For African Americans, can the pandemic spark a national conversation about good health?

I couldn’t believe my ears. Harrison got vaxxed!

I’m going back with my dear friend, Harrison Holiday. We are not related by blood, but he calls me “because”. He joins my family for birthdays, dinners, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

That is, until he refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19. For the past year, Harrison has been an uninvited item.

He’s cautious, but we weren’t taking any risks.

My husband and I harassed, cajoled, begged and threatened him for months. You are endangering your life and your health, we argued. Without it, no job. You can’t do anything, go anywhere. (Readers, you know all the rants we’ve thrown at those who don’t back down.)

He categorically refused but never explained why. We were mystified. Harrison is very smart. The North Sider is a professional personal trainer who has coached many people to better health, including me.

We were chatting on WhatsApp the other day, and he casually mentioned it. He got the hit.

Why?

He was “resigned,” he replied.

Resigned to the reality that getting vaccinated was his only way out of COVID prison. “I went to the restaurant and they asked me for my papers,” he says. “I couldn’t go to the health club and work out.”

He survived the big V. Life goes on.

But he still doesn’t believe getting the shot was necessary and doesn’t plan on getting a booster.

As the pandemic subsides and the world reopens, many agree with Harrison: too many unknowns, too many wanderings, too much trampling on our freedoms, they say.

Many of these voices, like Harrison’s, are African American.

We have the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in Chicago.

As of Feb. 9, 53.2 percent of black people in Chicago were fully immunized, according to the Chicago Department of Health. Among Latinos, the rate is 64.8%, while 70% of whites and 76.1% of Asians have received two injections of COVID-19.

African Americans are afraid of vaccines and other life-saving treatments. These fears are rooted in the exploitation and racial discrimination of black people by the healthcare system.

We are loath to trust “authorities” and “experts”. The white power structure has lied to us for hundreds of years. Why put our faith in it now?

One thing Harrison and I agree on – no vaccine is a ticket to our good health. And African Americans have suffered greatly from the scourge of COVID.

Harrison hopes the pandemic will “shed light” on the health status of black people and “help members of the black community achieve stronger immunities naturally.”

For generations, African Americans have suffered from the highest rates of what doctors call “comorbidities.” Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity are rampant among us.

These diseases make us more likely to die from COVID-19 and other diseases. Too many of us engage in unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco and drug use as well as gun violence. We don’t exercise enough. For black people, obesity has become a way of life.

“Come on. We’re in such bad shape and black people don’t even realize it,” Harrison said. “But if we don’t realize it now, when will we?”

We need more helpful information and education about healthy eating, nutrition, and exercise — and the life-and-death differences they make.

For African Americans, the pandemic could spark “a national conversation about what good health looks like,” Harrison insisted.

So surviving COVID-19 would be the beginning, not the end.

Follow Laura Washington on Twitter @mediadervish.

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