The 2007 State of the Association of Black Cardiologists' Address: A proud history and pressing challenges

Cardiology Review® Online, May 2007, Volume 24, Issue 5

The Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) was established in 1974 at the first conference on cardiovascular health care disparities with a mission to improve cardiovascular care for the black community in this country. From the beginning, the ABC has focused on eliminating health care disparities, establishing a distinguished record of outstanding continuing professional education, easily understood lay publications, culturally competent scientific articles, innovative community programs, advocacy, and a reputation for efficiently populating clinical trials that require minority enrollment.

The ABC is vitally important, as cardiovascular disease impacts the minority community disproportionately. This has been perhaps most profoundly felt in families. Less than 22% of African-American men live past 75 years of age compared with 73% of white women. By the time an African-American child graduates from high school, he or she is fortunate to have 1 grandparent left. The role of grandparents in helping to address social problems, underachievement, adolescent pregnancy, and juvenile delinquency cannot be understated, and over time, this has evolved into a key tenet of the ABC—"children deserve to know their grandparents so they will become great grandparents." In addition, the ABC's mandate has grown to encompass a women's center dedicated to empowering women to enhance the health of their families so we can all live longer and more fulfilling lives.

Since the ABC's founding 33 years ago, unprecedented improvements in life expectancy and quality of life in the black community have occurred even in the face of increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart failure. Great advances have been made in understanding the roles of spirituality, diet, exercise, stress, smoking, sleep, obesity, diabetes, socioeconomic status, and even air and water quality on disease development. Nevertheless, environmental and lifestyle or behavioral factors are known to contribute to the initiation or progression of many common disorders of the heart. Exploration of the interactions between genetic and environmental factors has now become essential to explain the development, progression, and outcome of many diseases. The ABC continues to play an important role in these explorations.

Fulfilling the ABC's goals

To achieve the ABC's vision of communities free from cardiovascular disease, it is essential to shorten the time it takes to translate new discoveries in medicine into practice. Other key steps in achieving this goal include advocacy for training and mentoring underrepresented minorities and fostering more collaboration with private and public organizations (including academic institutions, industry, government, patients, families, health care professionals, scientists, professional societies, patient advocacy groups, community organizations, and the media) to address the cardiovascular-related public health needs of the black community.

As I begin my second year as president of the ABC, I look forward to a year of patient empowerment. I do not believe we will make dramatic changes in life expectancy through clinical medicine alone; spectacular gains will also come from our grass roots efforts. That is why I want to quadruple efforts to train "community health advocates" and "health promotion specialists" from across the country bringing health promotion to the people. We have an opportunity to develop an agenda that will lead to further improvements in longevity and quality of life for all citizens as we beat the drum for improved disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Successfully implementing this strategic plan will rest in large part on Chief Executive Officer B. Waine Kong and his outstanding staff, and I am confident that their continued hard work and dedication will provide an effective response to the challenges we face.

March 2006 saw the historic opening of the ABC's International Library, Research, and Conference Center in Atlanta. This facility represents a significant investment on the part of this organization to further the mission articulated by our founding members. The Center represents our vision to teach, to transform, and to impact lives in new and special ways.

This ambitious vision, however, is not without burden. Our investment will require that we raise $8.6 million (or $1.9 million annually) to retire the debt by the end of 2011. In addition, we must raise approximately $500,000 annually to subsidize our indirect costs to ensure that our programs, community outreach, and research continue and are effective. An unrestricted source of revenue will support the infrastructure that makes it possible for this work to proceed.

Because of the nature of these expenses, we must begin our search for what have been considered in the past as unconventional sources of revenue—in short, we must diversify our revenue streams to encompass philanthropic individuals and institutions. We feel that these organizations—that give up something of value for something else of greater value—will take deep interest in institutions such as the ABC. As your president—and I'm sure I speak for each member of the Board of Directors—I believe the services provided by the ABC represent that "something else" of far greater value.

The financial difficulties facing the ABC are challenging but not insurmountable. We must, however, take action to address them immediately. The sooner these challenges are addressed, the more varied and less disruptive their solutions can be. Only with informed, responsible, and principled discussion and creative thinking can we continue to play a critical—and necessary—role in the lives of our community.