Chihamba’s Ladies Night highlights local nonprofits, women’s health

Chihamba’s African American Cultural Arts Festival continued its 29th year on Friday with a focus on women’s health and empowerment.

Founded in the late 1980s by Donna Graham, Chihamba is an African-American cultural organization that provides African drumming and dancing classes to the Charlottesville community. It created the cultural arts festival in 1989 to further develop awareness and appreciation through music, dance and storytelling.

Held in partnership with Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, Ladies Night at the George Washington Carver Recreation Center focused on women’s health issues. It also included a screening of the documentary “RAW” and a fashion show featuring African apparel from Kenechi Fashions.

After a short welcome address from Chihamba co-chairs Ruby Stradford Boston and Lillie Williams and a performance from local singer Davina Jackson, about 40 attendees were invited to visit the health information tables sponsored by University of Virginia Cancer Center, Mother Health International and Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital.

Dr. Johnsa Morris, vice president and chief nursing officer at Martha Jefferson, discussed the various social, economic and environmental barriers that African-Americans face, encouraging attendees to not just accept but to take control of them.

“Equity is about what opportunities that we get that are equal to opportunities of others,” Morris said in her keynote address. “Those opportunities don’t just refer to our colors but it refers to many other barriers that may break down or may lead us to not get the services that we are really ethnically and morally entitled to.”

One of the main priorities of Thomas Jefferson Health District is the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, which is more common among African-Americans, Latinxs, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, as well as in the elderly.

“We are all … at high risk for diabetes and for inequity in health care,” Morris said. “Almost 19 percent of our residents ages 20 and greater have diabetes. Almost 30 percent of our residents who have Medicare or Medicaid have diabetes. If you don’t know the right questions to ask about your diabetes, then that puts you in a different realm of health equity.”

Morris emphasized the importance of a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, to prevent diabetes. She also encouraged attendees to seek active communication with their physicians and learn about the resources that are available to them.

“Read everything, listen to everything, and share everything.” Morris concluded. “Knowledge without sharing is nothing.”

Ladies Night also featured City of Promise Sisters of Nia, which provides cultural and educational programming for socioeconomically disadvantaged middle school girls living in urban communities, and it spotlighted the National Coalition of 100 Black Women of the Charlottesville and Metropolitan Area, a nonprofit volunteer organization addressing health, educational and economic issues in local communities.

Chihamba’s celebration will continue on Saturday with the Cultural Arts Festival at Booker T. Washington Park, which showcases local artists, vendors and community organizations. It also features children’s activities and a variety of music. The welcome processional begins at 10 a.m.

On Thursday, a Taste of Africa dinner included Ghanaian and Kenyan cuisine.

“More than anything [the festival] has just become a gathering place,” said Page West Hill, co-chair of Chihamba’s African American Heritage Scholarship Program. “You can see people that maybe you haven’t seen.”

“We hope that the community at large sees the value and will come out to support in many ways,” West Hill said. “This is just one of many [events] in Charlottesville where we tell our own story.”