Lupus Awareness At The 2016 ESSENCE Music Festival

DHPE Assistant Health Equity Director Thometta Cozart. Photo/Courtesy, Mary Schultheis, executive director, Crescent City WIC
DHPE Assistant Health Equity Director Thometta Cozart. Photo/Courtesy, Mary Schultheis, executive director, Crescent City WIC

(Trice Edney Wire) – The Essence Music Festival, an annual tradition of Black entertainment and festivities around July 4th, was also the site of a major African-American health education campaign this year. The lupus education tour, headed for Orlando next week; then Memphis in August, is open to work with other Black organizations.

“With celebrities, such as Toni Braxton, Seal, and recently Selena Gomez, informing the public of their lupus diagnosis, the Directors of Health Promotion & Education (DHPE) thought it important to attend the Essence Music Festival to increase awareness about lupus,” stated DHPE Assistant Health Equity Director Thometta Cozart, MS, MPH, CPH, CHES. DHPE, a national public health association in Washington-DC, has recently been awarded funding by the national Office of Minority Health, US Department of Health and Human Services to increase lupus awareness nationwide, especially among African American women of childbearing age.

Mainly attended by African-Americans, the Essence Music Festival is an optimal opportunity to share what could be life-saving information for women of color and their families.  Lupus is a chronic, systemic autoimmune disease with no cure that can damage any part of the body, including skin, joints and organs. Women of color are two to three times more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians females. The Essence Music Festival is documented as one of the nation’s largest events celebrating African-American culture and music. Nearly 400,000 individuals attended the three-day weekend event, which featured entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey for the first time on Saturday, July 2nd.

Louisiana-based Crescent City WIC Services, which is a mini-grantee of DHPE’s Lupus Program, staffed the Lupus Health Education Booth in the Essence Music Festival Community Corner on Friday, July 1st through Sunday, July 3rd at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.  The Crescent City WIC-PIC Experience at the Essence Music Festival is lupus education for Parents, Infants and Children (PIC) to inform women and their families about living with lupus in efforts to strengthen family resiliency.

“With DHPE’s project support, Crescent City WIC has been able to give information to hard-to-reach populations in New Orleans, which were previously, completely unaware of this mysterious disease,” said Mary Schultheis, Executive Director of Crescent City WIC. “The DHPE Lupus Program has been able to transform lives because information and knowledge are the first steps in surviving any chronic illness.”

Cozart added “We hope women and their families will come learn the signs and symptoms of lupus at our booth, as well as pick up free materials to pass on to others. Lupus mostly affects minority women of childbearing age but children, teens and men may also develop lupus so it is very important for everyone to know facts about lupus.” Cozart is also the program manager for the DHPE LEAP: Lupus Education and Awareness for Patients, Professionals and Providers Program.

One of the objectives of the DHPE LEAP Program is to create effective partnerships to increase exposure to lupus education, improve access to resources for patients and reduce lupus related health disparities. Next on the LEAP tour is the International Conference of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. in Orlando, FL held July 6–10, 2016.  Then it’s off to the National Black Nurses Association Annual Conference in Memphis, TN held August 2–7, 2016.  Organizations interested in working with the DHPE LEAP Program should contact Thometta Cozart at [email protected] and visit the program website at