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There Is A Balm

Disparate health outcomes are among the scourges that affect African American people.

  • One African American dies as a result of high blood pressure every hour in this country, which is nearly twice as often as their white counterparts.
  • Blacks suffer from heart and kidney disease at alarmingly high rates, both of which are adversely affected by high blood pressure. In fact, Blacks make up about 30 percent of those on dialysis due to kidney failure.
  • Thirty-five percent (35%) of African Americans have hypertension, which accounts for 20% of the African American deaths in the United States – twice the percentage of deaths among whites from hypertension.
  • African Americans with high blood pressure have an 80% higher chance of dying from a stroke than in the general population.


African American women develop cervical cancer more often than white women and are more than twice as likely to die from it.
(occurrence per 100,000 persons for African Americans versus European Americans)
African American / European American
Lung: 80.6 / 46.5
Colorectal: 23.4 / 19.4
Female Breast: 34.5 / 26.6
Prostate: 88.1 / 34.0

  • For every European American that gets diabetes 1.6 African Americans develop the condition
  • One in four Black women, 55 years of age or older, has diabetes
  •  Twenty-five percent (25%) of blacks between the ages of 65 and 74 have diabetes

To demonstrate the efficacy of the church network and to launch efforts to close the health disparities that plague African Americans we implemented There Is A Balm in 2002.


This is a health focussed effort begun in 2002 in response to an Eliminating Health Disparities  RFP from the Minnesota Department of Health.  The Stairstep response involved utilizing the church network by imbedding health site coordinators in collaborating churches.  The coordinators meet with the TIAB program director once a month and receive training and design approaches for their individual congregations to share information and prompt healthier lifestyles and choices.  Under the general heading of TIAB we also operate several focussed programs of note: “I Can Prevent Diabetes”, Body and Soul, and Mini Flu Clinics.

  • 22 congregations have site coordinators that meet monthly to receive information and training that allows them to customize health strategies for their individual congregations
  • 15 congregations have completed base line health profiles of their membership
  • The participating congregations do nutrition education 2-3 times per year connecting poor eating habits to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer education
  • 1,200 cholesterol checks have been completed
  • 3000 flu shots have been given
  • 8,000 glucose checks have been done
  • 21,000 blood pressure checks have been administered
  • 10% of individuals engaged have had results that required them to follow up with their doctor



There is no more insidious health issue confronting our community than diabetes.

  • One out of every three African Americans has diabetes or is pre-diabetic
  • Diabetes is the gateway disease to most serious health outcomes
  • Death rates for diabetes in Minnesota are unequal per 100,000 population of Whites 18.3 and Blacks 38.7
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of: Heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputation

These statistics pose the questions:  Do we care?  Can we do something about it?  Stairstep’s answer is yes to both. The Centers for Disease Control has an effective curriculum to allow pre-diabetic people to avoid becoming diabetic.  This program involves 16 weekly sessions and eight monthly follow-ups. Nationally, this curriculum is offered for a fee between $250-$300 per participant.  With resource assistance from United Health Group and MDH, Stairstep Foundation/HWU is providing this learning opportunity through African American churches at no charge.

For more information concerning the Diabetes Prevention classes, contact:

Mrs. Sylvia Amos , Director of Programs (sylvia@stairstep.org or 612-521-3110) “Diabetes is preventable!” 



Stairstep is collaborating with Dr. Kola Okuyemi of the University of Minnesota program in Health Disparities Research to implement a culturally tailored intervention called Body and Soul to promote fruit and vegetable intake in 20 congregations in the metropolitan area.  Body and Soul was constructed from two independently developed National Institute of Health-supported interventions shown to be efficacious in separate studies. The interventions focus on modifying fruit and vegetable intake among African Americans through African American churches. The program was tested in a randomized effectiveness trial. The primary outcome was fruit and vegetable intake assessed with two types of food frequency questionnaires at baseline and a six-month follow up.

National and local data indicate that African Americans in the Twin Cities consume fewer servings of fruits and vegetables per day than other Minnesotans. A 2006 survey of Hennepin County showed only 24% of US. Born African Americans and 22% of African-born African Americans consume the recommended five or more  fruits and vegetables per day compared to 34% of their white counterparts.  An additional survey conducted by Stairstep Foundation in 12 African American churches in the Twin Cities found that only 17% of that sample consumed five or more fruits and vegetables per day.

We seek to achieve significant positive changes in fat intake, motivation to eat fruits and vegetables, and social support. In addition to the University of Minnesota we are collaborating with the Cancer Information Service of the North Central region. Churches involved have agreed to conduct several core church-wide activities, form a project coordination committee, and hold at least three church-wide nutrition events plus one additional event involving the pastor and making at least one policy change.  Training is provided to site coordinators and program materials provided with ongoing technical assistance available from the University of Minnesota.

See your Church Health Coordinator or contact Stairstep Foundation Sylvia Amos (sylvia@stairstep.org) Address: 2115 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411 Phone: 612-521-3110 Fax: 612-521-3405


  • In 2003 Stairstep Foundation in conjunction with Duke University and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota presented “Crossing Over Jordan,” a Symposium on End of Life and Palliative Care for  African Americans.
  • Stairstep has conducted  a metro-wide Church Olympics event annually since 2003 to focus health issues and promote cross church connections.
  • An Environmental Scan on Infant Mortality was published in 2010.


  • In 2005 Willette Whitted, BA in Music Therapy from Augsburg College and a certified doula ( a helper in labor and delivery) approached Stairstep.  Her concern for the high incidence of infant mortality among African Americans prompted her to find a way to build doula capacity among Black people.  She also had a vision to use music to assist delivery and bonding.  We agreed to work with her to accomplish her dream.  The enterprise was named Musical Beginnings.
  • We facilitated the Ms. Whitted’s training  to become a certified doula trainer.  Working together for seven years we recruited, trained and certified 15 community based doulas.
  • Of 96 Musical Beginnings Doula attended births there were 100% positive outcomes including no low birth weights; and 98 % breast-feeding mothers.
  • After seven years of incubation with Stairstep, Ms. Whitted secured her own 501 (c)(3) designation and continues to operate Musical Beginnings for the benefit of our community
We ♡ Community

We concluded that restoration of a spirit of community requires intentional approaches to encourage people to act as if they believe they belong together.


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