If you are searching for a gift for an African-American woman for Valentine's Day, a birthday, or for no other reason than "because," may I suggest you consider purchasing "Health First: The Black Woman's Wellness Guide."

Written by Eleanor Hinton Hoytt and Hilary Beard, it is a holistic path to wellness -- mind, body and soul.

"This book really is about who we are, how we are, and what we know about black women -- their stories, their pain and their joys," Hoytt said.

"Health First" combines startling statistics and personal testimonies to send the clarion call that African-American women must fight through the microchallenges of living, such as job, marriage, divorce, child rearing, etc., to reach the macrocommitment to love themselves in such a way that will allow for healthy choices.

"In our quest to be all we can be, many of us labor under these very complex and conflicting roles that we play. And we often don't reveal the truth that we may be hurting," Hoytt said.

As I read "Health First," parts were akin to reading a graphic novel that compelled me not to put it down. To read the results of one study that projected "an estimated 50 percent of black females born in the year 2000 and beyond will develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime" is daunting.

However, this data is easier to digest when considering other statistics from the book:

  • 80 percent of black women are overweight or obese.

  • 45 percent of black women suffer from high blood pressure.

  • 46 percent of black women have high cholesterol.

  • 55 percent of black women are inactive.

    During my own nonscientific research, I made a startling discovery. Last year, I asked my largely African-American congregation to raise their hand if they or someone close to them had Type 2 diabetes, and every hand went up.

    The section on mental health really captured the book's overall objectives. Mental illness remains stigmatized in the society at large and is exacerbated among African-Americans.

    According to the findings in "Health First" only 7 percent of African-American women receive mental health treatment. Concerns about their family, their career, being perceived as "crazy," shame and the perception of being weak all play into the reasons why African-American women do not receive the help they need.

    Hoytt contends that acceptance -- not just for mental health but for all areas of wellness -- is key. It unlocks the door that leads to making better choices about how one is to live.

    The African-American mother tired from a long workday, who habitually opts for the fast-food drive-through or a quick dinner with a foundation based on processed food does not factor the health implications of that decision, nor does she factor that she validates corporate marketing strategies.

    In low-income communities of all colors, it is invariably easier to locate a fast-food establishment than it is to purchase fresh produce.

    But "Health First" offers a way to think differently. Each chapter begins with a testimony of hope, African-American women who found a way to address their challenges from health to domestic violence by breaking what is too often a cycle of pain to make better decisions about their lives.

    Hoytt contends that if African-American women are to move from being reactive to proactive they can ill-afford to ignore the factors that negatively impact their wellness.

    "African-American women must take decisive action to be about more than their illness or their pain," she said.

    This would indeed be a great gift for someone.

    "Health First" can be purchased on Amazon beginning Wednesday.

    Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or byron@byronspeaks.com.