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Fanning the Flames of the Diabetes Epidemic

 by: Lyndia Grant-Briggs


It is my pleasure to introduce to you, a new Diabetes Prevention Education, Public Relations Campaign established under the name Fannie Estelle Hill Grant, started by me, Lyndia Grant-Briggs, after the loss of my mother who succumbed to Type 2 Diabetes on Christmas Day, December 25, 2000. I noticed a fire burning in the Diabetes health arena, and it is still burning out of control. The diabetes prevention and education public relations campaign was started in an effort, to "Fan the Flames", and put out the fire.

Fannie Grant was 73 years old, a homemaker, who loved her family very much, and she believed in preparing wonderful home-cooked meals for the family. You name it, and we had it. We would have desserts any day of the week. Mama enjoyed cooking, cleaning and washing clothes, and although she raised nine children of her own, she always had room for other needy children.

In our early years, from 1945-1965, Mother was the wife of a sharecropper in North Carolina, but they moved the family to Washington, D.C. in 1965. So for more than 30 years, Mother Grant, our father and all of us children called the Washington Metropolitan Area home.

Our family learned that Mother had Type 2 Diabetes after a major stroke she had back in 1988-89. She lived 11-12 years after the diagnosis. Lyndia and her Sisters, (The Grant Sisters) pledged to begin the educational prevention campaign while they visited with and/or cared for their mother during her last year of life.

After moving back home to North Carolina, Mother Grant enjoyed her latter years in a very peaceful way. Us children purchased her a new home, took over all of the mortgage payments, and she was happy. Mother Grant enjoyed living on this wonderful 227-acre farm, near Kinston, North Carolina. She was one of the heirs to this wonderful farm left to her family by their father, and my grandfather, Floyd Hill.

She enjoyed walking around the farm, following my father, Bishop Benjamin Grant, around the garden as he worked. She enjoyed shopping with her sisters going to yard sales. Shopping gave her considerable joy near the end of her life.

Mother suffered numerous strokes, seven to ten to be specific. During one stoke, she lost the use of her tongue and couldn't speak at all. Mother Fannie's kidney failed, she was receiving kidney dialysis for the last two years of her life, she had high blood pressure for many years, and both of her legs were amputated above her knees.

The Problem

We wanted to know more about the disease that took our mother in such a brutal fashion. There was so much pain and suffering prior to her death. Mother Grant was a Christian, she was an Evangelist who preached the gospel in churches throughout the Washington D.C. Area, and everyone loved her and called her Ma.

Our mother was very special, and as her oldest daughter, I promised to carry out a public awareness campaign, to educate millions of people regarding the causes and preventions of Type 2 Diabetes. In educating the general public, I feel a lot better, because my mother's living shall not be in vain. My sisters and I have been blessed over the past 20 years, we've had lots of success in publicizing several major events, we coordinated a major festival, called Georgia Avenue Day in Washington, D.C. The festival and parade attracted more than 200,000 people, major corporate sponsors and celebrities. We worked for two Presidential Inaugural Committees, one was for the Republicans, George Herbert Walker Bush and for other for the Democrats, President Bill Clinton, for two D.C. Mayors, Marion Barry and Sharon Pratt Kelly, and three D.C. City Councilmembers, Charlene Drew Jarvis, Frank Smith and Eyde Whittington. Another major achievement was an appointment that I received as project director by Councilman Frank Smith, to erect the Spirit of Freedom Memorial, a new national African American Civil War Memorial located in Washington, D.C. This monument pays tribute to 209,145 United States Colored Troops who fought in the American Civil War.

As you can see, Mother Grant passed down some strong self-worth values. She taught us that we can do anything that we want, and that we can be the best at whatever we choose. The business of public relations is "in my blood." There was no way that I could see the devastation caused by Diabetes and understand this disease, and do nothing about it. I wanted to know "what happened to Mother, how did this happen, could we have done something differently, if only we had known that an improved diet and regular physical exercise could have made a difference."

I know that I've been chosen to get the word out regarding this disease that's burning "out of control" in the African American community. It has been extremely hard to continue to live without our Mother, but in sharing this information with others, it gives me some relief from my grief.

So, what exactly is Diabetes? Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases characterized by high levels of blood glucose. It results from defects in insulin secretion, insulin action, or both. Diabetes can be associated with serious complications and premature death, but people with diabetes can take measures to reduce the likelihood of such, according to recent studies found by the National Institute of Health. Some researchers believe that African Americans, (Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders were also included in the study) inherited a "thrifty gene" from their African ancestors. Years ago, this gene enabled Africans, during "feast and famine" cycles, to use food energy more efficiently when food was scarce. Today, with fewer such cycles, the thrifty gene that developed for survival may instead make the person more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes.

The problem dates back to the beginning of the slave trade, documented as beginning in 1790, and for those enslaved ones, food was still scarce, thus the "thrifty genes" protected them. If you research the documentations found on record at the National Archives and Records Administration, slaves received rations. It really doesn't matter what the diets were of African people hundreds of years ago, as they roamed around freely on the African continent, in townships like Johannesburg, Freetown, Rwanda, Sudan, South African and Sierre Leone. What does matter is the fact that those Africans who managed to survive the slave trade here in America, arrived on the shores very strong. The majority of them worked in the fields from sun-up to sundown, six days per week, and in many cases, seven days/week. Slaves ate scraps, like hog mauls, chitterlings, pigtails, pig feet, pig ears, and they drank milk from a trough along side other animals.

African people became Americanized, they were no longer in their homeland, so to live, they had to eat whatever was made available to them, they were fed last, after the horses and the pigs had been taken care of, whatever was left was given to those enslaved people -- scraps, left-overs, garbage. In an effort to create a delicious meal, the women worked at creating recipes that they could all enjoy. They loved collard greens with fat back meat, and learned to bake sweet potato pies, cleaned chitterlings and made them into a delicacy to be eaten on special occasions. They made pots of beans seasoned with ham hocks, or pigtails, and they seasoned with pork.

They made home-made biscuits from self-rising, white flour and lard, and they learned to make hush puppies, candied yams, lots of potatoes, and they ate plenty corn bread, so even until this day, African people who became African Americans beginning in the late 1700's, had a very different diet than Euro-Americans. Even though this wasn't a "good" and "healthy"

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