The Center for African American Health (CAAH) is a one-shop stop for all things health in Denver’s Black community. Offering mammograms, prostate cancer screenings, mental health programs, family support resources and more, CAAH has been the backbone of Black Denver’s health since 2005.
CAAH was born out of early health programs led by the Metro Denver Black Church Initiative (MDBCI). In 2005, MDBCI turned its focus to health disparities affecting the Black community and officially changed its name to the Center for African American Health. The center was initially housed within the Clayton College campus at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Colorado Boulevards. However, in early 2020, CAAH moved into its own Park Hill location on 33rd Avenue and Hudson Street.
Deidre Johnson, CAAH CEO and Executive Director, discusses the new and existing resources and services the center has to offer after the pre-pandemic expansion. With a new building and space to implement ideas, and a bigger vision for community wellness, the organization is working to better serve the people’s needs.
“We are envisioning a teaching kitchen and a medical consultant spot,” Johnson says, highlighting plans to emphasize the impact of proper nutrition on physical health going forward.
Along with these new programming additions, CAAH remains dedicated to providing comprehensive care for Denver residents. Health screenings for men, women and children are still in full force, with Covid-19 screenings, diabetes support, mental health services and care for senior citizens adding to the full spectrum of services.
CAAH also offers support for socio-emotional wellness, including Emotional Emancipation Circles and a range of other programs that focus on emotional healing and empowerment for Black people.
Partnerships are Everything
To create a healthy and thriving community, all hands must be on deck. Partnerships have increased CAAH’s capacity to provide resources needed by all members of the community.
Far too often, the subject of mental health is swept under the rug. Historically, the stigma associated with mental healthcare and limited accessibility has prevented the Black community from utilizing much-needed mental health resources. Accounting for 13.4% of the U.S. population, 16% of Black Americans were diagnosed or living with a significant mental illness in 2022 according to Mental Health America.
“Mental health is a stigma in the Black community. This stigma holds us back from seeking help.” Johnson says.
To increase awareness of the importance of mental healthcare and emotional wellness, CAAH has partnered with the Therapist of Color Collaborative, an organization that matches community members with therapists of color. In addition to increasing accessibility, this partnership provides training for mental healthcare providers, thus expanding representation and reducing the stigma associated with care.
In April 2023, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a report concerning Black maternal health and the disproportionate mortality rate. CDC data revealed that Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. The complications leading to otherwise preventable deaths were attributed to racial disparities in access to quality healthcare, implicit bias, and underlying chronic conditions that commonly go ignored by healthcare professionals while providing care and treatment for Black women.
To improve outcomes for Black mothers, CAAH participates in a referral program with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Pregnant patients are referred to the hospital’s Mama Circle program, a peer-to-peer support group where Black mothers connect, learn and increase well-being through shared experiences.
Johnson hopes to develop a maternal health program at CAAH within the next year in order to alleviate the Black maternal health crisis. She plans to incorporate postpartum care to provide assistance to Black women who are suffering from the emotional toll of childbirth.
CAAH partners with community and national partners who are invested in youth development. The organization’s partnership with the NBA Foundation supports its14 Youth Workforce Assistance program, and provides job readiness services for young people ages 14-24. With training and assistance in the procurement of a part-time or summer job, this program equips young people with knowledge that helps them navigate the workforce and prepares them for future self-sufficiency.
Pearl of Wellness Podcast
“Pearl of Wellness” is a brand-new podcast developed by CAAH to expand its efforts and impact within Denver’s community. By utilizing this new platform, the organization’s work can be shared with communities outside of Denver, in addition to reaching a new generation that references podcasts as educational tools.
The podcast, co-produced by Johnson and Shayla Hudson Riggle, recently finished its first season, and Johnson is excited for the next round of episodes. “We talk about various topics pertaining to the health and wellness of Black people,” she says.
Riggle, a media veteran with over 20 years of experience in the entertainment industry, helped develop the show’s content. “Pearl of Wellness” dives into a range of topics, including the school-to-prison pipeline, generating health and wealth, maternal mental and physical health and expanding education. Its guest list includes: Denver NAACP President Sondra Young; entrepreneur and business expert Jice Joyce; and Dr. Rosemarie Allen professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver and Institute for Racial Equity & Excellence President and CEO.
In its next season, Johnson desires to focus more on Black mental health and how to mitigate social stressors. She aspires to highlight additional mental health resources and explore, “How we can find a true cure for ourselves.”
Alan Harmon facilitates CAAH’s Barbershop Talks and 24/7 Dad. He hopes these two programs will help break negative stereotypes surrounding Black men and Black fatherhood.
Barbershop Talks began as a partnership with Demetrius Jenkins at the Family Focus Resource Center. Modeled after therapeutic support groups, the program was created to eliminate negative stigmas concerning mental and physical healthcare for Black men.
“The barbershop has been a pillar for the Black man. We use the barbershop as a place to vent and take things off our chest.” Harmon says. “We have authentic conversations as Black men on what we go through in life and how we were raised.
The program, which hosts a group of 8 to 10 men each Tuesday evening, is a safe space to talk about health, family, life and community. One of the main topics of conversation is mental health. In an effort to combat high suicide rates among Black men, Barbershop Talks invites therapists from the Therapist of Color Collaborative to facilitate meetings and offer one-on-one counseling services.
“We are having positive conversations on what it means to be a man. If we are unhealthy or not taking care of ourselves, we can’t take care of our community.” Harmon states.
Strengthening Families, an eight-week program to help parents of toddlers and young children ages 1 to 5, is also facilitated by Harmon in support of CAAH’s commitment to family support and success. The program features workshops that address parenting skills, improving children’s behavior, social skill development, and enhanced family functionality.
Recognizing a need for male representation and support, Harmon created the 24/7 Dad program. “I wanted to create a space for Black fathers to express what it means to be a father and raise a family,” he recalls.
24/7 Dads is a 12-week program where Black men discuss fatherhood. By holding each other and themselves accountable for their contributions to the family structure and community at large, they learn to fulfill their roles in healthy, meaningful ways.
“We discuss how the way we were raised affects now us as men, and talk about how to communicate with our kids and the mother of our kids,” Harmon boasts. He enjoys witnessing the growth of the men in the program, and feels good about the positive impact it has had on the families he’s worked with. “I have witnessed men regain visitation and parental rights after completing this program. It brings joy seeing families reunited,” he says.
CAAH is a valuable community resource. The organization’s commitment to addressing health disparities and changing outcomes for Denver’s Black community is making positive and measurable change.
For too long, medical racism has harmed Black people. CAAH is a safe space where community members feel seen and heard, and Johnson is confident that its programs will ensure wellness and transformative change well into the future. She guarantees, “As long as medical racism exists, we will still be here.”.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about CAAH, visit https://caahealth.org.