By Keshia Dawn
With a mission to entertain and educate, the American Heart Association (AHA) enlisted some of the hottest gospel artists of today for their latest campaign.
The AHA’s Most Powerful Voices Gospel Tour packed the pews of Friendship West Baptist Church on Friday night. With the Power To End Stroke campaign, AHA’s representatives
pulled out all of the stops in order to educate others on healthy living.
Strokes are the third leading cause of death in African Americans. Awareness on how to fight against the silent killer was the main focus of the evening.
“We have a lot of issues that we must deal with in our community alone,” Dione Banks, Health Equity Director of AHA, said. “Cardiovascular disease, at the end of the day, comes down to our lifestyles.”
Research shows that strokes affect twice as many African Americans versus their White counterparts. Added to that, those between the ages 35-54 are four times more at risk of becoming victims.
So why the church? Why gospel music?
It’s no secret that worship and Sunday dinners usually make a weekly ritual for African American parishioners. Foods which are eaten, though good to the palate, aren’t always good for the body. Able to centralize those who may otherwise be out of educational reach, the gospel ministry is a way to pull in those individuals.
With the concept beginning in the Midwest, the Most Powerful Voices Gospel Tour has had a positive acceptance by the African American church.
“Our response has been received pretty well,” Banks said. “A lot of the churches we have been working with are either moving in the direction of creating a health ministry and wanting to do something other than what is formatted within their church or they already have one and are looking for new things,” he said.
In years past, gospel celebrities such as Dr. Bobby Jones and Kirk Franklin have graced the stage for the Most Powerful Voices Gospel Tour. Headlining this year’s concert was Grammy Award winner and Pastor of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church, Marvin Sapp.
Inspiration and information is what excited Sapp about the tour.
“I’m excited about it simply because this is a night of information and inspiration. Inspiration from the stand point that it gives the gospel music artist the opportunity to ministry the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Sapp said.
“But it also gives us the opportunity to share information about the importance of making sure that we make just the little changes that are necessary in order to reduce the possibility of stroke and heart disease in the urban community.”
After losing nearly twenty pounds himself, Sapp supports the church being educated not only on the spiritual level, but physically. “The partnership in itself is great because church folk love to eat,” Sapp said. “An opportunity to have church folk to come out and instruct them; give them information that can help them move forward in living better lives.”
Participating as one of the special guest on the tour, gospel singer, Brian Courtney Wilson believes helping to educate others on their wellness is a part of his calling.
“It is an opportunity to do exactly what God has called me to do,” Wilson said. “Many times our lifestyle choices impede us from backing it up, so for the opportunity to gather people together and share the type of information that can transform culturally is a good opportunity.”
Another component of the Most Powerful Voices Gospel Tour was the auditioning to open for Pastor Marvin Sapp. Two local gospel groups, The Hensley Ensemble and JaRa and the Lineage
shared the platform for such an experience. Even with such a great opportunity to spread their musical ministry, the message was not lost.
“I tell my group all the time that one of the best ways to be a singer is by exercising. Exercising helps you vocally in so many ways,” JaRa said. “I encourage health; I encourage good eating; to watch what you eat as African Americans, to take care of ourselves because our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost.”
Good health hits closer to home for The Hensley Ensemble’s leader, Elbert Hensley, Jr. “In the group we have people who suffer from high blood pressure,” Hensley said. “It’s close to our hearts. The message means a whole lot.”
The Power To End Stroke movement is a message which will continue for years to come. Hoping to educate on a broader level, the Most Powerful Voices Gospel Tour is a ministry and educational tool created in helping the African American community live healthier lives.
When encouraging love ones about healthy living, Sapp suggest to just do it. “You just tell them. Just be blunt.” Pastor Marvin Sapp said. “Keep reminding them, letting them know. Even though they may think you’re getting on their nerves, keep reminding them you love them and care.”