Elevation DC Magazine: ‘Netflix for the global black community’ to debut in May from Alexandria-based entrepreneur

DeShuna Spencer, a resident of Alexandria, Va. and founder of emPower Magazine, is in the running to win $50k through Women Who Tech’s Women Startup Challenge. On the line is an opportunity to grow her latest venture that may revolutionize the way African Americans consume media.

kweliTV is an interactive, streaming network offering on-demand indie films, web shows, documentaries, historical & educational content and news programming. Sounds a little like Netflix, right? Almost, except the platform is produced by and caters to the global black community.

The idea to start the platform came after Spencer observed the ways in which people of color and African descent are portrayed in the media. “If you were to watch cable and traditional TV shows, you’d see [black] women fighting each other on reality TV. If you see black men, they’re in the news as criminals. You can even go beyond that to the continent of Africa and see a lot of negative stereotypes, making people think of someone who’s from Africa as living in extreme poverty or extreme hunger,” says Spencer, who’s originally from Memphis, TN. “That’s not the true makeup of the African diaspora.”

Read the entire article on Elevation DC Magazine.

Technical.ly DC: DeShuna Spencer is building kweliTV, a streaming network featuring black voices

I was featured in an article by Technical.ly DC about my new start-up, kweliTV. Check it out:

DeShuna Spencer has a pretty good idea of what programs she wants to host on kweliTV, a stealth-mode streaming network aimed at black audiences.

There will be independent films, from Nigeria perhaps.

There will be news, black fashion, up-and-coming performers, black history programming and documentaries on issues like the school-to-prison pipeline.

There will also be shows on how to manage a budget, stay healthy and keep a marriage going.

“It’s more than just entertainment,” she said. “It’s also educational.”

And it’s also more than TV: it’s a streaming network, which she hopes will tap into an emerging market. “Most of my friends don’t have cable; they stream movies, they stream the content.” Read the entire article.

Washington Informer Feature: Millennials Lead ‘Black Out’ During MLK Holiday

I was interviewed for an article by The Washington Informer about my new business venture, kweliTV, being chosen to receive free marketing services from young professionals in the DC area during MLK Holiday service project. Check it out:

DeShuna Spencer shared Adofo’s sentiments. Spencer, a journalist and filmmaker, visited Sankofa in the hopes of developing a marketing strategy that would help her launch kweliTV, a live streaming network that features independent films, documentaries, and educational programming for people of the African diaspora. She recently received a grant of $20,000 to help her get the project ready by the fall.

“Kweli means ‘truth’ in Swahili,” Spencer said. “I was frustrated with the images of black people I saw in America and Africa. When it comes to television, you don’t really get a true picture of the people of the diaspora. The content in the media, whether it’s a popular streaming service or television network, doesn’t uplift someone like me. I would really like to support independent filmmakers and host original content that would educate members of our community,” said Spencer, an Alexandria, Va. resident. Read the entire Washington Informer article.

DeShuna Spencer Wins $20,000 NewU/Ford Foundation Grant for kweliTV

The New U: News Entrepreneurs Working through UNITY project announced today that its two 2014 seed grant winners have been selected based on a weighted judges vote (90%) combined with a crowd-sourced peer vote (10%).

After the public vote concluded, a panel of esteemed, anonymous industry judges reviewed all candidates’ submissions and revised video pitches, work they had improved after attending New U 2104 start-up camps. Each winner will receive $20,000 in seed grant money to help fund their business, said Co-Directors Alli Joseph and Doug Mitchell.

The 2014 winners are:

  • DeShuna Spencer, Founder of “KweliTV”.
  • Chris Dell, CEO/Founder of “Go Baller”

“I’m truly humbled and honored to receive this $20,000 grant from NewU,” said DeShuna Spencer. “The idea for kweliTV came to me after becoming frustrated with the negative images of blacks in the media and the lack of quality content on cable TV and streaming services. I think it is important for communities of color to control our images through media ownership. That’s why I am so excited about winning this grant.”

Chris Dell also shared his excitement. “”We at Go Baller are so thankful for this opportunity. Our team is more motivated than ever before to deliver a great product and to build a great business! I’d like to offer a personal thank you to Doug Mitchell, Alli Joseph, the Ford Foundation and UNITY: Journalists for Diversity. They created this, they were the founders and innovators of this special startup competition, and none of this would be possible without them. It’s time to take things to the next level!”

In 2014, seven companies attended one of two two-day “boot camps” to learn vital business skills and pitch their ideas to a group of mentors and guest entrepreneurship experts. The companies recorded their business pitches on video as part of their application to the program, and again to complete their participation in the competition. In November, UNITY and NewU asked members and the rest of the web community to vote for the best business concepts.

The NewU project delivers training boot camps and strategic mentorship to develop and nurture the entrepreneurship skills of journalists of color and prepare them for media business ownership. New U, in its fifth year, is a Ford Foundation-funded program and is administered by UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, Inc.

The New U project is intended to increase the number of innovative thinkers and product developers who are of color, providing them with a forum in which to develop and express innovative ideas. “Year to year, we adjust our programming to address the needs of the shifting entrepreneurial journalism industry,” said Alli Joseph, program co-Director. “Our New U fellows are the people we expect to see as strong leaders in the diverse start-up community over the next decade.”

For more information about the grant winners and their projects, go to: http://unityjournalists.org/newu/newu-2014/newu-2014-winners/

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About UNITY: Journalists for Diversity
UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, an alliance of three journalism associations, is the nation’s most diverse journalism organization. A coalition of the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association, UNITY is a strategic alliance advocating fair and accurate news coverage about people of color and LGBT issues and aggressively challenges news organizations to increase diversity in whom they employ at all levels of their companies.

For more information, visit www.unityjournalists.org or call (703) 854-3585.

About the Ford Foundation
The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. It is guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

I Was Sexually Assaulted By A Teenage Nobody And Was Too Afraid to Report It

When I was in the seventh grade, a classmate assaulted me. I was 11-years-old, approaching my 12th birthday and attending Airways, a school where a small percentage of the teachers acted more like babysitters than actual educators. One of my worthless classes was music. The “teacher” pretty much let us do anything we wanted. At the beginning of the class, he would take roll. After that, he would put in a movie for us to watch while he read a book at his desk. At that time, the music room was in the basement of the school so many of my classmates would hangout in the hallway talking, making up rhymes or playing catch with someone’s football because we had the entire floor to ourselves.

I never liked hanging out in the hallway because the kids were too loud and rowdy. But I had befriended a guy in my class. And one day he asked if I wanted to hangout in the hallway with a group of kids from the music class. At that time, I was quiet and extremely shy making it difficult to make friends. Hesitantly, I was yes; I didn’t want to be antisocial. So I went. There were about five of us in the hallway. For the first 10 minutes, we just talked about kids’ stuff: what we watched on television, the latest new rap artist. And out of no where, the guy who I thought was my friend, picks me up in the air, places his hands up my dress and shoves his fingers violently inside of me. It was painful and I could feel his long nails scratching my insides. I was swept up so quickly that I was probably silent for the first few seconds. Then, I began to scream. Stop! Stop! I said as I was trying to move his hands away from me while simultaneously trying to push myself down to the floor. But he was strong and very big (at least 6’3) for a 7th grader because he failed a grade. I was 5’3 and weighed about 100 pounds at the time. All while, the group of about five kids from my class looked on saying and doing nothing. He eventually put me down. The entire incident spanned about two to three minute, but it felt like an eternity. I ran into the bathroom crying. One of my female “friends” ran after me. She asked if I was okay. I said no, of course not! I asked her why didn’t she help me. She said because I hesitated for a second, so she thought I “wanted it.” I told her that I was caught off guard. I asked her why didn’t she help me down when I was screaming. She just stared at me, eventually saying she was sorry. She then walked out of the bathroom and left me there alone.

I spent at least 20 minutes sitting on the cold bathroom floor thinking about what I should do next. I was humiliated and ashamed. Should I tell my unengaged music teacher? Should I even go back to the class? What would my parents think? How will the kids view me after this incident? With about a minute to spare before changing classes, I went back to the music room to retrieve my book bag. I tried to avoid the boy who attacked me as I grabbed my bag under the desk. But he walked in front of me and began to smile while sniffing his fingers. I was further humiliated.

I went to my next class in a daze. In my 11-year-old mind, I began to replay the events and questioned what I could’ve done to “deserve it.” Was it the skirts that I had to wear everyday at the time because of my religion? Did I say something in a conversation that triggered it? I just couldn’t understand why.

I finished the rest of the day thinking that I would make a decision about telling someone later. I wasn’t sure how the school administration would treat me. They already assumed that most of the kids were oversexed. Truthfully, I was one of a few kids that I knew at the school who was still a virgin. So would they think I was like the other girls? I was afraid to tell my parents. They were super religious and I didn’t know how they would respond to it. I wondered if the principal of Airways or my parents would blame me because I wasn’t supposed to be in the hallway during class time anyway. Looking back on it, I’m sure both of my parents would’ve been at the school fighting for me, but I was just too ashamed to look at my dad in the eyes and tell him that a boy in my class touched me inappropriately.

I was also fearful for my life. The guy who attacked me had some close friends in gangs. I was afraid that by telling on him that it would result in my family or myself getting hurt. I felt so alone; so I decided to never mention it again. Well, until now. And the reason I’m doing so is because I’m sick—damn near physically—at how some people are treating the women who are accusing Bill Cosby of rape. One of the main arguments I hear people say is: Why did the women wait so long to say something?

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) “only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults” are reported.” The BJS suggests that the reasons why so many sexual assaults go unreported are due to: self-blame or guilt; shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter; humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual’s perceptions; fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime; and the lack of trust in the criminal justice system.”

In Cosby’s case, given the fact that he’s not only famous, but also wildly popular, it can definitely add to the women’s anxiety about coming forward to report the crime. When I was assaulted, I felt like I had no one to turn to, especially given the fact that there were at least five witnesses who saw the attack and watched silently as it happened.

What’s also alarming is how men in the media are handling the conversation. One TV news reporter pretty much asked one of the accusers why she didn’t bite Cosby’s penis when she was forced to go down on him. And this morning on a show, a panel debated about what Cosby’s “best strategy” should be when dealing with the accusations as if they were discussing what strategy the Democrats should take after losing the Senate. I was disgusted.

Some question whether financial motives are involved. As far as I know, only one woman has received an undisclosed settlement out of court—one woman out of 16. The jokes and memes floating around social media about Bill Cosby’s rape allegations compounded by people expressing their disappointment that the 20-year-old reruns of The Cosby Show will no longer air on TV Land shows how we as a society devalue victims of sexual assault.

What more evidence do we need before we believe that the beloved TV father figure is actually a sexual predator? It’s a hard pill to swallow. I know. I am very close in age to Keshia Knight Pulliam. I—like most kids during that time—was infatuated with Dr. Huxtable’s charm: his G-rated humor, his clever parenting techniques and his passion for education. We have to look beyond a fictional character that we saw once a week on a 30-minute sitcom. In a society that idolizes those we see on television, we need to see many of our “idols” as they really are: flawed people who are capable of committing heinous acts.

So let’s stop the rape debate once and for all. Let’s stop coming up with every excuse under the sun to justify Cosby’s innocence like questioning the women’s motives (i.e. doing it for money) or insinuating that they deserved it (i.e. saying there’s more than one way not to give a blow job during a TV interview).

The timing of when the women decided to come forward is irrelevant. It’s been more than 25 years since a no-named, teenage classmate attacked me during my music class and I never told a soul. So I don’t think it’s that farfetched that 16 women—overcome with shame—waited years, even decades, to admit that a beloved, American icon raped them.

This article was originally published on my online magazine, emPowermagazine.com

Why #IfTheyGunnedMeDown Teaches A Great Lesson on Black Stereotypes

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It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousands words; but is it really? After Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012 finally made national news after pressure from the public, depending on the media outlet, you saw two versions of Trayvon: the “typical American teenager” photo that showed a smiling Trayvon being embraced by his father and the “thug” Trayvon who was seen shirtless pointing a middle finger at the camera.

Whenever someone wanted to justify why Trayvon “deserved getting murdered” after walking home from 7-11 in Florida, they used shirtless Trayvon.

For any grieving parent, the fact that their unarmed child is gunned down is painful enough, but when the media buys into negative stereotypes of African Americans by scouring through the dead child’s personal Facebook and Twitter photos and using an image of the teen blowing smoke into a camera, it adds insult to injury. And this past on Sunday, black youth took to Twitter to talk about it.

Using the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, dozens of black males and some females posted two social media images of themselves side-by-side: one picture that someone might consider to be negative or “thuggish” and the other one in which society would find as positive. It was in response to the murder of 18-year-old Mike Brown, who was shot multiple times on Saturday afternoon by a police officer in Ferguson, MO.

I compiled some of the images posted by black men on Twitter. It is one of the best lessons I’ve seen on how one image can change the way a black person is perceived in the media.

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I know what it’s like to be stereotyped. It has happened quite often living in my Old Town Alexandria neighborhood. It’s a historic district that has pristine homes between $500,000 to multi-millions sprinkled in with public housing. Despite the fact that the Washington, DC metro area is home to the most affluent and educated African Americans in the nation, on numerous occasions I’ve been mistaken for someone who lives in the housing projects. When walking my dog, I’ve been asked more than once: “How can you afford him?” Last year while my husband and I were planting grasses in our front yard like many of our white neighbors do, on two occasions people walking by asked about our “landscaping rates.” Once at a community meeting on the construction of a new school, an official mistook me for a Section 8 resident. She said that the entire neighborhood needed to work together for the sake of the new school, “whether you own a home on Cameron Street,” pointing at a white male, “or live in Jefferson Village (low-income housing),” pointing at me.

A year after moving into our newly renovated row house, I let my dog out front before bed. With my dog’s leg in the air doing his thing, a female cop drives by, sees me, stops and backs up right in front of my house. She flashed a big light on me. I began to ask her what was the problem. She ignored me. Instead, I could hear her describing me on her walkie-talkie. Again, I asked, “What’s the problem.” This time I said it a little louder. She never told me anything. She just kept flashing her extremely bright light at me. “What is your problem? “I screamed. There were still no words from her, just the light in my face. When my dog finished his business, I turned around to head back inside. The entire time she kept her light flashing on me as I closed the door behind myself. Once inside, she finally drove away. I was furious. I felt like I was in Mississippi in the 1960s trying to segregate my neighborhood and getting intimidated by the cops. Even as a black, professional woman, I’m still seen as a possible threat or someone who couldn’t afford to live in the house in which I was standing in front of.

What if that female police officer would’ve thought that my tone was threatening to her and used deadly force on me, I wonder what image the national media would had used of me?

I originally published this piece in my online magazine, emPowermagazine.com.

What Do You See When You Look In The Mirror?

reflectionofselfinmirror

I went to an entrepreneurship conference a few weeks ago and a workshop leader asked each attendee to pick a partner and look at each other in the eye. One person’s role was to talk about their business goals, while the other person listened. Every time the person with the aspirations spoke, the other’s job was to say how crazy the person was for wanting to reach their goals.

“Be as mean as possible,” the facilitator said. I looked at my partner and told her that I couldn’t do it. I did not want to diminish her dreams; I wanted to encourage them.

When most of the attendees began questioning the purpose of the exercise out loud, the facilitator said, “But we say much worse things to ourselves everyday.”

The room was frozen for a moment. Everyone looked around, as if we were all too ashamed to admit this fact. Then like a slow thaw, the women in the room began to shake their heads in agreement that yes; we do talk to ourselves harshly.

The exercise taught me a valuable lesson: never speak to myself in a manner that I wouldn’t dare say to someone I love, let alone a stranger who I just met at a seminar. I am my own worst critic. I have said the meanest and most vile things to myself. I have devalued my accomplishments and minimized my God-given talents. I have criticized and second-guessed many business decisions that I have made. If I’m honest with myself, I’m not very kind to the person I see in the mirror everyday.

So now I have an exercise for you. Go to your closest mirror and take a look at yourself. How would you describe the person looking back at you?

You might say that the person you see is kind, beautiful or smart—all of the things we tell ourselves that we should tell ourselves when looking at our reflection in the mirror. But how many times have we said the opposite—that we’re dumb or unattractive—things we wouldn’t dare say to our closet friends or family. You might think, “I would never say that about myself.” But the truth is that we do a lot and don’t even realize it.

You don’t get the “life-changing” money from a potential funder and you tell yourself that maybe you should give up on your business venture. Your boyfriend informs you he’s not interested anymore and you begin to nitpick every inch of your body. Or, even worse, before you submit your résumé for your ideal job, you talk yourself out of sending it because you think you’re not qualified anyway. We do this to ourselves all of the time.

As a child I had extreme low self-esteem. I always walked with my head down. I hated the way that I looked. I thought I was too dumb to make a decent life for myself in the future. I had aspirations to run for class queen or compete in regional choir competitions, but my fear of failing and insecurities paralyzed any ambition that I had burning inside. The only thing that I thought I was remotely good at was writing and storytelling, and even when I did that, I still felt like it wasn’t good enough. I spent a lot of my free time at home buried in my journal writing down my thoughts or my latest short story. I would agonize over every word and every detail until I thought it was perfect. But I never felt like I succeeded at perfection. It was quite crippling. It prevented me from submitting my work to teen magazines and book publishers. Growing up, I kept telling myself over and over again how bad my work was. And after a while, I started to really believe it. By my senior year of high school I stopped writing on a consistent basis.

However, I began to evolve in college. By my junior year, my self-esteem and confidence grew. This transformation led me to where I am today: a magazine publisher and radio host. At times, the little insecure girl from Memphis comes out questioning my ambition. However, the longer that I live, I’m learning to tackle my inner negativity head on.

For instance, when I got a call from the program director at 89.3 FM in DC asking me to come to the studio to discuss hosting my own show. I was excited and totally petrified. I thought about my slight stutter or the fact that in my mind I sound like a cartoon character instead of having a polished broadcasting voice. Then came the what ifs. What if I sounded stupid live on the air? What if I’m boring? To add to the anxiety, I only had less than two weeks to prepare a live show, research compelling topics and find expert guests. On the day of my premiere, I was almost tempted to keep it a secret until I “perfected” my radio show. But there is no such thing as perfection. It’s something that I’m learning everyday. Knowing this fact keeps my mind at ease when “little DeShuna” tells me how much I screwed up a radio segment or fell short on a grant application.

To counteract that, a few time a day I set aside time to meditate and pray. And whenever some mean-spirited thought surfaces telling me how dare I dream so big because dreams don’t come true for short, Southern girls like myself, I begin to recite positive affirmations: I am good enough. I will be successful. I am wise. I am worthy of greatness. I’m not perfect—and that’s okay. I’m a work in progress, getting better everyday.

As a writer, I believe in the power of words. Words have life. Positive words are like water to our budding aspirations. Without it, dreams would wither and die just like any living creature deprived of water.

The next time you find yourself thinking negatively about your intelligence, your relationship, your career, whatever it is—ask yourself would you utter what you’re saying in that very moment to your best friend or sibling.

Do You Know Your A1C? Actress S. Epatha Merkerson Tells You Why You Should Know

S. Epatha Merkerson

For nearly 30 years, S. Epatha Merkerson has charmed audiences with her electric performances on television, film and on stage. Merkerson—best known as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren in Law & Order, a role that she played for played for nearly 17 years—has received a Golden Globe, an Emmy Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Obie Award and four NAACP Image Awards for her stellar work. But with all of her success in acting, what people may not know is that Merkerson is living with type 2 diabetes.

The award-winning actress is using her diagnosis to bring awareness to type 2 diabetes and urge the 26 other million Americans living with the disease to find out what their A1C is, a simple blood that tracks a person’s blood sugar over a three-month period. Merkerson has teamed up with Merck to encourage those with type 2 diabetes to take America’s Diabetes Challenge.

While in Washington, D.C. for an American Diabetes Association Empowerment event, Merkerson spoke with emPower magazine Founder/Publisher DeShuna Spencer about why she decided to partner with Merck and how she’s thriving with her diabetes.

DeShuna Spencer: How did you first learn that you were diabetic?

[quote align=’right’]A1C is a simple blood test that gives an estimate of average blood sugar over the past 2 to 3 months.[/quote]

S. Epatha Merkerson: The odd thing is that I was here in Washington, D.C. There was a health fair at the convention center. I was the celebrity for the event. We talked about exercising and being healthy. Howard University had some tables set up for people to get tested for various illnesses. With the cameras on, they took my blood sugar. When the cameras turned off, the doctor came over and said would I mind coming to the back. I said, “No, not at all.” I was thinking he might want a photograph or an autograph. But he said, “You know your blood sugar was very high and I think you need to talk with your doctor.” Indeed, I met with my doctor and found out I had type 2 diabetes. I didn’t recognize the symptoms. As having a family history of it, I probably should’ve been more cognizant. That’s how I found out.

S. Epatha Merkerson partnered with Merck to launch America's Diabetes Challenge. (Photo credit: Jason DeCrow/AP Images for Merck)

S. Epatha Merkerson partnered with Merck to launch America’s Diabetes Challenge. (Photo credit: Jason DeCrow/AP Images for Merck)

DeShuna: I’m sure that was very shocking for you to find out that you have diabetes after doing a celebrity appearance. But thankfully, you found out when you did. I’ve heard so many horror stories of people passing out behind the wheel and waking up in the hospital to find out they had a diabetic crisis. Looking back on it, do you now recognize the warning signs?

S. Epatha: Yes, exactly. I have learned that it affects people differently. I have a brother who is two years older than I am and he is suffering pretty badly from the affects of type 2 diabetes. One of the things that he and I have been discussing is the fact that it is a manageable disease. What we’re trying to do with this partnership with Merck is really grassroots education. If you know your A1C number, that allows your doctor or your health care provider to help you in managing your diabetes. The A1C is a simple blood test. It measures your blood sugar level for a two to three month period. When you take your blood sugar everyday, you know what’s happening with your blood sugar at that very moment, but knowing your A1C allows you and your doctor to set up an individualized treatment plan for you.

DeShuna: So, treatment should be different for everyone?

S. Epatha: Yes, it should be. So what works for me might not work for someone else. What I learned is that there are 26 million people in this country with diabetes. Five million of those people are African American and nearly half of us don’t know what are A1C number is, which means they’re not in a treatment program. By knowing that number, you will have a plan that will help you with diet, your exercise regimen, and medication—if that’s what you need. We’re trying to get people to pledge and know their A1C so they can work with their doctors to come up with a plan and set a goal to retain that A1C number. We’ve found that nearly half the people with diabetes don’t even know what A1C is.

DeShuna: I’ll admit, I’ve never heard of A1C until I began doing research for this article. I don’t have diabetes, but I can image for those who do have it and not know, that’s scary.

S. Epatha: I know. The interesting thing is having conversations with my doctors about my A1C. He was saying that my A1C should be below seven percent and I wasn’t paying attention. Then I had to tell myself, “Come on Epatha, this is serious.” My dad died from complications from diabetes when I was 30. I will be 62 in November. It’s time to pay attention. So when Merck asked me to be a part of this campaign, it was a no-brainer. Sometimes you need to put a face to things and people know that you’re struggling as well.

[quote align=’right’]The American Diabetes Association’s guidelines recommend many people with diabetes have an A1C of less than 7 percent to help reduce the risk of complications.[/quote]

DeShuna: I think what you mentioned earlier is critical on how management is so important if people pay attention to their blood sugar, eat healthy and exercise. But it’s not that easy for everyone. Why do you think that is?

S. Epatha: It’s just difficult because type 2 diabetes is adult onset so you’ve already created habits for yourself and it’s changing habits as you get older, which is very difficult. I’d be the first to tell you that sometimes I get off track, but I know what I need to do. People know me from Law & Order and they’ll see that I’ve lost quite a bit of weight since doing the show. That was the biggest part for me—it was my intake. I was eating like a 12-year-old. I’ve changed my habits. I want to tell folks not to get discouraged, but to try. It is something that’s, especially difficult in our community; it’s rampant. It is the fourth leading cause of death in our community. It’s important that we really start talking about this. I just remember hearing people in my family, “Yeah, she got a touch of sugar.” So, you’re afraid you’re going to lose your sight or lose your leg, but if you manage it, you can live a better life.

DeShuna: What’s your current regimen to manage the disease?

S. Epatha: I walk a lot. Finding some form of exercise that I could commit to was critical. That was the biggest thing for me in changing my habits. In New York, it’s so easy to just walk the streets. Three or four days a week I do serious power walking. I don’t get on the subway. I don’t get on the bus. I won’t drive. I’ll walk somewhere if it’s a mile or two. With eating, for me it was moving away from carbs like French fries and bread.

DeShuna: I never realized that eating a lot of carbohydrates cause type 2 diabetes.

S. Epatha: Those things turn to sugar. Also, my doctor prescribed medication for me. That has changed over the years. It’s a struggle for me. Partnering with Merck, I’m letting people know that I’m a person who has a family history [of the disease], who understood what it could do, and I still struggle. It’s time for us to look within our community and say there’s a better way.

DeShuna: And go to the doctor, right? If you would not have gotten tested while doing a celebrity appearance in DC, who knows how you would’ve found out?

[quote align=’right’]Three or four days a week I do serious power walking. I don’t get on the subway. I don’t get on the bus. I won’t drive. I’ll walk somewhere if it’s a mile or two. With eating, for me it was moving away from carbs like French fries and bread. —S. Epatha Merkerson[/quote]

S. Epatha: Exactly. If you don’t have a regular doctor, find one. Also, know what your A1C is, which is as simple as taking a blood test. What I’ve learned is that people who don’t have diabetes, your A1C should be between 4 to 6 percent. Those who do have diabetes, it should be below 7 percent. When you think of the fact that nearly half of those with type 2 diabetes are not meeting their A1C goal, it’s a wake up call for all of us, not just for African-Americans.

DeShuna: You have a very active acting career. Being so busy, is it challenging to manage the disease?

S. Epatha: If you leave your house with a meal, then you won’t go to the restaurant. You won’t go to the store and buy things that you shouldn’t get. It’s all about planning. Not just for you, but it’s also you and your doctor coming up with a plan that works best for you. It doesn’t mean taking away things that you like. Everything should be in moderation. That’s what works best for me. Watch the portions that you put on your plate and make sure that you’re exercising. Taking the skin off the chicken, which is so hard for me to do.

DeShuna: Yes, I’ sure taking the skin off is hard. It would be for me. But, you only get one body and one life.

S. Epatha: Yes, you’re exactly right. That’s why you have to be diligent—that’s with anything worth preserving.

Listen to an interview Spencer did on her weekly radio show, emPower Hour, on DC’s 89.3 FM WPFW with Merkerson. To learn about A1C and to take the pledge to better manage your type 2 diabetes, visit www.AmericaDiabetesChallenge.com.

I originally wrote this Q&A for my online magazine, emPowermagazine.com.

emPower Hour, 89.3 FM WPFW

emPower Hour is a radio show Produced and Hosted by DeShuna Spencer on WPFW 89.3 FM in Washington DC. The weekly program is an interactive, fast-paced social justice program that tackles issues facing her community, highlights individuals in the DC metropolitan area who are impacting their communities, and actively

emPower Hour occurs every Thursday at 2 pm EST.

LISTEN TO ARCHIVED SHOWS HERE

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