Since 1928, starting with Negro History Week, there has been a theme for Black History Month. In 1928 it was “Civilization: A World Achievement” and this year it was “Health and Wellness.”
In fact, when I first heard the theme for Black History Month, it threw me off my game a little bit because health and wellness are personal. I did what a lot of people probably do when someone tells them they need to focus on improving their health and wellness – I researched what that means.
After getting some answers, I was more comfortable with the idea of “health and wellness” but not 100% there.
Fortunately, to celebrate Black History Month, Zebra brought in a well-known personal trainer, corporate wellness consultant, speaker, and fitness business coach to talk to employees about nutrition and the things we may not realize influence our health and wellness. Hearing Fendy Alexis speak reminded me I am on a journey toward being healthy, but that it’s okay to enjoy food that I like to eat.
Demystifying These Two Important Terms
Health and wellness are usually not talked about in the Black Community, unless you are being told to get physically fit. What many people do not understand is there are a lot of emotions involved with health and wellness. For example, you may have emotional ties and bonds with food. Or you may worry about how your family and friends will look at you when you start to do something that is not the norm for them.
Once you learn how to have a healthy, emotional relationship with food, you must learn how to maintain it. You must understand who and what will trigger unhealthy eating habits. However, what you will see as unhealthy someone else might not. So, you must be mindful of how you go about saying “no” to food, especially in social settings.
I was reminded of all this during the event with Fendy, during which he discussed how our upbringing and culture can and will affect our health and wellness. What he said triggered even more of an emotional response from me than other participants because I am someone who has struggled with my weight. Even as an adult, people want you to be healthy. But they may not understand your desire to change your eating habits to fit that lifestyle and the amount of emotional work that goes into that. It’s not just a change in physical behavior.
Something else that must be remembered, though, is that diet is not the only defining factor in health and wellness. There are other actions that can improve your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, too.
The Benefits of Service
I don’t think many people realize how much volunteering or giving back to the community personally benefits them. But I believe many people here at Zebra learned the value of service these past few months.
On January 17, Zebras of African Descent (ZAD) – one of Zebra’s inclusion networks – launched the Martin Luther King Day of Service Challenge. For the next four weeks, we encouraged employees to spend an hour giving back to their communities in a meaningful way. I decided to go back to one of things that is near and dear to me: helping children learn to read.
When I was younger, I lost the ability to read but was able to regain that skill through a reading program my school offered a few years later. Today, the program Reading Partners allows me to give back to the community and ensure other children have the same opportunity to learn as I did. My hope is that they will, in turn, want to pay it forward in the future.
To be honest, there were a couple different organizations that interested me when I considered where I would volunteer during the Service Challenge period. However, I kept coming back to the reading program because of my connection to a similar one when I was younger – both as a student/beneficiary and a later as a tutor.
Interestingly, the process to become a volunteer with Reading Partners is not like anything I have seen when volunteering with other programs. First, you apply and pick an organization and date. You then receive an email requesting you review and sign the Code of Conduct. The signatures cannot be electronic, you have to put ink to paper on the Code of Conduct, then email a scanned copy back to Reading Partners. After you complete orientation and provide your availability, they run a background check and fingerprint you. After you pass the background check, then you can start volunteering with the children. I respect the safety measures they have taken with the children and was a bit relieved by the strenuous measures up front because it let me off the hook for having to film a video or voice recording. It allowed me to be fully in the moment – sharing the joy of reading – with the children.
Being a healthy educational influence in a child’s life can be life changing for everyone. One of my nephews and I used to fight over homework, but he and I used to tough it out until he got it and now he is going to be graduating this year with a teaching degree. My niece used to ask me to read to her when she was two. Now she is an avid reader herself who recently asked for a Kindle so she can read an unlimited amount of books. She is still a child, but the future is now limitless for her.
What Health and Wellness Now Mean to Me
After reflecting upon my life, what I have written and who I often seek advice from, I realized my health and wellness can be found in the foundation of my family. They are the ones who will be there if the chips are down…and who can stress me out. But realizing and understanding how to have healthy bonds and boundaries has helped me tremendously.
And the time I spent volunteering may have started as a challenge, but for me it quickly became personal because I was once one of those kids struggling to read. I had no idea how good I would feel after spending even just a little bit of time with them. However, now that I know how personally rewarding it can be – and feeling how much it improved my well-being – I will continue to pay it forward every chance I get.
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