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Everyone at National Action Network’s first-ever women’s power luncheon was elated when our guest, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, said her department was issuing educational scholarships to African Americans from low-income communities who are seeking careers in the health care field.

With presentations by Sebelius and Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, our women’s power luncheon stressed the importance of recognizing health issues specifically impacting women of color; preventative care; and methods of eliminating the disparity in access to treatment. But perhaps most importantly, our luncheon — like all other NAN events during the 20th anniversary convention — focused on taking decisive action.

Over the past few weeks, many of us watched and listened to a national budget “debate” that somehow transitioned into an attack on women, Planned Parenthood and our health needs. But what this mainly male-dominated conversation left out was the slew of vital services, such as cancer screenings and regular gynecological exams that Planned Parenthood provides to so many disenfranchised women who would otherwise be forgotten. Although we can rejoice that Planned Parenthood is off of the negotiating table for now, it will come up for a vote again in the future — as will other gender and equity issues. This time, we must be prepared.

We at NAN recently formed our own women’s council designed to monitor gender and race relations across the board, ensure equality on the hill in D.C., and urge other young women to actively engage in the process. The day after our national convention closed, we opened an office on Capitol Hill to stay engaged in important dialogue about women’s issues. We cannot simply hear about legislation; we must read it and study it. We cannot think of governmental policy as something happening over there; we need to understand how and why it directly impacts everyone. As Supreme Court cases based on gender and equity issues arise, we must comprehend what’s at stake and what the outcomes are. NAN’s women’s council will relentlessly work to level the playing field so that every female is strengthened, educated and empowered to shatter whatever glass ceiling she desires. We will lobby and impress upon the government that that African American women are still suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, AIDS and many other diseases at higher rates than other women and therefore we need resources that will break down this disparity.

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