Sullivan calls for help solving black health problems Cabinet secretary addresses sorority

July 13, 1992|By Erik Nelson and Lan Nguyen | Erik Nelson and Lan Nguyen,Staff Writers

The federal government is doing everything it can to deal with the alarming health problems of black Americans, but it can't solve them alone, the U.S. secretary of health and human services told sorority convention delegates yesterday.

"In other words, we need you at our side," Secretary Louis W. Sullivan said in his keynote speech to members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a national social service organization, at the Baltimore Arena.

"We need you to act as a bridge between the government in our communities," he said.

While the government can improve the quality and quantity of health care in black communities, Dr. Sullivan said, "We do not have the credibility and the rapport that the women of Delta Sigma Theta possess.

"The growing health disparities between the African-American and white communities are alarming," he said. "While the life expectancy of and infant mortality rate for the general population have improved, African-Americans suffer disproportionately from many conditions such as infant mortality, communicable childhood diseases, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer, violence and HIV infection and AIDS."

Dr. Sullivan praised the organization's immunization programs, drug, alcohol and acquired immune deficiency syndrome education and its efforts to steer young black men from street crime.

He also listed increases in federal programs designed to combat those problems, including nearly $4.4 billion for AIDS programs. That 1992 allocation, he noted, is "an increase of 170 percent since President Bush took office."

The president of the sorority, Yvonne Kennedy, said she agreed the federal government is doing what it can for blacks' health problems, "and we are willing to participate, to be a part of that effort."

Later yesterday evening, more than 100 educators -- two from Maryland -- were recognized in a "Salute to Delta Great Teachers" honoring members who have made outstanding contributions to education.

The educators represented sorority members from every state and foreign territory that has a chapter.

One of the Maryland teachers honored was Leah Hasty, principal of Matthew A. Henson Elementary School, where Vice President Dan Quayle visited in September. The 60-year-old Pikesville resident is known for her pioneering work in establishing all-male and all-female classes at the West Baltimore school.

"I'm elated and honored that they would think I was worthy," Dr. Hasty said.

Dr. Hasty grew up in what she described as a poor family that still put all eight children through college. "I went into education because I had a quest for learning," she said. "When I look back, I liked my teachers, and I liked what they did for me. And I wanted to be like them."

The lack of role models in the community concerns Dr. Hasty, who saw black males disappearing from the neighborhood near the school. "I no longer saw men going to work like they did when the school was first built," she said. "When you're a male student and you see no men on a daily basis to make any kind of positive impact, than it's hard to see, 'What's in it for me?' "

Like Dr. Hasty, the state's other winner -- Beryl W. Williams, dean emeritus of continuing studies at Morgan State University -- had working-class parents, a family that would take her to the library twice a week when she was young to read black authors and about black leaders and history.

Dr. Williams -- active in volunteer and civic groups -- is noted for developing Morgan State's continuing studies program, helping older and returning students further their education. She retired from her post in 1981. She served on the Baltimore city school board from 1973 to 1984 and has traveled to Africa 17 times since 1969 to help establish educational programs in different nations.

Dr. Williams' school days were dogged by naysayers who told her blacks had no history because they were slaves and a school system that tried to steer her away from college. "I graduated salutatorian -- second in my class -- in grammar school," she said. "My mother and I went to the school system because I wanted to take the college prep course, but they wanted to put me in general education."

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