Johns Hopkins Gazette: August 8, 1994

By Christine Rowett

In her office overlooking East Monument Street, Diane Becker
has a collection of photos taken in the neighborhood: a
couple playing checkers, a group of children in the street.
She doesn't know their names, but smiles at their faces.
    "There's far more good than bad in our community," she
said. "I wish the world knew that."   
    Dr. Becker, an associate professor in the School of
Medicine, is a founding member of Heart, Body and Soul, a
union of medical professionals, religious leaders and
volunteers dedicated to the health and well-being of the
    The 5-year-old coalition is more of a partnership than a
service organization. Each group has input to such projects   
 as  disease screenings, substance abuse centers and
community outreach programs. Volunteer residents are trained
and sent back into the neighborhood to promote healthy
living. There are currently three prevention and health
resource centers, and plans for two more in the near future.
    Heart, Body and Soul began as an extension of the Center
for Health Promotion in the School of Medicine and Clergy
United for Renewal, or CURE, in East Baltimore. Together,
they had compiled alarming statistics about the people living
in the area.
    Fifty-six percent of men aged 18-25 had been arrested,
34 percent of the people had incomes below the poverty level
and 30 percent of the households received public assistance.
Eighty-six percent of the residents were African American. 
    The situation "is partly a function of racism. If we say
it isn't, we're lying," Dr. Becker said. "It's a racist
society that structures economics, and if 75 percent of
income goes to housing and 25 percent to clothing, food and
other expenses, where does health care fit into that?"
    The statistics also revealed that 65 percent of the
population attended church regularly, and 80 percent had some
affiliation with a church.
    The Rev. Herbert Watson, former chairman of Project
BLESS, Baltimore Leading Everyone to be Safe and Smoke Free,
is the current chairman of Heart, Body and Soul.
    "As we came to the table, each group brought something
that separately we did not have," Watson said. "We are better
for the community together than we are apart."
    The original board consisted of four East Baltimore
clergymen and Dr. Becker.
    "We shared a vision," she said. "And it was not Hopkins
taking care of the community."
    In fact, the Hopkins affiliation was downplayed in the
beginning, to convince neighborhoods they could take care of
themselves without the backing of a large institution.
    Dr. Becker, the only Hopkins professional currently on
Heart, Body and Soul's board of directors, said the
partnership works because all involved gain something. While
working with clergy members, she received attention "that I
never would have had just coming from Hopkins," she said.
    The affiliation has also helped the hospital.
    "Traditionally, Hopkins was not always seen as active in
the community," Watson said, "We were studied, but did not
always benefit from Hopkins being here."
    Initially, Dr. Becker admitted, there were some who
doubted her motives. 
    "One of the first ministers I dealt with said, 'We've
had enough of you white do-gooders here. What right does a
white matron have to come here?'" she said.
    Though the minister's words "infuriated" her, they
served as inspiration.
    "Those incidents happen to members of the black
community thousands of times," she said. "How are you
supposed to feel about yourself after that?"
    Another hurdle was a language barrier created when Dr.
Becker and members of the community defined the same words
    "To me, trust meant that our intentions were right, that
if we couldn't do something right away, we will do it when we
can," she explained. "Trust to people in this community means
that you'll deliver. I meant intention, they meant action.
    "We can afford to have long-range vision, to say 'hang
in there,'" she said. "The community can't afford that.
Short-range goals are what they can hold on to."
    The tensions, Watson said, actually served a purpose.
"All the parties concerned are able to get another view," he
said. "A better view."
    Thirty years ago, Dr. Becker graduated from nursing
school and went to work in surgical intensive care at
Hopkins. She did not like what she saw.
    "It bothered me a lot to see the violence, always the
receiving end of it," she said.
    It bothered her enough to send her back to school at
Hopkins, where she got her master's in 1979 and her doctorate
in public health in 1984. She met CURE president Pastor
Marshall Prentice "by accident" in 1989, and the alliance
that now includes 250 churches was formed.
    One result of Heart, Body and Soul's work is a change in
curriculum at two area schools. Ministerial students at St.
Mary's Seminary and University now take health-care courses,
and medical students at Hopkins learn community skills as
part of their degree.
    The coalition recently presented a national model of the
organization to a symposium at the Urban Medical Institute at
Harlem Hospital. And they gave their successful anti-smoking
program to the American Lung Association, which implemented
it in 15 cities across the country.
    "We feel a real responsibility to sharing what we've
learned," Dr. Becker said.
    In June Dr. Becker received the American Heart
Association's Louis B. Russell Jr. Memorial Award for
outstanding service in minority communities.  
    "There are still white people who say African Americans
should pull themselves up, and black people who say stay out
of it," Dr. Becker said, undaunted. "But I have every right
to do this. This is my community, and my commitment is to my
    Dr. Becker's family--her husband and 20-year-old
daughter, a student at Brown University--have long been
active in Heart, Body and Soul events. Most families and
spouses of staff and volunteers do get involved, Dr. Becker
    "We love what we do, so who we love gets drawn into it,"
she said.
    Still, one of the group's goals is self-reliance and
autonomy in the community.
    "The best thing that will happen is when they don't need
me on a day-to-day basis," she said. "That's painful for's almost time to let go."
    Watson says that time is coming.
    "The community can indeed heal itself," he said. "We can
and will take more responsibility for that healing."

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage