Due to the prevalence of health disparities, too many Americans are not “afforded the opportunity to live a productive, healthy life.”

Unfortunately, many of these Americans are uninsured working families with low or moderate incomes, with many of these Americans living right here in Sampson County, which ranks among the least healthy counties in North Carolina. And they all deserve better. In the meantime, advocates and activists should be calling on our national, state and local leaders to make their dream of affordable healthcare a reality for all Americans. Equal treatment in health care is a right, with no one being left behind.

It was over a century ago when the nation’s collective attention became focused for the first time on the poor health status of Black Americans, who in 1915 were just five decades removed from chattel slavery in the South. During the first full week in April 1915, Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute and leading Black spokesman, launched what became known as the first National Negro Health Week(NNHW), with the objective of improving the health of Black Americans. Being keenly aware of the disproportionately high death rate among Blacks, Washington concluded, “The future of the race depends upon the conservation of its health.” He further explained, “Without health, and until we reduce the high death rate, it will be impossible for us to have permanent success in business, in property getting, in acquiring education, or to show other evidences of progress.”

Sparking a national health movement, the National Negro Health Week remained a yearly observance in April until 1951, helping to lessen the amount of sickness and reducing the number of deaths annually. The movement’s success was due in large part to its coordination of efforts, relying on the total community involvement with support coming from businesses, fraternal societies, health professional, hospitals, health centers, schools and especially the Black Church, which has historically played a key role in mobilizing community involvement.

As an outgrowth of the National Negro Health Week, the Office of Minority Health was launched in 1985, leading to the annual observance of National Minority Health Month in April, with the recurring theme being “reducing health disparities and advancing health equity.” Historically, health inequality has been part of the American social landscape for nearly as long as we’ve been a nation and has impacted every aspect of life, including one’s pursuit of happiness.

Speaking to a committee of health professionals in Chicago in 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lamented, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” And the fact that we have not done more to provide equal treatment in health care remains an insult to our American ideals, and it is unacceptable.

Is not a concern for the health of the poorly served, under served and never served a compelling enough reason for us to eliminate these health gaps?

I think so.

Larry Sutton is a retired educator who taught at Clinton High School.