The American Heart Association knows that cardiovascular disease is at the heart of our community’s health issues. Nearly half of all African-American adults have some form of the disease—46 percent of men and 48 percent of women. These numbers are unimaginably high and the association is focusing on doing something about it.

With its motto of “life is why,” the American Heart Association has a special group of professionals from healthcare, corporate, advocacy, and other backgrounds to find ways to motivate and educate people in minority communities on living healthier lives. This group, the Metro Chicago Multicultural Leadership Committee, presented the second annual Open Your Heart event as a partnership with SilverSmith Hotel and Wolford Boutique. Held at the hotel’s Adamus Lounge in downtown Chicago, the event served as a fundraiser to support the organization’s work in the community.

“This event is to raise awareness of the work that we do in multicultural communities, to encourage individuals to get involved, and to raise funds to support the work that we do,” explains Santrice Martin, director of multicultural initiatives at the American Heart Association.

Reggie Smith, board member of Retired Professional Football Players of Chicago

Reggie Smith, board member of Retired Professional Football Players of Chicago

The work of the multicultural committee has certainly yielded tremendous benefits for the community. The CPR Anytime initiative is one program that has had an exponential reach.

“Our multicultural initiatives team educated more than five thousand people on the basics of hands-only CPR who later went on to each train four people,” says Peggy Austin, president of GoldStar Communications who also serves as the multicultural committee co-chair. “That equals 20 thousand people who now have the knowledge and the skills to save lives.”

The American Heart Association’s initiative to battle the city’s food deserts is another remarkable program with impressive results and is a partnership with Crisp! Mobile Grocery—a mobile grocer sponsored by Catholic Charities.

“We were awarded a 75 thousand-dollar grant from Walmart to address the food desert issue that exists in the south and west sides of Chicago,” adds Austin. “Through this grant, we’ve increased the access to healthier food options to over three thousand families in an attempt to make Chicago a healthier place.”

Some initiatives have immediate health benefits for those who have cardiovascular conditions and are unaware. Check. Change. Control. is a blood pressure initiative that the American Heart Association launched in 2013. Also known as hypertension, African-Americans have the highest rates in the world for this condition, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

“Check. Change. Control. is a management program where we’ve taught more than two thousand people how to monitor their blood pressure and we’ve successfully helped hundreds to actually lower it so we’re very proud of that,” says Austin.

With heart disease’s large presence in the community, relatable stories are never too far away. Reggie Smith, board member of Retired Professional Football Players of Chicago, shared personal stories about his experiences. After losing both of his parents to heart disease, Smith knows exactly how devastating cardiovascular diseases can be to families.

“As a young boy at 6 years old, I was there when my mom had her heart attack. I had just gotten home from school and it was a life-changing event for me,” says Smith. “I hope that people find the ‘why’—why we’re here tonight, why it’s important to help the community, and why others need educating—because the organization does great work making sure that there are programs that we can tap into.”

The American Heart Association’s efforts are so significant because when it comes to cardiovascular disease, information and exposure can be life-changing. Smith urges that others share these programs and initiatives with family and friends to make a true difference throughout their neighborhoods: “There may be someone in your community, household, or school that could benefit and if we can connect them with this organization, we may be able to save a life.”

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