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"Built around the natural conversations that take place among women in beauty salons, [my Schweitzer project]  provides opportunities for these women to talk about—and learn about—healthy living," Sanders says.

“Built around the natural conversations that take place among women in beauty salons, [my Schweitzer project] provides opportunities for these women to talk about—and learn about—healthy living,” Sanders says.

Last year, the Philadelphia Inquirer featured Schweitzer Fellow Kenji Taylor’s work to bring hypertension screenings to West Philadelphia’s African-American barbershops.

Now, Schweitzer Fellow Anjelica Sanders is implementing a community-based health education effort in the same vein as Taylor’s: she’s bringing health education to beauty salons in low-income Philadelphia neighborhoods, with the goal of promoting conversations—and action—about healthy living.

“Raised in a family of hairdressers, I am extremely familiar with the salon environment,” says Sanders, one of this year’s Schweitzer Fellows and a student in St. Joseph’s University Graduate Health Education Program.I saw an opportunity to involve African-American women in conversation about health and fitness in an environment where they were comfortable and engaged in great amounts of dialogue.”

ASF: Why did you decide to develop your particular project?

AS: During my undergraduate career, I learned about our society’s obesity epidemic. In many cases, complications from obesity—including diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, and stroke—can be prevented, managed, and even reversed through lifestyle changes.

But you cannot choose an option that you do not know exists. As an African-American from urban Philadelphia, with a grandmother who suffers from preventable, manageable, reversible type II Diabetes Mellitus, I wanted to make it my goal to educate and enlighten people on leading healthy lifestyles so they might eventually make the choice to do so.

I had already begun thinking of many creative approaches to health education in urban communities—specifically low-income, low educational/literacy level ones. When I had the opportunity to apply to become an Albert Schweitzer Fellow in Greater Philadelphia, I jumped right in.

For my Schweitzer project, I came up with Black Women BIO: Beauty Inside & Out (BWBIO) in partnership with the Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance. Built around the natural conversations that take place among women in beauty salons, BWBIO provides opportunities for these women to talk about—and learn about—healthy living.

By talking about health in the context of a beauty routine that women are already invested in, we can connect women with health resources and promote health and beauty from the inside out. What’s on the outside doesn’t matter, and won’t last, if you are not taking care of what is going on in the inside. I hope that my project sparks salon conversations about healthy living: Who’s working out and eating better? Who’s living longer and has noticed an increased quality of life?

ASF: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?

AS: I hope that my project will not only educate people, but also empower them. I hope it will build awareness of the health disparities that face the African-American community, and make people want to take action.

It is common knowledge that members of low-socioeconomic communities have less available resources to live healthy lifestyles—but do these people know what options they do have? Do they know that they can get enjoyable, meaningful workouts right in their homes—and that even though it costs more to buy healthy foods, it is ultimately more cost-effective to do so? I hope the women who participate in my program share what they learned on all levels and apply much of the information in their daily lives.

During the end of my Fellowship year, to sustain health inside the beauty salon, I plan to go on a “Healthalize the Salon” campaign throughout Philadelphia that provides the opportunity for salon owners and individual stylists to create a health station within their salon.

The stations will offer accessible, easy-to-read resources on healthy lifestyles so that when conversation about health and fitness arises, the stylist can say, “Oh, go over to our health station; there’s a section about getting started on a fitness plan,” or “Go over to our health station; there’s a section that lists free health clinics in the area.”

ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?

AS:  I believe that obesity is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, especially in regards to the relationship it has with so many other diseases and conditions such as type II Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, osteoarthritis, and stress. I believe the issue should be examined and addressed from all angles: physical, psychological, and sociological. I think health professionals and policy makers should lead by example and show how good healthy living can be!

ASF: What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?

AS: Honestly, the most surprising element of my experience as a Schweitzer Fellow has been my repeated encounters with people who are committed to service. I have never been surrounded by so many people who have an interest in the greater good, for more than themselves and their loved ones.

In the five months that I have been a Fellow, I have been delighted to come across not only individuals who want to do something about the many issues faced in our society, but the many organizations that are actually already out there fighting for something or helping those in need.

To know that there are others who care about health disparities makes me feel like there is hope, especially if we can be united through opportunities such as The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.

ASF: What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately a Schweitzer Fellow for Life) mean to you?

AS: Being a Schweitzer Fellow means being a part of a group of people who care. It means that I am not alone in identifying and wanting to address disparities. Ultimately, I am not alone in taking action. Becoming a Fellow for Life just expands the experience. I will be a part of an extremely large group of people with international impact. I look forward to being able to connect with community service-minded professionals nationally and internationally and building meaningful relationships that will continue to impact the greater good.

Click here to learn more about the Greater Philadelphia Schweitzer Fellows Program and our work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.