Black History Month

The American Lung Association pays tribute to the history, heritage and contributions of Black people in the United States.

Black History Month (February 1 – March 1) is a time in our country to recognize the Black community’s influence and impact on American culture and society. The national theme for 2022 focuses on the importance of Black Health and Wellness.

The Black cultural experience in America is as diverse as it is throughout the world—the hand of Africa and enslavement affected our lifestyle behaviors—for better or for worse. Moreover, it is the perception of individuals who see Black Americans through a “racial lens” that has manipulated how Black people are considered or are marginalized, which has impacted the determinants of health in our communities and, ultimately, the Black/white morbidity and mortality gap.

In recognition of Black History Month, the American Lung Association looks at declaring racism as a public health crisis, lung health outcomes affected by racism, and lung health issues disproportionately impacting Black communities. We are also proud to present our “Spotlight Series” of partners across the country who make considerable impacts to the American Lung Association mission and messages, and who have contributed to the effort to eliminate lung disease in their communities as well as lung health resources pertinent to Black communities and those who serve them.

Get Social & Celebrate Black History Month With Us

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Educational Webinar

Topic: Racism as a Public Health Crisis: The Black Community and Lung Health
Webinar Date: February 16 at 11am – 12:30pm CDT/12-1:30pm EDT
Webinar Type: Panel

Panelists: Dr. Ozuru Ukoha and Lilliann Paine, MPH

Beginning in 2020, across the country, elected leaders have been passing resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis. According to the American Public Health Association, there have been 231 declarations at local, county and state levels. Milwaukee County was the first place in the country to make a declaration, so we heard from one of the key individuals behind that work, Lilliann Paine. We also spoke with thoracic surgeon, Dr. Ozuru Ukoha who explained the clinical implications of these types of declarations, and how these declarations must be followed with action.

Lilliann M. Paine, MPH

Lilliann M. Paine, MPH is currently the Director for Technical Assistance for the National Birth Equity Collaborative, and was the inaugural chief of staff with the City of Milwaukee Health Department. She coordinated the COVID-19 response and positioned Milwaukee and Wisconsin as innovation leaders in tracking pandemic data. Ms. Paine was instrumental in authoring the Wisconsin Public Health Association (WPHA) Racism is a Public Health Crisis 2018 resolution. She facilitated the resolution’s adoption in Milwaukee, which marked the first municipality to do so.

Dr. Ozuru Ukoha, M.D., MSc, FACS

Dr. Ozuru Ukoha, M.D., MSc, FACS, was born and raised in Nigeria, immigrating to the U.S. after high school. The bulk of his clinical practice has been at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County as a general thoracic surgeon. He considers it a labor of love and a privilege to give back to the community that has few advantages. In the last 20 years, he has won the Penfield Faber Teaching Award in Cardiothoracic Surgery, served as President of the Medical Staff of John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital from 2013-2017, appointed the Division Chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery in 2013 and now, Chair of the DEI Committee of the Medical Staff of John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital.

COVID-19 Resources 

Fostering Trust of the COVID-19 Vaccine

Immunizations have long been a topic of hesitancy in the Black community. In a blog post and an informative video, Cedric “Jamie” Rutland, M.D. addresses the history of medical distrust among Black Americans and the importance of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Cedric Rutland MD

Cedric “Jamie” Rutland, M.D. Dr. Rutland is triple board certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary and Critical Care. He completed medical school and an Internal Medicine residency at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, Iowa and then moved to Kansas where he completed his Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowships at the University of Kansas Medical Center. As a national volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association, he is passionate about community education and speaks frequently about pulmonary diseases.

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COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit: Better For It

scientists with test tube and masks

The American Lung Association teamed up with The Center for Black Health and Equity to create resources and materials specifically for the Black community to address mistrust and racial bias in healthcare in addition to the spread of misinformation about the virus and its health implications. We invite you to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and how you can help spread accurate, science-based information in your community here on our website.

Current COVID Updates

To increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among Black residents, several historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country have established vaccination sites located in neighborhoods more accessible to Black people to increase the equitable distribution of the vaccine. These HBCUs include: 

Learn more about where you can get vaccinated against COVID-19 here.

COVID-19: The Role of Public Health Leaders

Check out our blog providing an update on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black people and detailed actions public health professionals can take to be sensitive to the needs of high-burdened communities affected by health disparities, including COVID-19.

Spotlight Series: Black Leaders and Organizations in Lung Health

The American Lung Association proudly partners with leaders and institutions serving Black communities to raise awareness about lung health and devise community-informed, effective ways to address disparities. Here are some highlights of these impactful partnerships:

Ngozika Orjioke, MD, MBA, FCCP

Ngozika Orjioke, MD, MBA, FCCP
Founder/Managing Partner, Covenant Critical Care
East Point, GA

"The United States has the most affluent and sophisticated medical community in the world, yet large population differences in healthcare outcomes among racial/ethnic populations remain an imposing challenge for the twenty-first century." Importance of Race/Ethnicity in Clinical Trials, Circulation, December 2006.

In the words of Dr. Orjioke:

The major risk factors for respiratory diseases, tobacco use disorder, poor socioeconomic status, and poor healthcare access are commonly encountered in the brown and black communities. I want to be a part of the prevention and management of pulmonary diseases in my community.

The vision of Covenant Pulmonary Critical Care is to provide innovative, exceptional, culturally sensitive and humanistic, care for our patients and to perform important research that enhances the understanding of lung health and creates new ways to prevent, detect, and treat, respiratory disorders. We are actively involved in education, clinical research and in community outreaches.

Every soul carries the same weight before God and so deserves to be treated with respect and courtesy.

Lakee​ta Watts

Lakeeta Watts
Community Health Worker
Ambassador, National Association of Community Health Workers
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Lakeeta Watts is working to change her Milwaukee, Wisconsin community, starting with the children. Mrs. Watts is involved with children from the beginning; she is a doula and has founded a youth program geared toward children who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.

Mrs. Watts has interacted with the American Lung Association for the past four years as an Asthma Educator Institute speaker and community health worker. She provides home visits for children with poorly controlled asthma, bridging cultural barriers, ensuring access to quality care, and improving health outcomes.

Mrs. Watts is trained as a community health worker, home visitor, and in massage therapy, behavioral health and breast health services. Mrs. Watts is an Ambassador for the National Association of Community Health Workers and co-chairs the CWH section of the WI Public Health Association.

Andre​ Smith, MD

Andre Smith, MD
Pulmonologist, Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist, Andre Smith, M.D. is passionate about health equity and improving patient care. Dr. Smith is a respected role model who mentors individuals on his clinical teams. A graduate of Columbia University School of Medicine, he has led various efforts to further the health and wellness of communities of color in New York and Ohio.

Currently, Dr. Smith serves as founder and director of Cleveland Clinic’s Multicultural Lung Health Center. The center’s mission is to increase access to comprehensive, personalized care for underserved patients disproportionately affected by pulmonary diseases such as asthma, COPD, COVID-19, lung cancer and sarcoidosis. The Multicultural Lung Health Center brings together teams of specialists across the health system who have expertise and cultural understanding in caring for neighbors in our in Northeast Ohio communities, where health disparities are of concern.

In addition, providers utilize a holistic, comprehensive approach to treat other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and addiction.

Ellen Grant, PhD, LCSW-R

Ellen Grant, PhD, LCSW-R
Local Leadership Board Member
Deputy Mayor
Buffalo, New York

As Deputy Mayor, Dr. Ellen Grant is honored to work with Mayor Byron Brown and the dedicated staff that serves the Buffalo community. Under Mayor Brown’s direction, Dr. Grant launched a lively call-in program called Senior Connect during the early days of the pandemic to ensure that Buffalo’s senior population stayed connected on important initiatives, including the rollout of food and mask giveaways, vaccinations and test kits. Senior Connect is hosted by Dr. Grant and Doug Ruffin, the Director of Senior Services, and features guest speakers on timely topics.

Most recently, Dr. Grant spearheaded an initiative in which 11,000 Rapid COVID Tests were distributed to the community at five separate locations, including City senior centers. The response was overwhelming. In three hours, the test kits were gone.

Dr. Grant is honored to be recognized by the American Lung Association in New York as a Champion in our Communities of Color and Lung Health.

Lung Health and the Black Community

Environmental Justice

Clean air is essential to health. Yet nearly half of Americans are still breathing unhealthy air, and the burden is not evenly shared. Disadvantaged, under-resourced and politically disenfranchised communities are disproportionately impacted by air pollution. Oftentimes these are communities of color or low-income communities, meaning exposure to air pollution compounds other negative social determinants of health due to systemic racism and classism.

Exposure to air pollution is harmful to health in many ways, including by triggering asthma attacks. Recent studies have found that Black Americans have one of the highest rates of asthma and were over 40% more likely than white Americans to have current cases. Due to decades of residential segregation, Black Americans tend to live closer to many sources of pollution—including roadways, oil and gas operations and ports, increasing their exposure to dangerous pollutants like particle pollution and nitrogen dioxide, both of which can aggravate asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Learn more about the air you breathe from the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report, which analyzes data from official air quality monitors in your state.

doctor and patient

Black People and Lung Cancer Clinical Trials

The American Lung Association is pleased to announce the launch of its project, Awareness Trust and Action: Improving Lung Cancer Clinical Trial Enrollment in Black Americans. The Black community is disproportionally impacted by lung cancer and underrepresented in lung cancer clinical trials. Sometimes the most appropriate treatment option for a lung cancer patient is through a clinical trial so it is important that all patients discuss this option with their doctor. This new campaign aims to educate about lung cancer clinical trials and empower all lung cancer patients, including Black Americans to advocate for their own participation. Participation=Representation. You can learn more at Lung.org/trials-and-you.

Ending the Sale of Menthol Cigarettes

Menthol was introduced to make the poison of cigarettes go down more smoothly. While the number of people smoking continues to decrease, the presence of menthol on the market continues to be a major public health issue. As of 2018, about 38% of all cigarette sales were menthol cigarettes, the highest since major tobacco companies were required to report this data.

For generations, the tobacco industry has intentionally targeted Black, Brown and other communities with the marketing of menthol cigarettes, resulting in tobacco-related death and disease as well as health disparities. In fact, 83% of Black American smokers use menthol cigarettes compared to 32% of white smokers. Learn more about the health effects of menthol here. Black Lives, Black Lungs is a short film that documents the tobacco industry's breaking into the Black community.

In April, 2021—the FDA announced that it will propose two rules to remove menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the marketplace. Ending the sale of these products has the potential to save millions of lives and encourage tobacco users to quit, especially Black Americans. As our nation works to address a myriad of racial inequities, it can and must also address the public health injustices caused by the tobacco industry targeting Black communities with menthol cigarettes.

To quit or support a loved one with their tobacco cessation journey, here are some helpful resources. And take action here to tell Secretary Becerra to act quickly to remove menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the marketplace.

Quit Commercial Tobacco Use for Good

calendar with pin and says quit smoking

Quitting isn't easy but more than 50 million ex-smokers in the United States are proof that it's possible. Despite what e-cigarette companies want you to believe, switching to vaping (e-cigarettes) is not quitting smoking. E-cigarettes are tobacco products and FDA has not approved any e-cigarette as a quit smoking device.

The American Lung Association looks to serve those who face a disproportionate burden of tobacco use and tobacco-related illness. To ensure access to these services for those unable but wanting to quit during these challenging times of social distancing, the American Lung Association is offering a free one-year membership to our premiere cessation program Freedom From Smoking through our online option, Freedom From Smoking Plus ($99.95 value). Freedom From Smoking Plus is self-paced, accessible through any digital device and designed to provide one full year of continuous support in quitting and maintaining a tobacco-free lifestyle. Enrolling in Freedom From Smoking® can increase your chances of success by up to 60% when used in combination with FDA-approved medication.

Addressing Tobacco Use Among Black Communities Toolkit

The American Lung Association joins the 20+ year efforts of leading Black organizations including The Center for Black Health & Equity and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) to educate and build confidence among public health professionals and community-based individuals addressing tobacco disparities in the Black community. This information is being provided as a starting point to dismantle racial injustices and health inequalities faced by the Black community concerning tobacco use. The Black Communities Toolkit is by no means an end-all answer, but rather a jump start to ideas and initiatives. This toolkit is available here.

Trusted Organizations in the Black Community

As a national public health organization, it is imperative that we partner with organizations that are trusted in the communities we serve to deliver our mission. In an effort to continue to uplift, support and partner with trusted organizations in the Black community, this living, comprehensive list of Trusted Organizations in the Black Community serves as a helpful resource to identify these organizations.

Page last updated: February 24, 2022

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