Billboards target blacks with health messages

May 27, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- When Rodney Carr walks through his Brooklyn neighborhood this fall, he's likely to spot not only the usual malt liquor billboards, but also new advertisements encouraging him to get his blood pressure checked.

Mr. Carr welcomes the new message.

"It would be better than seeing the tiger up there and the 800 label," said Mr. Carr, referring to symbols on a malt liquor ad. "Just to see something that is positive is much better than seeing a bottle. A lot of that [health] information is not readily available to our people."

The coming billboard blitz is part of a national health care effort by a new coalition of medical, church, advertising and broadcasting groups, as well as lawmakers, to boost awareness of critical health issues affecting African Americans.

Sermons from the pulpits of black churches across the nation and community marches in 14 cities on June 6 are also part of the campaign.

Organizers, who launched the campaign in Washington yesterday, said African Americans are disproportionately affected by such illnesses as high blood pressure, cancer, lead poisoning and AIDS.

They point out that the mortality rate among African-American infants is twice that of white infants and that the life expectancy of whites is 76.4 years, compared to 70 for blacks.

"We knew we had a problem; we just couldn't get anyone across the street to care about it," said Dr. Tracy M. Walton Jr. of the National Medical Association, a group of 16,000 black physicians heading the campaign. "It's been a crisis. The biggest thing [now] is awareness."

Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., said: "It's tragic that when you think about drug abuse, alcohol abuse, hopelessness, tuberculosis, underweight babies, high infant mortality -- you almost think black."

The effort to address those health issues is long overdue, he said.

In addition to the medical association, the first-time coalition includes the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congress of National Black Churches, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, and the Federal Health Task Force.

Equipped with $200,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services, donations from the billboard association and an army of community volunteers, the coalition plans to kick off its campaign by late summer with billboards in 14 cities.

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