Category Archives: National & Global News

Black Dentist Fighting To Bring Diversity To Her Field

Dr. Laila Hishaw hopes to double to number of black dentists through her Diversity in Dentistry Mentoring Program. (Courtesy of Diversity in Dentistry)

By Kevin Michael Briscoe

Dr. Laila Hishaw turned an “ah-ha” moment three years ago into a mentoring program for youngsters of color who might want to pursue a career in dentistry.

Dismayed by the small number of black dentists in the United States — fewer than 4 percent of the total, according to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute — Hishaw took action.

“I just put out a post, shared the stats, and said ‘whose kid can I mentor?” said Hishaw, a pediatric dentist in Tucson, Arizona.

“When I saw the responses, I saw that parents wanted their kids to know about dentistry. I said to myself I just have to mentor because if more kids knew about the rewarding careers in dentistry, then we’d gain that interest.”

Dr. Laila Hishaw (center, standing) traveled to middle and high schools before the pandemic to promote proper dental hygiene and career options available in the field of dentistry. (Courtesy of Diversity in Dentistry)

What started as a small-scale social-media campaign evolved into the Diversity in Dentistry Mentorship Program, a nationwide nonprofit that promotes the profession to middle- and high-school students. It features dentist mentors to provide training and counseling to pre-dental students.

“We try to reach them early,” said Hishaw. “Education is one of the barriers for students of color. If a student of color expresses an interest in the medical field, guidance counselors always guide them toward nursing or medicine, never dentistry.

“But, we also want to prepare them to be qualified to be accepted into dental school. I want them to get into dental school, but I want them to finish dental school. Our network of mentors gives them the skills to be successful in dental school.”

Representation and oral health go hand-in-hand

When Hishaw received her doctorate in dental surgery from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2000, she said she was one of only a few students of color. But as a new practitioner trying to build and grow a practice, she was “kind of in my own world.”

Years later, the numbers revealed that professionally active black dentists declined from 3.8 percent to 3.7 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to the Health Policy Institute. Conversely, the number of Asian dentists increased from 12.9 percent to 17.1 percent, and the number of Hispanics increased from 4.6 percent to 5.6 percent. Dentists from other racial or ethnic background rose from 0.5 percent to 1.6 percent.

“Studies show that minority patients are more likely to visit medical professionals from their own communities,” Hishaw wrote in an April 2021 ADA News op-ed. “Without dentists of color, minority groups often go without the dental care they need.

“Much of this has to do with cultural understanding and trust — or lack thereof. Regaining the trust from black communities, particularly in older populations, is necessary, due to the historical unethical betrayal by government agencies,” she wrote.

The outcomes are problematic.

A report by the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2016 said children of color are less likely than white children to see a dentist and receive preventive care, and that people of color are more likely than whites to suffer from untreated tooth decay.

“If more communities had dental professionals who looked like them, would they be more willing and able to access the dental care they need? I believe so,” Hishaw said in her op-ed.

Fear drives diversity foes

While Hishaw is working to “lengthen and strengthen” the dental pipeline from middle school to dental school, the push for diversity has its detractors. Dr. Drew Jones, a dentist and former adjunct professor at Roseman University of Health Sciences, College of Dental Medicine in South Jordan, Utah, believes culture and excellence will elevate dentistry.

“Diversity may or may not elevate dentistry, but excellence will. When our country downplays meritocracy and excellence, we are hurting ourselves,” Jones wrote in an op-ed published in April in the Journal of the American Dental Association .

“Families are the greatest indicator of a child’s success,” he wrote, concerned about the number of out-of-wedlock births.

“The percent of births that occurred outside of marriage also increased for non-Hispanic black women (black) between 1990 and 2016, from 63 to 69 percent,” according to Child Trends.

“Change the culture to one which is more friendly to education, and the number of black dentists will change,” he wrote.

He also asserts that Hishaw’s largely white patient count and degree from a predominantly white university undermine her credibility as a proponent for diversity.

Hishaw declined to comment on Jones’ article.  Jones could not be reached for comment.

The National Dental Association, which has more than 7,000-members and “promotes oral health equity among people of color,” released a statement in June condemning comments Jones made in a letter to Hishaw, an association member.

“For more than a century, our devoted members have treated patients with compassion and professionalism in the communities from which we come,” the association said. “But racism is born of that insidious combination of ignorance and racial privilege, and Dr. Jones’ letter is a clear indication that both are alive and well within the dental profession.”

The contents of his letter were not published.

Association president Dr. Pamela Alston told Zenger: “There are a lot of white people out there who feel that black people should be down and out all the time, and he’s caught up in that. I think he’s had some challenges in his life, and he felt he should have what she has. He’s jealous because she’s not like his stereotypical black person.”

In his op-ed, Jones wrote: “As someone who has lived in Asia for 10 years and whose wife is Chinese, I can speak with some knowledge about why Asians are ‘disproportionately’ represented in dental schools. In a single word: culture. Asian culture puts a high priority on education and especially in the sciences, engineering, and medical/dental areas.

“The Asian culture of education will produce students who have … ‘motivation, dedication and pride.’”

Next steps for Diversity in Dentistry mentorship program

Hishaw said her vision for her mentorship program is to raise the percentage of black dentists by double digits. One industry executive is teaming with her to help reach that goal.

“Lack of diversity in dental medicine deprives the profession of innovators and leaders, and can limit access to dental care in key communities across the U.S.,” said Chuck Cohen, managing director of Benco Dental, a dental supply distributor based in Pennsylvania. “Mentoring programs like Dr. Hishaw’s are particularly impactful because they touch the lives of future dental professionals in highly personal and meaningful ways.”

The all-volunteer program seeks to expand its network of mentors while staying in touch with dental-school students through video chats, telephone calls and text messages. A Diversify Dentistry Youth Summit is slated for Nov. 1 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“If we can increase the dental-school applicant pool of underrepresented students, surely the faces of dentistry will reflect that of our nation’s ever-increasing diversity,” Hishaw said in her op-ed.

“I don’t know whether that young, curly-haired patient of mine will become a dentist one day. I hope she’ll consider it. Regardless, I’m sure she will never forget how it felt to see a black female dentist who looked just like her.”

Edited by Judith Isacoff and Fern Siegel

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Fiverr Launches Business Fellowship For Black Entrepreneurs

Luxury women’s shoe brand Keeyahri is one of the five businesses selected by Fiverr for its business accelerator. (Courtesy of Fiverr)

By Naama Barak

Black entrepreneurs in the United States recently received support from what at first glance seems a somewhat surprising source: an Israeli company.

But for online freelancer platform Fiverr, the choice to launch a business accelerator fellowship for black entrepreneurs was a natural one.

“Fiverr’s purpose is to provide anyone, no matter their race, religion, background or beliefs, the opportunity to build their business, brand or dreams. The U.S. is our largest market and therefore it’s incumbent upon us to use our platform and resources to help our community there however we can,” said Fiverr CMO Gali Arnon.

“There is still so much work to be done to ensure equality for marginalized communities, and specifically black-owned businesses, and so we’re thrilled to be able to support these incredible five businesses with the funding, mentoring and training they deserve,” she said.

The inaugural class of the Future Collective Fellowship Program includes five entrepreneurs from a wide range of fields who were selected from some 1,500 applicants.

The first business selected, Appdrop, enables non-technical teams to build mobile apps without writing code.

Appdrop, which enables non-technical teams to build mobile apps without writing code, is a black-led businesses supported by Fiverr. (Courtesy of Fiverr)

The second, Budget Collector, has developed an AI-based art adviser mobile app.

The third business, De L’or Cakery, is an artisan cake catering company that uses many ingredients imported from the Caribbean. The fourth, Hey Girl Hey, has developed a card game built to foster community connections among black women.

And the fifth, Keeyahri, is a luxury women’s shoe brand that aims to empower women through its unique designs.

Mentoring and strategy

Each of the Future Collective fellows will receive $24,000 from Fiverr, guaranteed placement in an accelerator program organized and orchestrated by black-led nonprofit organization 1863 Ventures and regular mentorship and guidance from Fiverr’s senior management team. The collective is also supported by Maestra, a business strategy firm.

Cohort members will meet monthly, and they’ll also be assigned online materials to review and complete coupled with regular coaching sessions. The fellows will have access to 1863 Ventures’ weekly entrepreneur webinar sessions, allowing them to participate in sessions relevant to their business and growth.

“Fiverr’s Future Collective is set to be an annual accelerator program targeting entrepreneurs and business owners in marginalized communities,” Arnon said. “The goal of the program is to provide them with the funding, proper training and mentoring to help them succeed long term. We are thrilled with our inaugural class of fellows and can’t wait to see where they take their businesses post-graduation.”

Explicit bias

Ebonique Boyd, co-founder of Budget Collector, said, “For me, the program is a chance for me to regain my spirit after dealing with the investor community.” (Courtesy of Fiverr)

“I had entirely given up on fundraising because I realized as a black woman the system doesn’t work for me,” said Ebonique Boyd, co-founder of Budget Collector.

“In my life, I’ve never been given the benefit of the doubt, and the first impressions people have of me are generally influenced by the characterizations they see on TV. The explicit bias I have seen in the investor community was like nothing I have ever seen in my life,” she said.

“For me, the program is a chance for me to regain my spirit after dealing with the investor community and to build a profitable company quicker than I could without the capital and the guidance provided by Fiverr, 1863 Ventures and Maestra. After our product launch and with some preparation with our team’s internal advisers as well, I hope to raise a successful round,” said Boyd.

Keeyahri founder Keya Martin said the Future Collective will help her company improve product strategy, among other things.  (Courtesy of Fiverr)

Keya Martin, founder of Keeyahri shoe brand, said the Future Collective “will help me to identify gaps in my strategy, learn from others who have navigated similar situations, develop professional relationships with knowledgeable people, and build connections.

“Receiving feedback and guidance will aid in providing a viable lens that will allow us to improve our product strategy, project roadmap, business goals, and ultimately push the boundaries even further,” she said.

“I’m looking forward to building a team, partnering with more retailers, collaborating with brands and corporations, raising capital to scale and developing new designs. My ultimate goal is to build a global fashion house and in turn pay it forward.”

Produced in association with Israel21C.

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Life Expectancy Gap Between Black And White Americans Closes By Nearly 50 Percent In 30 Years

Black Americans are closing the gap in life expectancy with White Americans. Researchers believe this is the result of improved health among Black Americans, including those living in poor neighborhoods. (William Fortunato/Pexels)

By Martin M Barillas

Improved health among black Americans has narrowed the life expectancy gap between white and black Americans by 50 percent over the last 30 years. Even so, a reversal in both groups’ mortality rates since 2012 remains unresolved.

Researchers at Princeton University analyzed data from 1990 to 2018, comparing mortality rates between black and white populations based on location. In their paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they also compared the United States to Europe.

“It is important to recognize the very real gains that have occurred over the past 30 years and to understand the reasons for them,” said Janet Currie of Princeton’s Center for Health and Wellbeing. “Improved access to healthcare and safety-net programs all contributed to improvements in life expectancy among Black Americans. Yet there is [a] perplexing reversal of the positive trends for all groups since 2012 that we need to better understand.”

“If improvements had continued at the 1990–2012 rate, the racial gap in life expectancy would have closed by 2036. European life expectancy also stalled after 2014. Still, the comparison with Europe suggests that mortality rates of both Black and White Americans could fall much further across all ages and in both rich and poor areas,” the authors said in the study.

The life expectancy gap between Black and White Americans closed by nearly 50 percent between 1990 and 2018 and was on track to close entirely by 2036 when life expectancies stalled after 2012. (Janet Currie, Princeton University)

The researchers quantified these life-expectancy differences and trends for the years before COVID using data from the National Vital Statistics System and the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 1990, black Americans’ lives were on average seven years shorter than those of white Americans. That gap narrowed to 3.6 years by 2018. Improvements in life expectancy for black Americans living in the poorest counties were especially notable in closing the gap. Deaths among black Americans due to homicide, cancer, HIV and fetal and neonatal conditions declined, which was an important contributor to life-expectancy improvement.

Although deaths due to opioid abuse are linked to the overall life-expectancy decline in the United States, the authors believe other factors should also be examined.

The scientists ranked U.S. counties based on poverty rates and categorized them in groups of fixed population size to determine whether life-expectancy differences according to race evolved differently in richer and poorer areas. This allowed the authors to analyze trends across age and race in places with similar poverty rates.

The researchers worked with their peers in multiple European countries to determine whether life expectancy in richer areas of the United States resembled that of Europe or whether rich and poor Americans both lag behind European life expectancy rates.

The study reported that white Americans’ life expectancy has increasingly fallen behind that of Europeans over the last 30 years. Since 2012, this gap has been tentatively linked to deaths due to opioid abuse. Even relatively poor countries such as Portugal had caught up with their richer European neighbors by 2018 in terms of life expectancy. Although life expectancy among black Americans started far below both Europeans and white Americans in 1990, the rate for black Americans has improved faster than for Europeans since then.

European life expectancy stalled after 2014, as it has for the United States, with the study’s authors attributing the cause to rising rates of cardiovascular disease in both regions.

Meanwhile, life expectancy has improved for all infants and children, especially among black Americans. Medicaid, food stamps, earned income tax credit and lower pollution levels in poor areas all contributed to the improvement, according to the authors.

Edited by Siân Speakman and Kristen Butler

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Prickly Pear Cactus Supplies Eco-Friendly Option For Solar Backpack

Moisés Venegas developed a backpack that supports students living in energy poverty. (Julio Guzmán/Zenger)

By Julio Guzmán

MEXICO CITY — The prickly pear cactus isn’t just a national symbol of Mexico. It’s also key to a new energy technology.

The plant, ubiquitous in the country, is part of Mexico’s coat of arms — as well as the main ingredient in several dishes since pre-Hispanic times. Now, it has a new environmental and social use.

Aselus, a Mexican tech company, has launched a solar backpack made from prickly pear skin. It provides power to students in rural areas where there is no electricity.

Moisés Venegas, an agricultural and mechanical engineer with a degree from the Autonomous University of Chapingo in the State of Mexico, is Aselus’ creator.

Venegas believes that natural materials can replace recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and provide an eco-friendly option for many products.

“We have always been concerned with integrating sustainability and technology in the Mexican style. This backpack combines them all,” Venegas told Zenger. “We developed our own model.

“The backpack has a built-in premium solar panel with a seven-year lifespan and a two-year warranty. It has an energy efficiency rating of 20 percent, and it’s very light,” he said.

The energy-efficiency rating measures how much of the energy hitting the panel will turn into actual power. Solar panels usually have average ratings ranging from 15 to 18 percent.

Putting together four backpacks, students can provide power and Internet connection to a complete classroom. (Julio Guzmán/Zenger)

Venegas says the 10-watt solar panel built into his backpack allows users to fully charge a cell phone or tablet in an hour or two. In addition, it is waterproof and suitable for heavy duty.

“Using clean energy, one contributes to the planet. It seems like an excellent option. I actually charge cell phones and speakers here. It has the advantage that you can move it around. You don’t need to be in an office or where there is power to charge your devices,” Anabel Romo, a user of the product, told Zenger.

Aselus offers three versions of the solar backpack. The first is made of nylon and costs $150, while the price of the prickly-pear-skin backpack is $400. Both include a power bank.

“With the nylon version, we seek to make the consumer understand it is important to have energy at all times. Later, we want to make people recognize the need to use more sustainable materials,” said Venegas.

Aselus will donate the third version of the solar backpack to students from communities with energy lags. Putting together four backpacks, students can provide power and an Internet connection to a classroom.

“The more children [in the classroom], the more energy we are going to have,” he said.

In addition to the backpack, Aselus has a terminal and a modem. Called Adara, the modem helps regulate the power and Internet connection at a school. A sad or happy emoji on the modem screen will show if solar backpacks are in the classroom.

“We intend that students realize, via technology, the education of others depends on them. You hold them accountable. When many children do not come, [the emoji on the modem] gets sad, and the terminal does not load,” Venegas said.

Students can charge their phones within two hours using a backpack. (Julio Guzmán/Zenger)

For every 20 backpacks sold — regardless of the model — Venegas donates one to students. He hopes his project helps the Mexican authorities solve the educational gap that faces communities with fewer resources.

“It is important to make alliances. We are trying to solve the [same] problem; we are offering a solution. Many times, students do not have power and other basic needs. We believe if they can study, it allows the country to develop,” he said. Once these children finish their education, they will be able “to look after their own community.” 

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A post shared by Moises Venegas (@aselusmex)

With this type of project, Aselus, founded in 2016, seeks to remain in the market.

“There are currently many startups, which almost always die in the early stages, due to lack of support. The beginning is hard. It is important not to give up. We have faith in this project,” Rocío Lizbeth López, an Aselus member, told Zenger. “We are giving energy and time, hoping that everything will turn out well.”

Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel. 

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En-Tea-Preneur: How One Business Consultant Became A Tea Tycoon

Marketing consultant Stephanie Synclair has branched out by launching a line of luxury teas and accessories. (Courtesy of Stephanie Synclair).

By Kevin Michael Briscoe

For more than a decade, Stephanie Synclair ran a successful consulting firm, helping potential African-American women entrepreneurs develop marketing strategies to achieve their dream of business ownership.

Using what she says is a neuroscientific approach that involves changing her clients’ “programming” about money, she transformed her House of Icons into a nearly $3 million company since it launched in 2009.

“I have an obsession with the brain, subconscious programming, and how it works,” said Synclair. “If we can break down the negative programming, and embed new programming, and see more people who look like us, we can truly see what’s possible. If you really want to make this shift, you can’t keep taking in things that don’t match up or align with where you’re going.”

As the pandemic gripped much of the world last year and brought about a “stillness” that enabled her to reassess her personal goals, Synclair decided to leave the consulting world to become a “tea-preneur.” Today, she is the founder and CEO of La Rue 1680, a luxury loose-tea company that has evolved into a home lifestyle brand focused on the mind-body wellness connection.

With the help of a “Bridgerton”-inspired collection of products, La Rue 1680’s sales skyrocketed to nearly $3 million. (Courtesy of Stephanie Synclair)

With a nod to the global success of British dramas such as “The Crown” and “Bridgerton,” Synclair is challenging American coffee culture with a line of custom teas and accessories. She projects $10 million in annual sales by 2026. Today, she said, La Rue 1680 is valued at $2.7 million.

“I was always interested in creating a product that my son could sell, and his children could sell, and create real long-term wealth for future generations,” Synclair said. “Let’s face it, we don’t have amazing teas in the U.S. We don’t have a tea culture; we’re more of a coffee culture. So, I thought this would be a really good time to step into this.”

The global tea market was valued at $55 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach just under $69 billion by 2027, according to Research and Markets analytics firm based in Dublin, Ireland.

Tea sales have also been on the rise in the United States, jumping from $1.8 billion in 1990 to an estimated $13 billion in 2020, according to a report by the nonprofit Tea Association of the U.S.A. released last February.

“The specialty tea sector is one in which the pandemic actually spurred growth,” said Peter Goggi, association president. “Tea is seen as an enabler for de-stressing and helping consumers achieve ‘centeredness.’”

The association cites recent research highlighting tea’s role in boosting the immune system.

What’s next?

Though the company is barely a year old, Synclair said she’s looking to move beyond being a direct seller to becoming a player in the retail space. This opportunity to expand her customer base comes with a major challenge.

“Having locations where people can go in and smell the tea is really important because we want people to fully experience what La Rue 1680 is all about,” said Synclair. “But the challenge is that our price point makes us a luxury item in line with tea you’d get from England or France. We’re not in line with a $3.99 or $5 tea you’d get from Target; our average price ranges from $15 to $18, so we’d have to be in places like Neiman-Marcus, Bloomingdale’s or Dean and De Luca.

“I go back and forth on the issue because I don’t want to take on investors.”

Stephanie Synclair credits her son, Caden (background), with unlocking her love for tea. (Courtesy of Stephanie Synclair).

“I hated tea”

Synclair’s love affair with tea was not a conventional courtship. It was’t until her 2012 trip to Asia with her son, Caden, now 14, that she discovered an appreciation for tea.

“I hated tea before we started traveling,” she said. “But, [Caden], from a very young age, always liked hot tea.”

While getting a massage in Bali one day, Caden pleaded with his mother to try his cup of hot tea.

“In all transparency, I tasted it only to get him to leave me alone,” Synclair said, “but I was like, ‘What is this? This isn’t tea.’ The blend of ginger and turmeric, as well as black tea, was pretty amazing. I realized then that I had a one-dimensional view of what tea was. But even then, I never thought I’d be selling tea.”

Today, La Rue 1680 operates out of a warehouse and office complex in Alpharetta, Georgia, north of Atlanta, and offers more than 23 types of tea, each infused with flavors such as peppermint, rose hips and calendula.

Synclair said she “plays around in the kitchen all the time” to create the tea blends and partners with a Canadian company to perfect the final products.  She said the newest additions — a ginger and turmeric blend and the Ayurveda wellness blend — provide relief from inflammation and stress.

Some of La Rue 1680’s flavors, such as vanilla chai and pomegranate hibiscus, are ideal for use in cocktails, she said.

“La Rue 1680 is a European-inspired line, and the name literally means ‘the street,’” Synclair said. “But, one thing I always say is that La Rue 1680 is a way to transport yourself to any street, any place in any country you want to be in. The coffee culture in America is very ‘to-go.’ With our brands, it’s about slowing down, stopping, being present in the moment. It’s almost meditative, even if it’s only for five or 10 minutes.”

“I drink Stephanie’s tea daily because tea is awesome,” said Jocelyn Williams, an adviser at the Holistic Self-Care Institute in McDonough, Georgia. “But, self-care is my lifestyle, so I drink it every day for its medicinal benefits as well. The ginger and turmeric blend is especially helpful for my fibromyalgia and arthritis. And the piña colada-flavored tea brings out the ocean girl in me, helping me visualize being on the islands even when I’m not there.”

Edited by Judith Isacoff and Matthew B. Hall

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