LAS VEGAS, NM – Osei Bissau felt helpless as he watched his friends and family struggle with heart disease. He felt powerless seeing relatives afflicted by cancer and diabetes.
Now he’s fighting back.
Bissau, a Highlands graduate student completing a human performance and sport degree with a concentration in wellness, is working to start a nonprofit to encourage healthy behaviors in underserved communities.
“I want to address the growing problem of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stoke for women in black and brown communities,” Bissau said. “As an African-American myself, I understand those challenges intimately.”
Bissau said the nonprofit will be a walking program open to women 15 years old and older that will feature nutrition and exercise.
“Women have the fastest-growing rates of heart disease and diabetes in the country,” Bissau said. “People want to be healthy, but many don’t have a way. That’s where I see this nonprofit coming in. Walking is good because practically anyone can do it; you don’t need specialized gear.”
Bissau, who grew up in Denver’s east side during the 60s and 70s, said he plans to start his work in Las Vegas then reach out across the state.
“The problem is more acute here, and on the reservations, it’s a huge problem,” Bissau said.
Bissau said his graduate adviser, associate professor Jay Lee, has been instrumental in moving his nonprofit from an idea to a plan.
“We work pretty closely together, and Jay’s been a wealth of information,” Bissau said. “He’s worked on a project similar to what I want to do and gave me some good ideas and good contacts.”
Lee said he’s impressed by Bissau’s passion to foster change in his community.
“He’s taken the ball and ran with it,” Lee said. “It’s a great idea.”
Lee said addressing health issues in underserved communities benefits society as a whole.
“It’s a moral and ethical issue,” Lee said. “When a population is underserved through policy or resources, there are steps we can take to help those populations.”
Lee said by improving health disparities in black and brown communities, it will have an impact on longevity and a variety of other health indicators.
“Once you improve those, then the health outcomes and the larger population statistics improve as well,” Lee said.
Lee said he’s seen a tremendous amount of growth from Bissau during his studies at Highlands.
“He is a guy who wants an education, and he is willing to do what it takes to get that education,” Lee said. “Now he sees potential in himself and his ideas as well as a way to move forward. He sees the opportunities he can create for himself.”
For Bissau, the opportunities he wants to create for himself are driven by the opportunities he wants to create in his community.
“When I grew up in Denver, there was a dearth of resources in my area,” Bissau said. “It’s unfortunate to grow up and live in an area like that. A lot of the diseases we’re seeing today can be dealt with nutritionally, but you have to have the knowledge.”