A Matter of Black Health focuses on heritage, culture and strengths

Dawn Shepherd, health coach; and Crystal John, client
Dawn Shepherd, A Matter of Black Health coach (left), and Crystal John, client (right)

Crystal John has been making small changes to meet her personal health goals. She’s also been learning how her heritage and culture as an African Nova Scotian affect her health. She’s been doing this with the support of A Matter of Black Health.

In 2017, Diabetes Canada and the Health Association of African Canadians received an NSHA Chronic Disease Innovation Fund Grant to offer A Matter of Black Health, an Africentric health coaching program aimed at reducing preventable risk factors for diabetes among African Nova Scotians. The CDIF grant was matched by Medavie Health Foundation to cover the cost of hiring three health coaches, all of African descent.

Dawn Shepherd is one of those health coaches. She says building relationships with community leaders and groups was a vital starting point for the program. “Before we even started taking clients, we were meeting with community leaders of African descent in the province. By connecting with community leaders, we are better able to build relationships and trust within the community.”

Those relationships have enabled coaches to go out to community groups and spread the word about A Matter of Black Health. In fact, that’s how John heard about the program. She’s Executive Director of the Mulgrave Park Caring and Learning Centre, and Shepherd came to speak to a group of clients. When John heard the details, she felt that in addition to being good for the group, “I thought it would be beneficial for me personally.”

“When I look at most programs and I look at even one-on-one coaching, they always seem to be geared toward the mainstream culture,” said John. She says A Matter of Black Health is different in that it considers how heritage and culture play into the equation of health.

“Traditionally my body comes from a different climate,” said John. "There are certain things that will work and won’t work. For me, that was important.”

John also appreciated the program’s strengths-based approach. “I felt like with this program it was using what I was already doing and altering it a bit. I’m now thinking of it (food) from the perspective of fueling the body.”

John has also increased her consumption of greens and has noticed, “I’m not craving more of the snacks and sugar.”

Program participants can meet with a health coach as many times – or as few – as they find beneficial to achieve their desired behaviour change. Coaches will meet them at locations that work best for them, including public libraries, coffee shops, community centres or churches.

While the program has a particular focus on diabetes, it’s not necessary for clients to have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Because risk factors for diabetes overlap risk factors for other chronic diseases, the potential health benefits are far-reaching.

John says in addition to her own success, the group at Mulgrave Park Caring and Learning Centre, which meets monthly, is also benefitting from the program. “People are enjoying the learning. There’s more interest when there’s something specific to who you are and how you move in life.”

To learn more about A Matter of Black Health, please contact Lisa Matte, Regional Director, Atlantic for Diabetes Canada, at lisa.matte@diabetes.ca.