Fannie Lou Hamer – voting rights activist, civil rights leader, and humanitarian, captured the nation’s attention during the 1964 Democratic National Convention, when she described the injustices she and others in her community had endured in their fight for the right to vote. She had been jailed, beaten, and threatened for her advocacy, but didn’t back down.
The cumulative impact of these and other stressful life experiences negatively impacted her health, but she remained committed to securing her civil rights, because in her now famous words “All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” 1
The legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer is an example of personal empowerment and resilience, and how social factors, broadly considered, contribute to the health status of individuals and communities. Over the past 50 years, the United States has made significant progress in improving health outcomes for the nation as a whole.
“People are living longer, healthier, and more productive lives. However, this upward trend is neither as rapid as it should be – we lag behind dozens of other nations – nor is it uniformly experienced by people in the United States.” 2
This is why we work every day at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify concrete and actionable steps toward achieving health equity. We never lose sight of the “faces” and families behind the data. Consider June, for example. “Every time I hear you talk about health, it seems that poor people don’t have a chance [to be healthy]. Everyone can’t go to college, or eat the way you say we should eat. I wish you could see my grocery bill every time I go to the supermarket! And, the costs of medicines! Who can afford it? On any given day, it’s all I can do to just get to the end of the day without breaking down!”