By Regina L. Martin

I am an African-American woman living with type 2 diabetes. I recently obtained a temporary customer service position with a national association dedicated to fighting diabetes. It was my dream job.

Here is my story:

I know about diabetes, particularly the scourge that it is in the African-American community and other communities of color. I live in what could be considered an urban area.  On a regular basis, I see my folks eking out a means of survival. In some ways it is a decorated food desert. Grocery stores without palatable fruits and vegetables. Young and old folks surviving on four chicken wings, French fries and mumbo sauce for lunch and dinner. Young folks existing on Fun Yuns and root beer for breakfast.

I have seen folks with amputations and premature death from this dreaded disease.

Therefore, when I was given the opportunity to work with this association, I did a dash for the finish line. I have had diabetes for over 21 years. I know the ins and outs of the malady. My parents both died from complications from the disease, all too early.  And so when this opportunity appeared, I jumped at the chance to honor my parents and to honor my sister, who was also my godmother, who died at age 59 from a massive heart attack; an age I am fast approaching. I believe in honoring people because I have been honored.

I know a thing or two about diabetes; I know about obesity and high glucose levels leading to blindness, heart attacks and stroke. I know about the devastation and loss of contributions by God-fearing folks who just happen to have diabetes.

I was told I am stellar at customer service. I know things that can’t be taught—how to empathize with people. I know because I have walked in their shoes. Where did I go wrong with this job? I had difficulty navigating the computer. I was learning but not fast enough.

My desire? To raise my voice for those who have no voice or haven’t found their voice yet. To raise my voice for the 350-pound Black women solely taking care of their children. Putting food on the table without adequate health insurance, all the while fighting “sugar.”

To raise my voice for the ones who have gone before me. For the ones coming after me.

For the young brother, named Fabrice, who told me yesterday that if he doesn’t exercise he will die. I raise my voice and smile because he gets it.

I am an advocate for change. I raised my voice in the customer service training class and spoke for those who never had a chance. I raise my voice to fight. Diabetes does not have to be the scourge on our communities. 

I raise my voice for my sister, Marilyn L. Martin, the rapping shrink, who treats our mental health. I salute all the nameless folks who gallantly make their way each and every day. For my brother, Joey, who works with Native American communities.  And, of course, for my big brother, Jimmy, who has hosted telethons about health conditions. For my sister, Doretta, who is fighting the good fight, after a stroke. She has triumphed.

It didn’t work out for me with the association. But at least I had my say. On the day they called me into the conference room to let me go, I asked ahead of time if I could resign. I had my say. I read an earlier version of this essay between my tears.

I will continue to raise my voice. Perhaps I should have been practicing my computer navigation skills, instead of writing this essay. But some things just need to be said.

For all those suffering with “sugar,” I salute you. It is not an easy journey. I have been fortunate to know others who are fighting off amputations and life-altering complications. Theirs is a life of struggle. I am struggling right along with you.  Ashe, a Yoruba word that means and so it is. And so I paraphrase the words of Frederick Douglass, nothing worth having happens without a struggle. Salude.

Part II—Tributes

For Rebecca L. Martin, my mother, who was on dialysis for 18 months, because her kidneys and decades of hypertension failed her.  For James L. Martin Sr. my father, who had a stroke and sustained right-side paralysis. He learned how to walk with a cane and then used a scooter, all the while still taking beautiful photographs.

I raise my voice for the activists, feet numb and hearts heavy, but there remains a song in their step.

I, too, am starting to feel the ravages of diabetes. After a person has had diabetes for as long as I have, there is a 60 percent chance of neuropathy.  But I have Medicare and excellent health care. I am determined not to lose any limbs.

I have food this week. I did not have to go to the food pantry at my church and other people’s churches. I am thankful for those kind souls who provided me food when I had none. Tonight, I am thankful for grilled salmon and sautéed spinach, because I was able to stretch my pennies. Oh and I will have a half a cup of ‘tater salad made with Hellman’s mayonnaise because Black folks have to have potato salad some of the time.

I salute Dr. Rodney Ellis, my primary care physician, who asked me at my last appointment, “How are you doing spiritually?” And for the former head of the department of endocrinology at Howard University Hospital, Dr. James T. Williams, who treated me like a daughter. I brought him flowers the day he retired.

I will raise my voice until I am hoarse. Until my pens and pencils runs out of ink and lead. We must stop this disease that is killing us without abandon.

I raise my voice for my friend Janet who doesn’t check her blood sugar. For Miss Iris, who fights the battle with nicotine daily.

I know you may be saying, okay we get it. But I must raise my voice for my neighbor, Lorenzo, who was a cook in the Navy and now cooks nutritious meals for neighbors and friends, who may not have a healthy meal otherwise. He gives away plate after plate of food. He never complains about helping others. He is a generous soul.

Finally, I have to raise my voice for Pastor Bruce F. Haskins, who lost his fight with diabetes complications on Jan. 21, 2016. He leaves behind a legacy of service.

In the words of the brothers and sisters on the street corners, I pour a little corner of wine out for those who aren’t here—gone but never forgotten.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Afro-American Newspapers.