An address to the Community Health Advocates program trainees

B. Waine Kong, PhD, JD is chief executive officer of the Association of Black Cardiologists, Inc.

Cardiology Review® Online, January 2008, Volume 26, Issue 1

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Thanks for joining us for this historic occasion. This is truly a gathering of eagles. I promise that this will be a life-changing experience. None of you will be the same at the end of these 2 days.

You were invited because you are the people who take responsibility and make things happen in your communities. You embrace life. You are focused. You like a challenge.You are passionate and sincere about everything you do. You celebrate life and have a purpose for living. You have been invited for training and inspiration, so that you may go back to your communities with a renewed zeal and dedication—and to leave with the tools to be true agents of change.

This willingness to take on challenges and these preparations are essential in all aspects of life. As noted by Christian author and speaker Joyce Meyer, "Even if you are in a waiting season of your life, keep your motor running and be ready to go forward as soon as you get a green light from God." Put another way, you will never know the joy of hitting a home run if you don't step up to the plate and try. Although you may strike out (and even the best players strike out), it is the home run that people remember. This is your turn at the plate.

Eye on the Prize

I assume all of you have seen the civil rights documentary . In one scene, minister and civil rights activist C.T. Vivian led about a dozen people in the historic moment in the simple act of registering to vote. As he ascended the stairs of the Birmingham, Alabama, courthouse, he was stopped by no other than Sheriff Bull Conner, who told him in no uncertain terms that he was not entering the courthouse. As the conversation ensued, Conner reached back and knocked Vivian all the way to the bottom of the stairs and thought that would be the end of that. But Vivian jumped up and again rushed up to Conner, who, disbelieving Vivian's courage, stepped out of the way so the first African Americans in Alabama could register to vote. Is there a C.T. Vivian among you ready to address the scourge of healthcare disparities?

Ladies and gentlemen, each and every day, more than 250 African Americans die from heart disease and stroke. These people are your parents, your grandparents, your uncles and aunts, and even your children. Cardiovascular disease is the thief that will steal our loved ones. It is the thief that will claim the lives of half of us in this room if we don't act quickly. I am appalled that a disease that is preventable is a silent killer. It ought to make you angry that Uncle Albert, Mother Blake, and Rev. Simmons died prematurely—and they did not have to, if they had just adopted the 7 steps to good health promoted by the ABC.

I have to confess that I have a great gift. I am able to see angels. Now, wait, don't laugh or consider me strange. I have been told that every time you do a good deed, you give birth to a new guardian angel and every time you act self-absorbed, do things half-hearted, and every time you say "whatever," you lose an angel. I have to tell you that I have never seen so many angels in one room. From what I can see, you are all surrounded by angels.

My grandmother raised me, and on occasions when I did things to make her proud and happy, she would say that I could bring a little bit of heaven down to earth. Lately, I have been admitting to this gift because I now recognize that heaven is not a place we go to after we are dead and it's not "up there" somewhere—heaven is inside every well-meaning person, especially those who volunteer to be trained as "Community Health Advocates." You see, heaven is in the heart.

Martin Luther King, Jr told us that we can all be great because we can all serve. He said that "if a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, "here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well." If we want to be considered great, we have to serve, and the true path to joy is to serve others. Don't live to get; live to give. Do your duty because it is the right thing to do.