patricia Roberts Harris. With a trailblazing legal and political career, Harris was known for debunking stereotypes. Harris led an NAACP chapter and frequently participated in sit-in demonstrations in Washington, D.C. to protest segregation.
Harris committed her life to activism, promoting equal rights for Blacks and women. According to the Library of Congress, Lyndon Johnson appointed her ambassador to Luxembourg, making her the first African American woman to lead a U.S. embassy. As she continued to make history, she demonstrated a heart for serving her people and country.
Throughout African American history, our historical role models have embodied hearts for helping. Because of them, we have made tremendous strides in working towards equality, but the work is far from over.
Today, racial disparities plague our communities. Disparities exist in the educational system, within food deserts and in relation to addiction, disease and death.
If we exemplify hearts for helping in our community, we can preserve generations to come. One effort we can all contribute to is fighting against infant mortality in Southeastern Wisconsin.
Sadly, the infant mortality rate for African Americans in Southeastern Wisconsin exceeds those of Panama and Bosnia. Babies born to African American mothers in Wisconsin are more likely to die before their first birthday than those born to mothers in some developing countries.
There are many reasons for the increased mortality rate, and many of them are associated with factors that contribute to unhealthy environments. One factor is tobacco.
A 2009 study suggested that smoking during pregnancy contributed to 38 percent of stillbirth disparities and 31 percent of infant death disparities, according to the 2010 City of Milwaukee Fetal Infant Mortality Review (FIMR) Report.
Of all the babies who die of any cause in Milwaukee, 27 percent of the mothers smoked, and many more were exposed to secondhand smoke. Additionally, of all the babies who die in their sleep, 43 percent had mothers who smoked, and 65% were exposed to secondhand smoke.
Many people are working to reduce infant mortality, but it’s import for each and every one of us to remember that we all can help pregnant women have healthy birth outcomes. If you know someone who is pregnant and in need of quit smoking help, refer her to the Wisconsin Quit Line at 800- QUIT-NOW or to First Breath, a statewide program of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation, at 608-251-1675.
If you smoke, you can help too. Don’t smoke around pregnant women or infants because secondhand smoke is just as dangerous.
Black History month is ending, but let’s carry on legacies in the 21st century. When we take a look back at our historical role models, it is obvious they had hearts for impacting the world. Today, look within and ask yourself, “Do I exemplify a helping heart?”
Lorraine Lathen is president of Jump at the Sun Consultants, LLC (JATSC) and project director for the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN). JATSC convenes the WAATPN. She also serves as Project Leader for Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF), a project of the Wisconsin Partnership Program of the University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health. Lathen served on the Joint Legislative Council’s Special Committee on Infant Mortality.