Community Impact

Walgreens healthy presence at The Black Women's Expo

Healthcare screenings and seminars on issues affecting the Black community anchored Walgreens’ sponsorship of the entrepreneurial expo in Chicago.
Sarah Cason, Walgreens Stories
Hip hop music reverberates through a massive hall in Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center. Some 400 exhibitors have set up displays touting clothing lines, social organizations, beauty products, food brands and local businesses. It’s 27th year of The Black Women’s Expo, sponsored in part by Walgreens, where entrepreneurs can network with more than 25,000 attendees over the course of three days. Held in Chicago during Black Business Month, and with the Bud Billiken Parade, the country’s largest African American parade, winding through the streets of the South Side mere moments away, spirits are high.

Proudly situated among the exhibitors is Walgreens, its station overflowing with product offerings from diverse suppliers like Black Girl Sunscreen, Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding and BLK & Bold coffee, along with a beauty bar where Walgreens beauty consultants are offering complimentary makeup application. Walgreens pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy interns are on hand to conduct COVID-19 vaccinations, flu shots, blood pressure tests, eye screenings and intern smiling next to blood pressure machine

Jazmyne Durrah Simmons, a Walgreens pharmacy intern who works in the nearby Chatham neighborhood, volunteered her time to offer healthcare screenings and immunizations at the Expo.

“As an African American woman in this community, I know people come here to talk about fashion, beauty and things women are interested in,” comments Durrah Simmons. “I want people to get interested in healthcare in their communities. CDC data shows persisting disparities in COVID-related deaths for Black people. Walgreens is a large, trusted institution, so as a reflection of that, it’s important we have a presence here.”

Close to the healthcare screening area is a table filled with samples of Black Girl Sunscreen, a product formulated specifically for melanated skin and sold at Walgreens.

“I’m here to educate the community on the importance of sunscreen for people with Black skin,” says Arnicea Fields, a research and development technician for the brand. “People don’t know that you need to wear sunscreen indoors and outdoors. This product is developed specifically so it doesn’t leave a white cast on Black skin. And even UV light through the window and blue light from your screens can cause skin damage.”
Continuing the focus on healthcare for attendees are Cornetta R. Levi, Walgreens healthcare supervisor in Chicago, as well as Simret Gebremedhin, a pharmacy intern and student at Chicago State University College of Pharmacy. They developed two interactive seminars aimed at pressing issues for the Black community: “Living with Asthma” and “Caring for Your Mental Well-Being.”

As a person living with asthma, Levi was inspired to shape the first seminar around questions she’s addressed as a healthcare provider for her community. The Living with Asthma presentation began with an explanation about warning signs and managing the disease and grew increasingly specific based off her experience working at Walgreens. Airborne allergens coming off Lake Michigan, she shares, can exacerbate symptoms for those who live in the city. She also mentions that more prescriptions for albuterol, a rescue inhaler, are filled at pharmacies in her district than for preventive inhalers.

“It’s a lack of education around asthma for the people in our community,” says Levi. “People think that if they start to feel shortness of breath coming on, they should just reach for albuterol. But if they properly use Flovid or another preventive inhaler twice a week, they won’t need a quick relief inhaler.”

pharmacist speaking into microphone in front of presentation
Walgreens pharmacy intern Simret Gebremedhin presents the “Living With Asthma” seminar.

In the same way she knows a significant portion of her patients suffer from asthma, Levi and Gebremedhin note that mental health issues, like anxiety, depression and panic attacks, have been on the rise as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 5.2 million Black people 18 years or older reported having a mental illness in 2019. The startling reality for this audience, however, is that mental health issues are more likely to affect women than men; in fact, women are twice as likely than men to develop a panic disorder.

“There is so much misinformation out there,” says Gebremedhin. “Educating yourself to recognize the signs of mental illness is key. Self-care activities such as exercising in ways you enjoy, sleeping well and eating right can help. But if your symptoms are severe and don’t improve, you should seek help from a professional.”

From immunizations to beauty and personal care products from Black-owned businesses to lessons on health issues prevalent among Black women, Walgreens showed up not only as a sponsor, but as a staple in this community.

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