Health seminar address serious health risks for persons of colour

Community leader Ingrid John Baptiste addresses the audience

Community leader Ingrid John-Baptiste addresses the audience

Saturday 27 May, 2017

Overbrook Community Center

by Toni Francis

After months of collaboration and planning, navigating changes in dates and location, 10 Afro-Caribbean organizations/Associations hosted the 2017 Health & Wellness Seminar.  With a Saturday summer day in tow the feeling that something good was about to happen was palpable as early as 8AM when organizers and volunteers arrived at the Overbrook Community Centre to put on the finishing touches for a day of education and promotion of health and overall wellness to the Afro-Caribbean Community.

Vendors arrived and placed materials and giveaways on full display. They advertised their mandate, shared information to all in attendance during “commercial spots” offered by the master of ceremonies, Denise Moore.   Moore, consistently effective at time management and weaving together an experience that would solidify meeting set objective for the day, was stellar in her role.

With registration near completion and a light breakfast in hand participants were welcomed by Paulette Barker , President NIJC who also introduced MC – Denise Moore,  Host of “Black on Black”, past president of Ottawa Guyana Association and current member of DND responsible for Conflict Managemen..

Denise – Spoke on Community collaboration of Afro-Caribbean community (11-12yrs of organizations working together), recognizing the effective partnership of these organizations in the face of stereotypical labels and historical realities and/or myths.
The Theme for 2017: “What’s good for your heart is good for your brain.” 

Moore invited participants to think about their health network and ponder who makes that up.  She went on to introduce the ten community organizations, sharing details of their individual mandates and mission; the response of those in attendance held noted support and encouragement for these organizations working together; the room held evidence of a vote that this is a collaboration that should focus on the betterment and benefit of the Afro-Caribbean community.


First presentation – Eye Health by Dr. Janelle King,  Optometrist

Dr. King held the interest of all in attendance as she explained the field of optometry and presented on the common eye diseases affecting the Caribbean  population

  • Optometrist
    • part of the providers of primary eye care health
    • Provide eye health care , check glasses
  • Presentation provided a brief overview of common eye conditions – started with basic and moved to more complex cases
  • Higher incidence of short sightedness or myopia (eyes too strong) in the Caribbean community
  • Afro or Indo-Caribbean community have different needs as a population
  • Hyperopia (long or far sighted)– more seen in Caucasian community – makes eyes look bigger – eyes too weak
  • Myopia is seeing increases in incidence – technology impacts (phones, computers etc.) – 30-40% of community
  • Coverage for children to age 20 is free in Ontario for exams as higher incidence of eye issues
  • Astigmatism – difference in curvature in front of the eye – fairly large percentage of the population have astigmatism (20% of community) – eye focuses on 2 points- double vision – not a disease
  • Presbyopia – age related reading problems – for Caribbean population, especially if you grew up there go into presbyopia 5 yrs. earlier than Canadian population or individuals who have lived in Canada for long period of time– because of sun exposure (between 38-42yrs of age go into presbyopia if lived in Caribbean for long periods)
  • Why dilate eyes during eye exam – lets physician see the back of your eye – important to dilate eye


  1. Cataracts – don’t see for most patients, occur inside the eyes, with lens inside eye – we confuse other things that happen with Caribbean population with cataracts – must use lighting to see cataracts – cataracts are an aging change, lens in eye becomes more inflexible, zoom of eye no longer works and gets yellow and get cataracts

Those in Caribbean community tend to be nervous about cataract surgery. Risk factor in Caribbean community that causes cataracts = diabetes, hypertension,

Dry eye – high incidence in Caribbean community – Doctor’s orders followed, “take your fish oil”

  1. Prevalent in Afro-Caribbean community and mistaken for cataracts is Arcus Senilis – fatty deposit on front of eye – 60% between ages 50-60 and 100% over 80 – white, blue or greyish ring on eye – caused by cholesterol – which is issue for Caribbean community.
  1. Pterygium – prevalent in Caribbean community – happens as cloud on front of the eye – caused by being in bright sunlight – Doctor’s order’s “take Omega 3”.
  1. Attendees also learned that Afro-Caribbean community prone to scaring– can happen after surgery.
  1. Afro Caribbean community has eight times greater risk of getting Glaucoma (there can be no symptoms and often picked up after damage is done)

Dr. King was unable to finish a fulsome presentation due to timing, the group hungered for more.

The audience was treated to the first KIOSK Commercials /VENDOR INFO-MERCIAL–  an informative, interactive and fun part of the event where vendors shared with all in attendance their raison d’etre and provided information about resources and their mandate

  1. Baccanalle – Caribbean & Soul Lifestyle Foods
  • Chef Resa Solomon St. Lewis
  1. Focus on Seniors
    • June is seniors month – Free seminars presented in June – educational arm for seniors and their care givers —- making sure services and products are viable options that you can rely on. 

2nd presentation: Financial Fraud & Your Health –  Helen Axiotis  (RBC – Community Manager)

  • Fraud happens when motive meets opportunity”
  • Helen provided Explanations about and examples of: Identity theft, cheque fraud, issues with power of attorney, access to debit and credit cards,
  • Stressed the Importance of conducting checks re your status with the Credit Bureau
  • Emergency or Grandparent scam – fraudster impersonates grandchild claiming to be in an accident and needing money – important not to offer information to callers or strangers – victims often unknowingly provide personal information
  • Be aware of telemarketing scams – claiming you have won something
  • Sweepstakes that over time access banks accounts and keep taking money – eg. Giving a void cheque to fake charities
  • Skimming – copies of your bank card made after you access a bank machine – avoid using machines that are not located at a bank (regular validation that machines have not been tampered with)
  • Bait & Switch – distraction created when at machine and access you debit card and/or pin number – be diligent and aware of surroundings. Protect your info
  • Romance Scam – described on CRA website – seniors being isolated and seeking companion on line – million dollar business
  • Advance Fee scam – young people subject to it – offer a job and indicate will advance funds to prepare for job; send $3K to you and you return $2K – cheque is actually fake
  • International lottery scam & Anti virus scams– told virus on computer and log in and person will help you clean up virus (access your computer for personal info, including banking)
  • Phishing – email sent to click on link – link is fraudulent or virus – carefully examine the email address, spelling and content of email – don’t click on links
  • Ponzi /investment Schemes — primary investor finds secondary and tertiary investors promise great returns but no investment is done, they simply take money from each investor and give your money to others.
  • Axiotis’ noted that “Online banking if used properly is safest form of banking” – getting all documents thru electronic means – get rid of paper format for statements and bills so not intercepted  – you can protect yourself –  warning for online banking – do not share passwords and PIN with anyone, including family
  • Power of Attorney & Joint Accounts – authority given can be misused – ensure it’s a person you trust- ensure legal documents in place and have received counsel to understand implications – thinking about limiting what others can do on your behalf — attend the bank with the person who can act on your behalf — note – power of attorney is only for when someone is living – Executors of wills are required when person is deceased.
  • Participants were reminded to “PROTECT self from fraud” – prevention – be aware and take steps to ensure info is protected and confidential.




  1. VENDOR INFO-MERCIAL: Jim Crichton – Prostate Cancer Awareness Centre

Jim survivor of prostate cancer 76 years old – post surgery done more in 3 years – Jim proudly and firmly reminded all that “prostate cancer is not death sentence it’s a bump in the road” – his mission, to help families and men trying to cope with prostate cancer –  The Awareness Centre holds meetings the 3rdThursday of every month to support men dealing with prostate cancer – During meetings attendees share experiences, stories, top surgeons and physicians present — new treatments and methods are in place today – treatments now save nerve endings, don’t give medical advice  but know things are evolving every day  —- pass on information even if you are not involved

Incidence of prostate cancer is identical to breast cancer – 1 in 8/9 get prostate – secret is to check and be checked

President of organization – Larry Peckford

President of organization – Larry Peckford announced that the Centre is Sponsoring a conference on Sept 15 & 16th in Ottawa – Ottawa Convention & Event Ctr – Coventry Rd. – not a man’s event, couples and families encouraged to come  (morning medical presentations and afternoon, focus on psycho-social parts of cancer diagnosis)

This organization spoke of Risk factors – namely: diet, environment, age, family history, weight, ethnicity.  Their storyboard spoke to the non-discriminatory nature and reality of cancer.

Participant Michelle – lost husband to prostate cancer weeks ago – bravely spoke about the importance of women getting the men in their lives tested, often its women who notice things need checking – Michelle aptly stated that the job of women is to have the men in their lives get tested.

VENDOR INFO-MERCIAL: Alzheimer Society – Ottawa & Renfrew County

Anne Dennehy advised attendees of the support, Education and information/ Resources on dementia and Alzheimer’s —- spoke to first link program – provide workshops, presentation heads up for healthier brain, risks on getting disease, contacts for families – new support programs – Minds in motion (singing and socializing ) program for caregivers and people suffering from dementia

Resources – to manage trauma of losing drivers license, accommodation,

VENDOR INFO-MERCIAL: Donnette Tucker RN – Everlasting HealthCare Services

Foot care- everything starts at the feet – Donna’s favorite line: “no feet no go”   — common foot condition – attendees flocked to the foot care booth and Nurse Tucker’s display – the lineup left the clear message that our feet are the centre of our universe

For the entire day, with the challenge of controlling the temperature in the room on record, the moments the vibe in the room was positive – laughter, conversation, attentiveness – no one wanted any of our speakers or presenters to stop – heads were turned in attention no matter the direction of the speaker – where interests were peaked participants openly admitted to wishing presentations would not end – the message is clear; there is a hunger in our community for health information.

With lunch partially digetsted or for those who were lucky fully so, Tarrah Mauricette of Caribbean Fit Fete – spoke to the promise held with dancing at any age –  she reminded us all that this was about movement, not performance or judgment – overall wellness requires movement  —Some Mauricette words of wisdom: “let your body take care of you, let it listen —-choosing to make a decision to move— you have the answers “ 

With music turned up loud, participants put some simple movement to Caribbean beats—the room was energized and for 15 minutes the value of movement tied to culture and experience of the shared language of music carried everyone away.

Mental Health & Addiction – Steven Walsh RN

Steven’s philosophy: “Work hard, play hard and do good”

Nurse Walsh opened up with note of the vibrancy of the Afro-Caribbean community – he shared the decision to, recently, take an objective look at what people do to support mental health

Defined mental illness – put into holistic point of view – he emphasized importance of talking about our mental health —importance of the person coming before the diagnosis- people must be listened as they know what they need- listen in a nonjudgmental way

Holistic definition or approach is on record as being critical to success in treatment.

  • Caribbean community tends to see mental health as something we don’t talk about, keep it in the family – don’t tell other people our issues – talking about issues however, creates opportunities about access to resources and getting those resources to support those in need
  • Huffington Post Article – discusses challenges Caribbean Canadians face in Canada – struggle is a silent one – misunderstanding of what mental illness is
  • Black Canadians living in poverty will have problems accessing resources
  • Stacy Ann Buchanan – documentary on mental health in the black community = 5min clip of documentary on YouTube
  • Women in black community – “strong” soldier on and don’t experience or have time to experience mental illness – people avoid medication which is really about dealing with symptoms so you can get to help for issues
  • Include spiritual and religious supports if that helps
  • Caribbean Community talk about needing a safe place to share stories – with MC prompting attendees all agreed this was to be a take away, i.e. the need to create or find a safe place to share those stories
  • Symptoms of mental illness are individualistic – we all have unique experiences of mental health
  • Importance of remembering that labels are not the end all – diagnosis is about providing medical professionals with parameters for treatment – be careful that we don’t label people
  • Spoke to dependence on drugs, opiates, alcohol to cope with mental illness or symptoms
  • Suggest patients have family or friend attend appointments with them to ensure exchange of information is understood and that physician is responding to the actual issues the patient intends to communicate
  • Discussion on resilience in community – especially in young children who seemingly more anxious today – influence of being bombarded by social media and news that is readily available, bullying —positive side = earlier you get to deal with issues the better the long term outcomes
  • Start a conversation in our community – black communities need a safe place to share stories—- determine next steps to continue the dialogue—social networking is key
  • 1/3 Canadians experience mental health in their lives


Stress & Our Health

Ann Marie O’Brien, Clinical Social Worker– The Royal Ottawa Health Care group

Health is not just about biology – not the whole story – the way we think and psychological factors matter to our health and stress, as do social factors, family, community, quality of our relationships matter to health and mental health

Definition of mental health that is personal to us – we can identify for ourselves ways of coping and our abilities – take away strong judgments and beliefs about ourselves – let’s make space for individual experience – know what should be and what is

Definition encompasses the knowing of ourselves and the doing aspect that supports health

Stress – personal, part of life, subjective, acute or chronic, physical or mental

Can lead to sleep problems, risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, blood sugar elevations, back pain, fatigue adrenal glands, reduces pain threshold, pain causes stress which causes pain (cycle) risk of illness, increased cortisol lead to weight gain, risk of infection,-  don’t ignore stress, manage or affects your health —massage therapy, yoga, etc. ..

Discussed the benefits of stress – motivational, getting things accomplished

We must find balanced between being asleep & bored and being over-the-top —- we need resilience “Don’t judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fall down and get back up “ Nelson Mendela

  • Importance of coping and getting thru difficulties – resilience depends on our psychology, biology, social (social connections that are safe help build resilience and help us cope)
  • Be mindful, notice purpose , without judgement and being aware and in present moment = psychological resilience —- Poem – impactful message about building resilience
  • Positive self-talk is helpful, being grateful, learn new skill, journaling, activities, treat illness, exercise, avoid mood altering substances, sleep, balance eating
  • Benefits of walking
  • Importance of nurturing a support system , make a contribution and social connectedness
  • GIVE!! Important to resilience


In Sum:

One person spoke to the day having left her feeling taken care of on a number of levels, i.e. spiritually, emotionally, nutritionally, educationally, as well as being provided info on access to resources

There was discussion on the unique or not so unique needs and behaviours of the Afro-Caribbean community and the need for the community supporting each other and showing up to be there to “feed”, support each other and richness of our intercultural community

Quizzes and prizes closed every segment, participants won gifts upon confirming the retention of lessons learned

David Bostic , provided audio visual/technical support, his extraordinary contribution to event, as he spent the entire day at the event to ensure things went smoothly, was rightly recognized.

The day was managed by MC Denise Moore – who did a wonderful job orchestrating the day and keeping things on track throughout –it was positive, fun-filled, informative, engaging and held all the ingredients of a successful event.


About the writer

Toni Francis is President, St.Lucia-Ottawa Association.



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