CINCINNATI (July 12, 2023) — Time and again, Deasa Dorsey hears her patients with Type 2 diabetes say, “I can’t.”
I can’t eat sugar. I can’t live the life I want.
Deasa, a registered nurse, reminds them: You can still eat sugar, because it’s almost impossible not to. You can still lead a healthy, fulfilling life.
She knows Black adults are 60% more likely than white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes. She knows an immense amount of information is available about diabetes, the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States. She also knows many people feel overwhelmed by information overload.
So, while working as a travel nurse – a job that took the Cincinnati native to California, Washington, D.C., and places in between – Deasa spent her off hours creating a colorful, concise, easy-to-understand manual. It’s fewer than 40 pages but packed with essential information about diabetes, physical activity, food and stress management. It takes a holistic approach, focusing on a person’s mind, body and spirit.
Deasa calls it the iCan Manual: My Simple Manual For Living With Diabetes. She completed it in 2018.
She approached a company about publishing the manual but was turned down. Undeterred, in 2019 she returned to Cincinnati and launched a business, iCan Health Inc., focused on empowering people to reach an optimal state of health. By early 2020, she had planned multiple community events designed to increase exposure for the manual and her business.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, canceling everything. Deasa’s dreams for iCan Health almost died then and there.
Fortunately, a friend mentioned United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s new equity-focused grant program called Black Empowerment Works. Its goal: provide resources and funding for community-based, Black-led work.
Deasa worried the application process would be difficult. She was pleasantly surprised to learn it was not. She crunched some numbers to determine how much money she would need to print and deliver 300 iCan Manuals to people most at risk. She received her full funding request: $9,889.
“Receiving the grant meant a lot to me,” Deasa said, “because somebody believed in my idea. It was enough to get me started and really launched me into the next phase of the business.”
Since then, iCan Health has received two more rounds of Black Empowerment Works funding – $15,000 for 2021-2022 and $20,000 for 2022-2023. As a result, Deasa was able to expand the reach of her educational presentations to community events, health fairs, churches and elsewhere.
To help with such events, Deasa hired several interns – Black nursing and public health students at the University of Cincinnati. Black people, she notes, are underrepresented in the health care field.
Hoping to provide diabetes education to more Black men, who are at the highest risk for the disease, Deasa said she zeroed in on one of their favorite places to hang out. Last year, barbershops in Walnut Hills and Northside hosted iCan Health’s Barbershop Talks. Participants listened to a 15-minute presentation and received a free iCan Manual. Their haircuts – and tips for the barbers – were paid for by iCan Health.
“We had an awesome turnout,” Deasa said, “and were asked to come back.” This year, eight Barbershop Talks are planned.
Generally, an iCan Manual sells for $20. Whenever possible, Deasa seeks sponsorships so people attending iCan events can get a manual for free.
Deasa said being connected to United Way has led to mutually beneficial relationships with other Black Empowerment Works grantees. What’s more, the increased exposure for iCan Health has opened doors to partnerships with other health care organizations.
Most notably, CareSource, a nationally recognized nonprofit health plan, announced a partnership with iCan Health earlier this year. CareSource bought more than 6,000 manuals to distribute to people in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas.
“I started with nothing,” Deasa said. “Ever since the first Black Empowerment Works grant, we’ve been taking off. People love the manual. There was definitely a need for it. I’ve received awesome feedback from endocrinologists, from everyday people who have diabetes, and from people who don’t have diabetes who’ve learned a lot.
“As I go into communities, I’m watching lives be changed. I know that’s why I’m on Earth. I feel like I’m making a difference.”
United Way of Greater Cincinnati is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization [Tax ID: 31-0537502]. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.