John-Hall | A patron saint for the black and overweight
By Annette John-Hall | Inquirer Columnist
J. calls herself the Darth Vader of Overeaters Anonymous.
the fallen angel pushing for cultural inclusion in the group she says
saved her life. A proud pioneer advocating for diversity while on the
road to recovery herself.
she's black - "a race-baiting heretic," she said and laughed.
only half-joking. For more than a decade, Angela J. - that initial is
good enough for public identification, she assures me - has been on a
mission to include more African Americans in OA.
1996, she started Ebony Overeaters Anonymous within OA for African
Americans to address the special issues they face in their weight-loss
struggles. In 1998, she launched an accompanying Web site,
Starting today at the Loews Hotel, about 100 Ebony OA members from
around the world will meet for their own retreat, two days of workshops,
testimonies and spiritual programs, all with a cultural focus, before
the OA's World Service Convention begins Thursday through Sept. 2, also
at the Loews. Members from nearly 7,000 groups listen to "abstinent"
speakers and learn strategies to resist overeating.
only requirement for joining is a desire to stop compulsive eating. As
well-intentioned and inclusive as it sounds, the traditional
organization never took racial differences into account.
is as important as the how. Black folks face particular pressures - from
living in high-crime areas, working at low-wage jobs, and dealing with
the daily racism that saps self-esteem.
are just some of the issues traditional OA doesn't address.
wants to create an environment where African Americans "can come into a
room that helps them heal, helps them undo the damage of oppression.
[12-step] philosophy says you must suspend your ethnicity in order to
recover," Angela says, "but . . . it wasn't teaching me how to live in
Angela, 54, near AT&T Park in San Francisco , where she lives.
she doesn't look like Darth Vader. There's none of the shrillness you'd
expect in an agitator. She's so subdued I had to strain to hear her.
5-foot-3, she looks as though she's a size 10 soaking wet, an eternity
away from the 208-pound size 22 she was at her heaviest.
wants to be clear: OA helped save her life. A self-described binger, she
says she was digging her grave with her own fork.
from a Christian background," she says. "Food was a byproduct of
pleasure," and in church although there was no drinking or drugging,
there sure was a lot of eating.
house," she says, "it was, 'Praise God and pass the mashed potatoes.' "
spiritually based program, modeled on the success of Alcoholics
Anonymous, appealed to her. Angela could admit she was powerless over
food (step 1) and turn her addiction over to a greater power (step 2).
When faced with temptation, she could pray her way out of it (step 11).
more she became involved, the more troubled she was by the dichotomy in
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control study, black women are
42 percent more likely to suffer from obesity and its attendant diseases
- high blood pressure, diabetes - than white women.
it then that African Americans, many of whom find support in religion,
accounted for only 3 percent of OA members?
soon clear to Angela and other black members that for all its talk about
inclusive fellowship and the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects
of addiction, OA didn't address the cultural.
longtime OA member named Vondalyn says Ebony OA has allowed her to purge
emotionally as well as physically. She has "released" 50 of her 300
pounds and controlled her high-blood pressure.
among other African Americans is like therapy.
you live in the inner city, you have a lot of different issues. Like,
how I grew up, a single mother raising children, living on a restricted
income. . . . There's nothing like talking to people who have been
there," she says. For example, she would like to lose another 50 pounds
from her 6-foot-1 frame, but some white members might still consider her
becoming one of two African Americans on OA's 16-member volunteer board,
Angela has pushed a national resolution for diversity training among its
black communities where obesity is at epidemic proportions, we need more
leaders like her.
matter of life and death.
reprinted by permission from Annette John-Hall and the Philadelphia
2008 Ebony OA Retreat
Bookmark or save this link in your favorites for updates on the 2008
Ebony OA Retreat
Annual Ebony OA Online and Phone Retreat
From the United Kingdom to Utah almost a hundred Ebony OA members
participated in the Third Annual Ebony OA Retreat both online and
by phone over the August 5-6, 2006 weekend. The phone meetings proved
to be the most popular and consequently we now host an EOA Phone
We are very elated to report that in
September 2006, all
of the Ebony OA registered meetings in the northern California area were
formed into an official OA service body within Region II, the Ebony
OA Bay Area Intergroup, (EOABIG). This action was spurred on by a
desire to effectively carry the OA message to local communities where
previously there had been little success in OA outreach.
Therefore by the 7th Tradition
EOABIG is self-supporting. OA
members who care to contribute may do so by sending their monetary
donations or OA Literature donations to the chair, TBA who will
then generate a receipt in response to your contribution. Please make
your check payable to Ebony OA:
of Annual Ebony OA Retreat
The idea of getting together with other black/African American members
of Overeaters Anonymous sprung from 20 participants in OA who originally
met in August 2003 at OA World Service Convention in the city of
New Orleans. We held a special focus meeting and termed it
People of Color.
It was so great to see all of us together from around the country and
all committed to recovery, that we then pledged to have a Ebony OA
Retreat, the following year 2004. The 1st Annual Ebony OA
Retreat was announced at the Website to keep enthusiasm up but
despite the effort we only managed to talk online.
I'm happy to report we did meet in Oceanside, CA August 12-14 2005 but
just a few of us and it can be even better with more of us meeting Face
to Face at some future gathering.
“Together we can do, what we can never do alone.”