March 29, 2021
The Health Care Improvement Foundation’s (HCIF) Partner Profiles highlight the efforts of valued and innovative health leaders. Our partners’ work supports HCIF’s vision for a responsive, coordinated health care community that fulfills the needs of patients and consumers to achieve better health.
HCIF is proud to serve as project manager for Go to Know, a campaign to raise awareness about the impact of colorectal cancer on the African American community. Through this program, anyone can request an at-home fecal immunochemical testing kit, or “FIT kit”, to be screened for risk of colorectal cancers.
For this month’s partner profile, we are excited to feature a Go to Know partner, Sara Lomax-Reese. Sara is the President and CEO of WURD Radio, Pennsylvania’s only African-American owned talk radio station, and a longtime advocate for the health of the African-American community.
[Cassidy Tarullo]: How did you become interested in health awareness?
[Sara Lomax-Reese]: My father was a doctor and I remember growing up going to his office in South Philly, and working in his office as a teenager. He ended up having health care centers all over the city of Philadelphia in underserved communities. So, I was exposed at a very early age, seeing not just the science of medicine, but also the art. He was a brilliant, brilliant physician.
When I graduated from journalism school, I started reporting and writing for different newspapers and magazines. My father had stopped practicing and had developed a health care management organization, and the family business was providing managed care services to prisons and jails around the country. My entire family was involved in that business, except for me as a journalist; I was an outlier, because I wasn’t working in the family business. But, I did want to do something that really was meaningful within this journalism avenue. I was living in Atlanta, and I connected with another Black woman who was an editor at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and the two of us started talking and planning and exploring; we wanted to develop a magazine that would fill a void. Once we started doing the research, we realized that there were no magazines at the time that focused specifically on the Black community from a health perspective. I had this lightbulb moment where I realized that I could still be within the family business, but on my own terms. So, we pitched this idea of starting a consumer-based Black health magazine to my parents, and they were willing to take a chance on it. My co-founder, Valerie Boyd, and I, launched HealthQuest: The Publication of Black Wellness, in 1992. We published that for about 10 years, and it grew from a quarterly magazine that reached about 25,000 people to bimonthly with a national circulation to 500,000 people. It was a real journey, being a media person and developing a media business, but also from a health standpoint, and seeing the racial health disparities that exist. Throughout COVID, everybody has been saying, “Wow, racism exists in healthcare”. Well, we knew it. Anybody who’s been in health care has known that for a very long time. I’ve also learned so much about culturally-specific communications around health and wellness, and figuring out, what are some of the ways to really connect with a Black community with information that can oftentimes be scary and numbing? How do you break through, so you can connect and really help people? How do you spark interest and awareness proactively?
“Health and wellness is so deeply embedded in who I am at this point.”– Sara Lomax-Reese
I closed the magazine down in January 2002, and it was pretty devastating for me, because I just invested so much of my time and energy in it. But, my father bought WURD in 2002, and at that time, then General Manager, Cody Anderson asked me if I would want to host a weekly show. I started doing a three hour radio show called HealthQuest Live, that was basically a radio version of my magazine. That kept me very connected with health communications and health information. At the same time, I became a yoga teacher, and learned about holistic nutrition. I started doing workshops for Black women, that integrated yoga and holistic nutrition. I did that for a few years, and simultaneously, the radio station was continuing to evolve, though it was struggling financially. I was the only one in my family who had media experience, so even though I was really committed to not being a part of management and media entrepreneurship, I got drawn back in. I became the President and General Manager in 2010, and have been running the station ever since. I wasn’t able to keep the HealthQuest show on air, due to the day-to-day operations of the station, but health and wellness is so deeply embedded in who I am at this point.
[CT]: What accomplishments are you proudest of as the CEO of WURD?
[SLR]: That we’re still alive and kicking and growing. We’ve defied the odds. I think we might actually be the only independently-owned Black talk radio station in the country. Even if we’re not the only, we are one of very few. There’s a reason that there’s not a proliferation of media outlets like ours. It’s very difficult to build and maintain. I’m really proud of the fact that something that my dad ventured into as a community service, has survived. He always thought that it’s important to give the community a voice.
[CT]: What is one thing that you feel like people should know about colorectal cancer?
[SLR]: That it’s highly preventable. That you can survive. When you’re working multiple jobs, or under a lot of stress – you’re not sleeping well, you’re not eating well, and there’s all of these things that could potentially be indicators of a problem or a disease state. But you are so busy and so distracted, that you just chalk it up to, “Well, you know, I’m just tired”. I think that really cultivating mindfulness and awareness about your physical and emotional and mental wellbeing is super important.
[CT]: What have you learned so far by participating in the FIT Kit distribution program that has surprised you?
[SLR]: I don’t know if this surprised me, but I appreciate the fact that we have major partners at the table who are co-creating something that could have a real impact on the Black community. And I appreciate the fact that we have the commitment, willingness, creativity, and interest to figure it out, because it’s not easy. There are a lot of moving parts and complexities, and I appreciate the fact that everyone is willing to try, and to put in the work to put something together that we’re going to learn a lot from. It’s all hands on deck, and I appreciate that.
[CT]: If you could motivate people to tackle one issue or address one challenge in health, what would it be?
[SLR]: I remember when I was doing the magazine, I asked my father, “Dad, what’s the number one health issue facing the Black community,”, and he said, “Poverty”. I really think that until we can come up with strategies to create more equality, more access to financial resources and education, this continues. People get trapped into these cycles of disenfranchisement, and it becomes generational. Figuring out ways to create access and opportunity for people who have been left out and locked out is super important.
“It’s literally a matter of life and death that we share information in ways that are accessible and culturally specific.”– Sara Lomax-Reese
[CT]: Why do you feel that it’s important for media outlets like WURD to promote health topics to the community?
[SLR]: There’s a lot of history with Black people in the health care system, that has been very damaging and exploitative. So, I think that it’s very important to have outlets that people Black people trust to have their best interests at heart, and know that they’re not being taken advantage of. Because we suffer disproportionately from just about every disease state that exists, it’s literally a matter of life and death that we share information in ways that are accessible and culturally specific.
[CT]: What is a quote that inspires you?
[SLR]: I have three.
- If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. – Audre Lorde
- To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. – James Baldwin
- Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. – Marianne Williamson
[CT]: Lastly, we’d like to ask some fun questions about you outside of your professional life – what are some of your favorite hobbies, things you like to do for fun, favorite places you’ve visited?
[SLR]: I love hanging out with my friends – I have an amazing group of girlfriends. I love yoga and meditation, eating out, reading books, watching movies, and traveling. I want to travel to Bali. I studied abroad in college in Paris, and that was amazing – I love Paris. I traveled to South Africa, and that was an amazing trip too.