American Heart Association EmPOWERED to Serve™ Black Women and Well-Being Roundtable included a rare gathering of all four Black Greek Divine Nine Sororities and The Links, Inc.  

Trusted, relevant voices are needed to help improve health equity and the current pandemic in the Black community and Black women have a significant role to play, according to a recent panel discussion hosted by the American Heart Association. In appreciation of Black History Month and American Heart Month, the Association, the leading global voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke, convened a panel of influential Black women leaders with more than 1700 live viewers to address the prevalent health disparities affecting Black women, the global COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate effect on minority communities, and the COVID-19 vaccine. In collaboration with the Association’s Go Red for Women® movement, EmPOWERED to Serve™ presented the EmPOWERED to Serve™ Black Women and Well-Being Roundtable featuring a rare gathering of the leaders of all four Black Greek Divine Nine sororities, The Links, Incorporated and a leading women’s and population health expert where they discussed issues related to health equity and what each organization is doing nationally to improve health outcomes for underserved communities, particularly Black women.

Moderated by Amy Dubois Barnett, senior vice president and general manager of digital for Black Entertainment Television (BET) and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the EmPOWERED to Serve™ Black Women and Well-Being Roundtable guests included a powerhouse panel including Mary Bentley LaMar, North Atlantic regional director of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; Beverly Evans Smith, national president and CEO of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; Valerie Hollingsworth Baker, international president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.; Rasheeda Liberty, international president of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Kimberly Jeffries Leonard, Ph.D., national president of The Links, Inc.; and Cheryl Pegus, M.D., M.P.H., a member of the American Heart Association board of directors and executive vice president of Walmart Health & Wellness.

The discussion opened with an alarming statistic – the life expectancy for women can vary by as much as 20 years, with women of color perishing sooner, particularly when they live in zip codes where the social determinants of health are more prevalent. These leaders also discussed structural racism and toxic stress and how these factors impact people of color, as outlined in the American Heart Association’s recent advisory: Structural racism causes poor health, premature death from heart disease and stroke.  “Racism produces adverse effects, including stress, and stress can contribute to heart disease,” said Cheryl Pegus M.D, who is also a cardiologist.

Each participating organization, representing millions of Black women worldwide collectively, have national alliances with the American Heart Association. During the event each sorority shared information about the various programs it has employed nationwide to encourage members to take better care of their overall health. Additionally, the leaders weighed in on the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic and addressed vaccine hesitancy in the Black community. “Vaccine hesitancy is improving,” said Pegus. “Clinical trials included a significant amount of African American men and women. We need trusted voices from African American clinicians supporting the vaccine.”

The sorority leaders on the panel echoed the same concerns and collectively issued a call to action, challenging their members worldwide to share their personal vaccine experiences via their social media platforms.

Pamela Garmon Johnson, vice president of healthy equity and national partnerships for the American Heart Association, closed the event by citing “leadership, trusted voices, and partnership equals transformative change.”

EmPOWERED to Serve™ is an initiative that accelerates change in education, business, and communities to help overcome structural racism and achieve health justice. Earlier this year, the American Heart Association announced plans to invest more than $230 million over the next four years to support targeted initiatives and programs, while leading additional efforts to drive systemic public health change focused on removing barriers to equitable health for everyone, everywhere.

Watch the EmPOWERED to Serve™ Black Women and Well-Being Roundtable replay here. 

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About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health, and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.