Charlotte Woman Strives to Address Health Disparities at Fight For Air Climb

Sophia Matthews starts “Black Lungs Matter” team to raise awareness for lung disease and lung cancer in Black Americans

Black Americans are more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19, and are more impacted by tobacco use, lung cancer and air pollution. That is why Sophia Matthews started the “Black Lungs Matter” team to raise awareness for health disparities in communities of color at the Charlotte Fight For Air Climb on March 27.

Matthews is a Local Leadership Board member of the American Lung Association in North Carolina and the Vice President of Communications and Tech Innovation at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture. Through her former job at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, she saw how many kids missed school due to asthma. Personally, her husband lives with asthma and her daughter was born premature with underdeveloped lungs. 

As Matthews got more involved with the Lung Association and began work with the Harvey B. Gantt Center, she learned more about the health disparities that communities of color disproportionately face when it comes to tobacco use, lung disease, lung cancer, and most recently, COVID-19. To help raise awareness for these issues, she started the “Black Lungs Matter” team for the Fight For Air Climb. 

“Our team is doing the Fight For Air Climb to shed a brighter light on the respiratory ailments, environmental concerns and racist policies that disproportionally threaten the lung health and lives of African Americans,” said Matthews. “The Black Lungs Matter team supports this event because the American Lung Association is directly impacting these disparities by funding research, assistance, legislation, programs and education.”

Here are some facts about health disparities among communities of color: 

  • COVID-19: The CDC found Black Americans were disproportionately hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, and both Latino and Black Americans had a substantially higher death rate than white or Asian American people.
  • Lung Cancer: Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of both men and women in the United States, however, Black men are more likely to get lung cancer and die from it than their white counterparts. Additionally, Black Americans with lung cancer are less likely to be diagnosed at an early stage, less likely to receive surgical treatment, and less likely to receive any treatment at all compared to white Americans. 
  • Tobacco Use: Big Tobacco has relentlessly targeted Black Americans with their predatory marketing for decades based on extensive market research showing that they prefer menthol cigarettes. Today, more than 80% of Black American smokers use menthol cigarettes.
  • Clean Air: 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. Recent studies have looked at the mortality in the Medicaid population and found that those who live in predominately Black communities suffered greater risk of premature death from particle pollution than those who live in communities that are predominately white. Other researchers have found greater risk for Black Americans from hazardous air pollutants, including those pollutants that also come from traffic sources. Due to decades of residential segregation, Black Americans tend to live where there is greater exposure to air pollution.

The “Black Lungs Matter” team invites people to join their team or donate here.

The Fight For Air Climb presented by Landmark Builders is on March 27 at Truist Field, Home of the Charlotte Knights. Registration is $35 and requires an additional $100 fundraising minimum. For more information and to register, visit

Your safety is always our number one priority. We are continually monitoring local conditions that might affect your Climb. Check your local Climb website for the most up-to-date information.

For more information, contact:

Jill Dale
[email protected]

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