To be Black, Gifted, and Diabetic

Honoring heroes with diabetes: African Americans who have made a difference.


kalimah bioBy Kalimah Johnson

April 2009 — February is Black History Month and I thought that it would be good at this time to discuss diabetes and African American figures who have contributed to the enrichment of all of our lives while dealing with diabetes. As a person living with type 2 diabetes, I sometimes find it quite difficult to find role models who have had to cope with this disease that look like me. To find role models who look like yourself may not seem to matter to folks who see themselves all the time on television and in other media forms. However, up until the recent election of the first African American President, I had found myself struggling with the lack of positive black images that I know exist in my community reflected in television, news, media, music, as well as other forms of mass communication. This phenomenon is one of the reasons I agreed to writing for dLife so that at least one black voice could be heard on this all too often diagnosed disease/problem for black families and how it impacts our lives.

As I had stated in an earlier article, sometimes it is very difficult to share your diabetes status with others. I'd like to reiterate that and compound it with how difficult it must be for those who are in the lime light. However, there are people who have come out about their status and still have made a positive impact on our lives by their contributions, talents, and efforts to combat, inform, expose the challenges and inspire us to take better care of ourselves. Some of the individuals I would like to acknowledge have also succumbed to the disease and its complications, however it does not diminish their impact in my life and the lives of those they touched. I would like to acknowledge, pay homage to, recognize, and honor some of the most influential black people I have ever been exposed to who also had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes in order to remind myself that I too can continue to pursue my dreams and manage this disease.

Patti Labelle
Impeccable lady of song and a long list of R & B hits, she has been vocal about her diabetes status, participated in the Diva Diabetic promotion and uses her talents and influence to help raise awareness of diabetes.

Hally Berry
Oscar winning actress and philanthropist, she has revealed her status over the years via interviews and other public appearances regarding the disease for the purpose of educating others and fundraising for research.

Luther Vandross
Male vocalist, song writer, and Grammy Award winner succumbed to complications related to the disease. However, his voice and his talent is far reaching and left an impact on my life and the lives of others through his struggle and the Diva Diabetic awareness and support program developed in his honor.

Paul Winfield
Raised by a single mother and in poverty, he was an actor, voice over artist, and ground breaker in Hollywood when blacks were rarely ever cast. He succumbed to the disease but left a plethora of history making films and commercials clips we all remember and grew up with.

Geraldine Sheria Turner My mom, who raised my sister's and I on her own and battled type 2 diabetes for most of her adult life. She made a way out of no way and before she died made sure that all of us were college educated and capable of taking care of ourselves. Complications got the best of her, but not before leaving a legacy in her daughters by teaching us how to live our lives to the fullest.

As we reflect upon black history month and the contributions of black people in America, I thought that it would be good to acknowledge people who have impacted my life and I hope that I continue to carry out the legacy of my mother by using my status as a tool of teaching and learning life lessons. I also hope to use the examples of the aforementioned to live my life to the fullest. My type 2 diabetes is an important part of my life and I acknowledge it more now than I ever have. I think sharing it in a public forum has assisted me in taking better care of it. I am so glad I have examples of folks (famous or not) to model after and increase my capacity to deal with this disease.

Got it Sugar? Good.

Read more of Kalimah Johnson's columns, Get it Together, Sugar, here.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 10, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
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