Inaugural Minority Health Fair builds bridges between communities, services


Douglas Harding

Marshall public health student Fortune Ezemobi interacts with Nils Haynes of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health during the inaugural Minority Health Fair at the Memorial Student Center Oct. 17.

In West Virginia, minority communities are disproportionately impacted by various health-related issues such as stigmas surrounding diseases and treatment and a lack of education regarding prevention and available services, Marshall University’s minority health director said.

With ambitions of combatting such disparities amongst minority communities, LaDawna Walker-Dean initiated the process of organizing West Virginia’s inaugural Minority Health Fair, which occurred, open to the public, Thursday at the Memorial Student Center.

“We’re informing and educating the community and students about the importance of health—getting checked for HIV, diabetes and all that stuff that minorities seem to suffer with the most in West Virginia,” Walker-Dean said. “Minorities bear the burden of type two diabetes, cancer and HIV, and we only account for less than 5% of the population.”

Walker-Dean, a Huntington-native, said the event originated as a way for her to give back to her home community by helping bridge the gap between available, valuable community services and unaware students in need.

“There is also always an issue with minorities feeling unsafe going to a doctor who may not really look like them, but that shouldn’t be a reason why someone doesn’t see a doctor,” she said. “Everyone should have multiple doctors in their area they feel comfortable seeing.”

Walker-Dean said “minority” refers not only to black communities, but also to those of low-income, women, LGBTQ+ and many others.

“I just wanted all these groups to come together and talk about health,” she said.

Fortune Ezemobi, a second-year public health student at Marshall, said the prevalence of various health-related issues throughout minority communities is likely a result of a lack of sufficient and effective communication between community members and available services.

“In order to fix this situation we’re in as minorities, we have to figure out better communication strategies so we can have more input and engagement in our communities,” Ezemobi said.

Ezemobi said to combat being disproportionally impacted by health-related issues, minority communities should stress the importance of being proactive with attempts to prevent and treat potential diseases and other issues.

The Minority Health Fair, he said, is one means of encouraging that process.

“A lot of these health issues are hereditary, and some people don’t even know they have them or their family member has them; they just see someone suffering,” Ezemobi said. “This fair gives people options and gives them the knowledge and awareness to know what role they can play and how to help and impact people suffering with these issues.”

Warren Holloway, a Huntington-native and former Marshall student, travelled to Marshall’s campus from New York to participate in the Minority Health Fair Thursday as a guest speaker.

“I’m actually (HIV) positive, so I wanted to come back to tell my story and give my perspective and give back to the community and young people by helping them prevent having to go through the same things I’ve gone through,” Holloway said.

During his speech, Holloway spoke to attendees about specifics regarding HIV contraction, prevention, causes and implications and encouraged students to educated themselves and to get tested if possible.

“A lot of times, the reasons people don’t get tested revolve around socioeconomic factors like poverty,” he said. “In minority communities, you often have lack of education, lack of affordable healthcare, lack of support systems and even religious components.”

Holloway said students should try to be more open and honest about their thoughts and questions regarding HIV and other health-related issues. He said students lacking available resources can use the internet to help themselves learn as much as possible about prevention, treatment and other essential information.

“Educate yourself so you can prevent this from happening to you, so you can make a change in your community to keep people from getting sick and being sick and dying for no reason,” he said.

Holloway said college is a common and crucial time for people to begin educating themselves about substantial health-related issues if they have not previously been taught about them.

“In college, you’re on your way to becoming an adult and being responsible for your own health,” he said. “It’s not anyone else’s responsibility, and if we don’t start somewhere, we’re losing this battle. We have to combat the prevalence of people not taking care of themselves and their health.”

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected].