By Paige Clarke and Arielle Noren
The Suffolk County Gospel Health Fest welcomed over 50 participants of all ages and backgrounds to its seventh annual free health information exhibition and gospel performance. The show, part of Minority Health Month, took place at Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) in Brentwood this past Saturday.
The event, organized by the SCCC Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Suffolk County Office of Minority Health, highlighted health issues facing minority communities and resources available from health care organizations from Long Island and other parts of New York.
“In December of 2005, we launched the Office of Minority Health with a mission to improve health outcomes and eliminate existing health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities in Suffolk County,” Dr. James Tomarken, Health Office Commissioner, said.
As of 2017, communities on Long Island with high concentrations of minorities, like Islip and Glen Cove, held significantly higher rates of conditions like suicide and STDs, according to a study published by the NYS Department of Health. Minority communities face much greater health risks, the study shows.
At the festival, health organizations including Hudson River Health Care Community Health, WellCare, and Suffolk County Black Nurses Association invited people to visit their stands and learn more about services and issues affecting minority populations.
Gospel performances from six groups, two solo singers and two dance troupes incorporated the celebration of spirituality to attract more attendees and raise further awareness for health care for minorities, who are largely at a disadvantage when trying to access proper services due to long-standing disparities in factors like income and location.
“Latinos and African Americans are very in touch with their spiritualism,” James Banks, the director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said. “We know a way of attracting people to services sometimes requires we pay attention to their pallet. If you want to get people in a room from minority places, bring their spiritualism, bring gospel and bring healthcare.”
Following the information exhibition, the gospel concert kicked off with lively performances by Linda Coleman, the Christian Cultural Center Choir, and Open Door Church Choir, moving the crowd to their feet to clap and dance. Three short discussions called “health breaks” were held by experts between the remaining seven performances to share information on issues like mental illness and promote health services readily available to minority communities, like HRHCare Community Health.
“Moving lifts our spirits,” Elizabeth Phillips, the director of health education at HRHCare, said to the audience during the health break. “When clapping, before you know it – you felt the spirit. You’re lowering your blood pressure.”
Music can be a good channel for information, Phillips said.
“This event allows us to combine the joy of music, to enrich and empower people with health education messages and puts a spotlight on the needs of minorities,” she said. “That’s where you embrace the idea of integrating health education, a good time, and enjoying community.”
One attendee, Karen Palmer, said that incorporating music into important issues like this allows for better understanding and appeal.
“Music is a universal language,” Palmer said. “Everyone can relate. It’s a great way to get any message across, so why not health care?”