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State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, invoked Martin Luther King Jr. on Saturday as he addressed a group of Chattanooga churchgoers working to address health disparities — preventable differences in health incurred by socially disadvantaged populations.

"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman," said Hardaway, as he repeated the civil rights leader's words and called out those who commonly misquote "health" as "health care" and "inhuman" as "inhumane."

"That's important. There's a difference between health and health care," he said, adding that death is "the ultimate brutality as a consequence of poor health."

Hardaway, the chairman of Tennessee's Black Caucus of State Legislators, was the keynote speaker at the Inaugural Faith-Based Health and Wellness Symposium at Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church.

The event was the first of its kind for the new Faith-based Health and Wellness Council, which formed in January.

Hardaway encouraged people to focus more on "well care" — disease prevention through healthy living — rather than "health care," and spoke about the intersection between health, education and economic attainment.

Research shows that the reason children struggle in school or life often relates to the care they received in the womb and early childhood, when the developing brain is especially vulnerable to stress and trauma, he said.

For these reasons, Hardaway said it's important to reduce adverse childhood experiences, often called ACEs, but there's also a need to address adult chronic trauma, which he dubbed ACT.

"Why is it important? The adults are the system by which our children are raised," he said, adding that he plans to address adult trauma with the help of fellow state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, in the coming year.

About 100 participants and 24 churches were represented at Saturday's event, which was sponsored by Cempa Community Care, The Southeast Tennessee Health Consortium and Hospice of Chattanooga.

Chris Ramsey, a council member and president of the Southeast Tennessee Health Consortium, said the next meeting will take place June 29.

"We want to continue to empower our community. We want some creative ideas," Ramsey said. "Somebody said 'What if every church had a raised-bed garden? We could do away with the food deserts.' Those are the types of solutions that we want to come up with."

Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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