But black women hit HARDER!: My unsolicited response to CBS Chicago and the racial disparity in their “Healthwatch” reports

But black women hit HARDER!: My unsolicited response to CBS Chicago and the racial disparity in their “Healthwatch” reports
Standing strong and proud in the rain.

“They are not going to save you.”

It was only a week ago that I spoke these words to a group of soggy, yet smiling, black women and children. March 10, 2013, was the centennial anniversary of the passing of Harriet Tubman, a heroic and in my eyes, superhuman, woman who came to be known as Moses.  On this rainy Chicago day, black women and children from all parts of the city and suburbs convened with me on the South Side in Washington Park to walk 100 minutes in homage to Harriet Tubman’s legacy and take steps, literally, toward fighting diabetes, heart disease, obesity and stroke – all preventable diseases that disproportionately affect black women.

In the rain and wind, umbrellas up, babies bundled in strollers, bodies and feet soaked, we put one foot in front of the other because we know the fight for our health is an inside-out job and they are not going to save us. “They” meaning the pharmaceutical companies, the medical industry, fast food restaurants and the ad agencies who support them.

After our “baptism in the park” I came to realize that “they” oftentimes includes the media. It’s been over 40 years since Gil Scott-Heron told us “the revolution will not be televised” and his words echo more true today, especially if you are a resident of Chicago and look to CBS Chicago (channel 2) for your news.

On that same rainy Chicago day, a CBS Chicago videographer was also present in the park with us. Unfortunately, the footage never made it to the 10 p.m. news that night or any other night last week. It was cut due to late-breaking news, but a closely related “Healthwatch” segment on diabetes and black women in Chicago DID air that night and was posted the following day to their website with the title, “Diabetes Hits Especially Hard in Poor Black Communities” .

This story, with all of its discouragement and propaganda, made me at once sad and angry. To be clear, I am not angry that there wasn’t any time last week to share an empowering story of black women and children ON THE SOUTH SIDE not being shot up in the park, but walking in the park to reclaim our health. I more than understand that late-breaking news is a reality and stories must be prioritized accordingly. Shift happens. That part is business. But, I also understand how word choice and images can spin a story and influence consumers either negatively or positively, and I AM angered by how CBS Chicago chose to portray black women and the diabetes crisis in our communities. That part is personal.

It became even more personal after viewing another Healthwatch segment that was featured during the same week.

A Tale of Two Healthwatch Stories

After kicking off the week with the gift of “Diabetes Hits Especially Hard in Poor Black Communities” for the South and West side women,  a pretty bow of a story posted on March 15, 2013, “Naperville Woman Drops 70 Pounds; How’d She Do It?”.

Two stories about women, weight, diet and health, but as anyone can tell by the titles, truly as different as night and day, black and white.  The Naperville story is the type of story I wish the “poor black” women of the South and West sides of Chicago had gotten. Where one story resounds with an uplifting message of self-empowerment and perseverance, the other thuds with notes of despair and victimhood. A side-by-side comparison makes it extremely obvious that the diabetes story was not intended to inspire or empower the black women of Chicago to care about our health.

Opening Sentence

“A Naperville woman went from overweight to overjoyed.”

“Nearly one in five African-Americans ages 20 and older have diabetes, and in Chicago the numbers are even higher on the South and West sides.”

Reporting Angle

“She shows CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist how she dropped 70 pounds and eight dress sizes.”

“CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, not long ago, Terry Martin’s blood sugar level was so high, her life was in danger.”

Interviewee Quotables

“My blood pressure was high, and I had stage 3 fatty liver disease. That was a wakeup call like, you’re either going to go another level of obesity, or you’re just going to have to get your life back,” she says.”

“I had passed out at work, where the ambulance had to take me to the emergency room,” she said.”

The Road to Healthy Habits

““I got on the treadmill, and I thought I’ll just run. I just want to run five minutes.’ I had this 10-year-old that was telling me, ‘You can do it, mom,’” she says. “And that year I ran the half Chicago Marathon,” Tetik says.”

““Think the class that I go to helps me a lot. It really does,” she said.”

Life After Prioritizing Healthy Habits

“She now teaches yoga and has become a personal trainer.”

“Martin is one of the lucky ones. She survived her diabetes scare, and is on the path to a healthier life.”

Closing Sentence

 “Brooke Tetik is now training to compete in another physique competition and she has opened her own yoga studio.”

“The program Martin is attending is free of charge, and is offered through the University of Chicago.

Article Feature Photo

Full-body “Before and After” photos of Brooke’s transformation

Terry Martin’s hands testing her blood sugar levels

Related Article Tags

Brooke Tetik, Mary Kay Kleist, Weight Loss

African Americans, diabetes, Dr. Monica Peek, Mike Puccinelli, Poor, University of Chicago


Just in writing this post I am disgusted. By the end of Brooke Tetik’s story, I know she is a loving mother, she’s highly motivated, she’s an entrepreneur and I walk away feeling like I know her and her journey. Heck, as a yogini in training for my 200-hour certification, I’m inspired to find Brooke, hangout and talk yoga over low-fat lattes!

After viewing Terry Martin's story, I still don’t know much about her other than she is battling Type 2 diabetes and passed out at work. Her name isn’t even mentioned in the related article tags (I guess it’s implied with the “African Americans” and “Poor” tags). I’m not inspired by Terry Martin’s story and I SHOULD be. I WANT to be.

There was a real opportunity here to share her story in a different light because taking that first step toward better health is NOT easy, and Terry did that. She’s measuring her fruits and vegetables. She’s learning how to make healthy choices. I wish we would have gotten more Terry and her journey and less “diabetes is deadly and poor black women are dying”. I guess the story was never really about her…

Providing scary statistics and information on community resources just isn’t enough anymore. We are competing with real life out here; a life where violence, crime and hard times are coming at us 3-D.  We need to SEE the change we want to be, not be bombarded with the same negative messages and images we are faced with on the daily. Show us where we’re going, not where you think we are. Not only are “poor black” women walking, we are black girls running, we are biking and hiking, we are doing yoga--IN our hard-hit communities. There are plenty of us like Brooke Tetik making transformations on the South and West sides of Chicago. I’m willing to bet that telling more of these stories will have a greater impact on fighting diabetes than any statistics. SPEAK LIFE TO US!

On March 10, 2013, CBS Chicago did not “news responsibly.” Their Healthwatch advertistement segment on Chicago’s black women and diabetes does not pass for news or good journalism. On the seeds of black women’s esteem, this story was not water; this story was gasoline thrown on an already burning building. It’s. Not. Okay. The women on the South and West sides of Chicago want better and DESERVE better.

With that in mind, I simply encourage CBS Chicago and all media outlets to report better. Fair. Balanced. Don't go for the sensationalized Mediatakeout.com approach. Give us news we can use, not use us. Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, HIV and obesity may hit us hard, but black women hit back harder.

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