Juneteenth National Independence Day is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved Black/African Americans. It marks June 19, 1865, which commemorates the day Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced that enslaved Black people were freed by executive decree.
Juneteenth is also referred to as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day. On February 3, 2023, Governor Tim Walz signed a bill making the day a Minnesota state holiday.
Three years ago, Minnesota was ground zero for a national uprising that became an international call to protect the civil rights of Black Americans and other disenfranchised minority groups throughout the world. This year as you celebrate Juneteenth, I urge you to focus on the health impacts of ongoing structural racism and embrace ways to minimize your risk.
Here are a few options:
- Black Americans are at least four times more likely to be killed by a gun than the general population, and 12 times more likely than a White person. Mitigate your risk by calling for safer gun ownership and the elimination of assault weapons. Place unloaded guns in a gun safe or lockbox and store the ammunition separately.
- Smoking claims 45,00 Black lives every year. Tobacco companies targeted the Black community with menthol cigarette marketing. Menthol is the most addictive flavor.
In the 1950s, less than 10 percent of Black smokers used menthol, but today 85 percent of Black smokers prefer menthol cigarettes. Smoking is the number-one cause of preventable deaths.
There are many treatment options available to stop smoking. These treatments are often available at little or no out-of-pocket costs. Quit Partner is Minnesota’s free resource to help quit nicotine, including smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco.
- Black Americans are more likely to die at early ages from all causes. Black Americans, age 35-64 years, are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than Whites.
Million Hearts is a national initiative to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes within five years. Million Hearts supports optimizing care by improving aspirin/anticoagulant use, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, and smoking cessation.
- Black youth have the fastest-rising suicide rates among any ethnic group in the last two decades, with suicide among Black male youths increasing 60 percent in that period. Suicide is preventable. Mental health is health. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or having suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to connect with a mental health professional.
- Blacks have higher rates of treatable and preventable causes of blindness, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. To reduce your risk of vision loss, manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension. Eat healthy, exercise, and have regularly scheduled eye examinations to detect eye diseases.
- Blacks are less likely to get preventable health care such as mammograms, Pap smears, and screenings such as colonoscopies and prostate examinations. Early detection and treatment of cancer can be lifesaving. Schedule a history and physical examination with your primary care physician annually and follow up with testing and appointments as directed.
Martin Luther King Day is often considered a national service day to honor the memory of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I urge members of the Black community to embrace Juneteenth as a day to honor the legacy of our previously enslaved ancestors by embracing practices and behaviors that improve our physical and mental health.
Health freedom refers to an individual intentionally making decisions to optimize their health, which is an essential part of life and liberty. Celebrate [Health] Freedom Day this Juneteenth!
Dr. Dionne Hart is board certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine practicing in Illinois and Minnesota. She is an adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Mayo Clinic. In 2014, Dr. Hart was named Minnesota Psychiatrist of the Year. In 2017 she received the National Alliance on Mental Illness Exemplary Psychiatrist Award.
Dr. Hart holds local, state, and national positions in organized medicine. She was the inaugural chair of the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Minority Affairs Section. She is an American Psychiatric Association delegate to the AMA House of Delegates, a member of the Minnesota Medical Association Board of Trustees, president of the Minnesota Association of African American Physicians, chairperson of National Medical Association’s Region IV, and the AMA liaison to the National Commission on Correctional Health Care Board of Representatives.