Healing the Health of Southern Hospitality

When you envision yourself living your “BEST LIFE”, what do you see?

Being Healthy & Physically Fit?

Being Loved by Friends & Family?

Possessing Degrees & Business Ventures?

Being Mentally & Emotionally free?

I hope you are saying YES to some of these thoughts.

Being raised in the south has a significant impact on how you are able to live your “best life” across all of these domains of health: Physically, Socially, Intellectually, Emotionally, and Spiritually. As a matter of fact… if you were raised in the south you are already expected to die up to 20 years sooner than your counter parts who were raised in other areas because historically, we’ve lacked the ability to achieve optimal health in each of the categories above. Talk about a wakeup call!

Now, don’t get me wrong.I LOVE being raised in the south and I'm always going to rep my southern roots....


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BUT, I do realize embracing southern hospitality has caused some health issues that we as millennials need to course correct for future generations and most importantly for our own lives.

Not all thoughts on southern hospitality are positive. In fact, when many hear southern hospitality, some thoughts that come up are heart disease, diabetes, low income, uneducated and so many other negative terms that have been used to describe this amazing culture that myself and others adore. We can rewrite this health narrative as southern millennials.

Let’s begin healing the health of the south by addressing each one of the domains with southern flare and revamping our ideas of some of favorite cultural experiences! 

We can rewrite this health narrative as southern millennials.

1.   Healing the Physical

“Southern thighs save lives” is a saying that many southern belles pride ourselves on. Although appreciation for our curvy, voluptuous figures is an amazing feeling, we do need to pay attention to the health concerns that come along with maintaining our beautiful shapes.

At times being considered “thick” is heavily associated with obesity. The southern states lead the nation with the highest rates of obesity.  Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease, kidney disease and pregnancy complications are just a few of the diseases that can result from obesity. We can change the obesity rate of our southern community!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with indulging in southern dishes every now and then (especially during the holidays) but we must stay mindful in our day to day nutrition. One of the ways we can begin healing the physical of southern hospitality is by embracing the southern theme, Sweet Tea & Grits.

Sweet Tea & Grits- The process of making both sweet tea & grits includes just three key 3-ingredients. As you think of changing your health, you can use these three steps similar to that process to guide you.

-  The first ingredient in both sweet tea and grits is WATER. The benefits of water will transform your health not only physically but across all health domains. Be sure to have adequate water intake. 

- The second ingredient is the main ingredient---the tea bag or raw grits. You substitute this focusing on healthier meals of your choice. Whether it’s more veggies, less fast food, or no red meat. Dedicate your nutrition to something of substance that you can commit to.

-  The final ingredient is the what tops of your perfect drink or meal--- sugar for tea or cheese for grits. It is extra but takes the experience to the next level. Think of this extra step as something additional such as  physical activity to help top off your diet.

These 3 simple steps involving water, diet, and exercise can help us transform the physical state of health for ourselves and the south.

2.   Healing the Social

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Positive human social connection and compassion are important predictors of our overall health and well-being. No one wants to feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for, and forgotten, yet statistics show that isolation due to dispersed homes in rural southern communities create health issues for those citizens regardless of age and race. To address this health concern,  southerners should embrace our love for FESTIVALS!

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Not only do we have the best food in the south but we have the best festivals as well. Our local town festivals are opportunities for you to mix and mingle with others and continue to build network and interact with your neighbors. Attend the festivals that the south has to offer, try new dishes, meet new people, nurture your current friendships, and create solid social connections that leave you feeling loved with a sense of belonging!

3.   Healing the Intellectual

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51% of the students across the nation’s public schools are considered low income. 13 of the 21 states that house the majority of low income students are located in the South. As southerners, we constantly hear about how our schools rank compared to those in different regions and how our education system is failing us.

I honestly believe that we as millennials are entering the right career paths to address some of the issues that created the significant education disparities against those of southern heritage. One of the ways I believe we can aid in healing the intellectual health of the south is to embrace what I call the Mason Jar principle!

In the south, we use mason jars for everything. It can be a cup, a bowl, a container, a canning storage, an organizational tool, and so on. As southerners, we need to think of ourselves as mason jars. Where I come from, the deacon, vice principal, and community mortician were all the same person. Southerners must be versatile, multitalented, and adaptable to different situations because of the lack of resources in the community.

We can positively impact our intellectual health by not viewing our lack of resources as a disadvantage but as an opportunity to learn and teach ourselves new things. We see a need and we address it the best way we can and that’s what makes those from the south amazing intellectual leaders, teammates, and human beings. 

4.   Healing the Emotional/Spiritual

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Southern states top the list of the worst places for mental health care in the U.S. Not only do we have inadequate access to mental health care but we have a high prevalence of mental illness in youth and adults.

Can you believe the famous “Bible Belt” would have so many individuals with adverse health conditions? This information shocked me because statistics show that church attendance increases life expectancy and influences positive mood. Statistics also state that being spiritual lowers rates of alcohol consumption, risky sexual activity, and other unsafe behaviors. One of the ways I believe we can aid in healing the emotional and spiritual health of the south is to embrace what I call the Dirt Road principle!

Dirt roads to those not familiar may consider them dangerous, antiquated, and uncivilized. To those of us raised in the south, we see so much more. A dirt road symbolizes a path less traveled; an opportunity to get your destination.

At times our emotions and spiritual health can be challenged due to comparison. Comparison of ourselves to others. We see what others have achieved and we see the paved road traveled for their arrival. Sometimes we get so caught up in their destination, that we miss our journey because we are trying to travel a road not meant for us. The highway or interstate path may not be for you. There may be a short cut on a backwoods dirt road. Yes, the ride may be bumpier! Yes, the ride may have holes, water, and animals all around! And yes, you may come out dirtier than when you entered! But you will come out, and you will come out in a better position than when you started because you trusted the process and you trusted what was built before you as a way for you to arrive at your destination.  Come on Somebody!

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In summary, we will begin to live our best life by influencing our physical health with a simple 3 step recipe; by impacting our social health through attending local festivals and networking; by empowering our intellectual health through becoming multitalented and resourceful; and by investing in our emotional and spiritual health through taking our own path and no longer comparing ourselves to others.

We each can achieve what we envision as our BEST LIFE. We do not have to subject ourselves to the negative historical statistics of the south. Let’s start the process of healing ourselves so that we can in turn heal the health of the south!


 Meet Georgina “Joy” Dukes

Georgina Dukes is a Strategic Services Associate for Duke Heart covering four hospitals and eight affiliates. She is also the Founder of Joy of Romeo, a motherhood empowerment platform that has positively impacted the lives of working mothers across South Carolina and North Carolina that was inspired by her personal journey with her son, Romeo.

Georgina earned her Bachelors in Health Science from Clemson University and her Masters in Health Administration from the Medical University of South Carolina and is trained in design thinking, health promotion, and behavior change theory. She prides herself on being a social justice advocate and using healthcare as a vehicle for change in the community.