How to be black and healthy?

The moderator called us a “dynamic duo.”

I kind of smiled inside.

Certainly my brother and I had illusions of animated cartoon grandeur when we were growing up; we were going to “take over the world!”

But to be introduced that way in our first on-stage event of our lives was a bucket list moment.

I had the pleasure of being featured speaker for Healthier Colorado a week ago with my headliner brother, Baratunde Thurston.

Yes, that Baratunde, of Onion, Daily Show, “How to Be Black” fame. Yes, the Baratunde who served as an adviser to the Obama administration. Yep, TedTalks, podcasts and more.


It was a wide-ranging conversation loosely bound together with a theme of duality, health and humor.


Feel free to watch this recording. Learn something more about the amazing work of the non-profit organization, Healthier Colorado and the real South Park. Watch a brother and sister swap stories and tall tales.


I wish to expand a little on duality and passion.

By some accounts my brother and I beat the statistics.

I was born in 1968, the iconic year of a revolutionary Civil Rights era.

I was a mixed-race child of an unwed black woman; a “bastard child” as my grandmother sometimes called me.

We were born in D.C., which earned the title of Murder Capital of the U.S. and one of the early petris dishes for the explosion of crack cocaine.

Baratunde went to a prestigious private school, Sidwell Friends and eventually to Harvard.

His father was a drug violence fatality statistic.

I went to Catholic schools, Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Banneker High School before attending Carnegie Mellon.

I was the survivor of years of sexual molestation and a suicide attempt.

We are not drug dealers, drug addicts, criminals, welfare loafers and we didn’t have babies as babies.

We “made it.” We are both respected in our communities and sometimes have something to say that people would like to hear.

The questions by the moderator in Colorado made me look more closely at he pointed out as dualities or seeming unlikely ends of equations.

I don’t see them as exceptional variables. I see them as seeds in our soil. It’s what we work from and where we speak from. It’s what we grew out of.

“Don’t become a statistic.”

This was a command I heard from countless teachers, mentors and guardians.

Teen pregnancy, drug addiction, incarceration – that fate is a false forgone conclusion for marginalized youths.

If you look at the statistics of our day by the time either of us were 19 we were likely to be parents, jailed, addicted or dead.

And while I do know people who fell into those cracks, that story does not represent the entire story. Just as it doesn’t today.


Today’s statistics of inequality and injustice, polls and ratings do  not say who we really are.

Then the moderator asked me if I could write the book on how to be black and healthy how would it go?

First, stay alive. (I didn’t say that but I should have)

But I speak of health being holistic in our presentation.

I take a “whole” view of health – from physical to social to economic to generational. That whole view has to include looking at all the barriers, obstacles, disparity and systemic oppression, not look away.


Every one of us has the seeds within us for infinite possibility and potential. None of us are throwaways. None of our stories have been foretold.


It’s up to us to nourish and protect every seed.

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