It was the hottest day of the year so far, but over 100 people gathered Saturday morning to march up Broad Street in North Philadelphia, led by the beat of a powerful drum line. Their signs read: “Health is wealth,” “I deserve to be healthy and happy,” and “I can do this.” They were there to call for health equity in a city with stark inequalities.
It was the inaugural NEXT STEP from Freedom to Equity Walk-a-Thon, hosted by the Black Doctors Consortium and the Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity.
“It is the city of Philadelphia saying, ‘I deserve to be happy and healthy,’” said Kamau Stanford, CEO of the Consortium and Center. “It’s saying, ‘I care about my mental and physical health.’ It’s saying, simply, ‘I want to live.’”
Following the walk, a fair at the Center for Health Equity offered free health screenings, COVID tests and vaccines, and food and music.
The event was part of the Consortium’s efforts to eliminate the racial health disparities that contribute to differences in life expectancies of 20 years between Philly ZIP codes.
“Too many people have died just for being a minority,” Kamau Stanford said during a program of speakers before the walk. “It’s been from the inception of this nation — from the failed education systems to the failed justice systems to white supremacy … While we can’t do anything about the past, we damn for sure can do something about the future.”
Launched by Dr. Ala Stanford in 2020, in response to a gap in care for the underserved during the pandemic, the Consortium has been key to delivering COVID tests and vaccines to Black Philadelphians. The group also opened a health clinic in October 2021 to supply primary care and other services to residents of North Philly, with or without insurance.
“We serve the people and the citizens of Philadelphia, so that everyone in Philadelphia gets the same level of healthcare, no matter their age, how much money they have in their bank account, their height, what ZIP code they live in,” said Tracy Wood, executive director of the Consortium. “Our goal is to make sure everyone in Philadelphia gets the care that they need to be healthy — healthy in mind, healthy in body, healthy in soul.”
Cidney Alexander showed up on the sweltering hot Saturday, to walk the nearly two-mile walk-a-thon route. She’s a teacher in Philly, but lives in New Jersey — and traveled all that way to support the Consortium. She credits the Consortium with offering her medical care during the pandemic when no one else would.
“This was the only place that I could get vaccinated,” she said. “I came over from Pennsauken, New Jersey, to get vaccinated. That’s how important it was.”
Ijjae Hill also traveled to the walk-a-thon, from Chester, where she’s pursuing her doctorate in physical therapy at Widener University. She’s witnessed health disparities among the residents of Chester and Philadelphia.
“But really, when they have doctors and healthcare workers that are committed to their health and that they have the resources that they need to succeed, then they have a little bit more of an equitable health experience,” she said.
Edward Jelani DeBrady, a cancer researcher who lives in Germantown, carried a sign at Saturday’s Walk-a-Thon reading, “I want to live.”
He said he’s been inspired by the work of Dr. Stanford, who was recently appointed to lead the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Region 3 office. DeBrady plans to one day work as a physician, too.
“I believe that health is wealth, and we have to really take the reins on our health in this country, in this city,” DeBrady said. “We have to save our own communities.”
Organizers of the walk-a-thon plan to make it a yearly tradition.