One of Dayton's historic landmarks takes on a new role in the community when the Paul Laurence Dunbar House hosts West Dayton Diabetes Day on Thursday, November 12. The popular health promotion event, now in its sixth year, is moving to the Dunbar House State Memorial Museum while the Charles R. Drew West Dayton Health Center is being renovated.
Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar was "deeply affected by health concerns throughout his life," says LaVerne Sci, director of the Dunbar House museum. "He experienced firsthand what lack of medical treatment meant to his family and his people."
Dunbar's sister, Elizabeth Florence, died from a respiratory disorder when Paul was four years old. The year was 1876. Like most African-Americans in Dayton at the time, the Dunbar's had no access to medical care and they relied on home remedies. "Elizabeth Florence's death had a lasting impact on Paul," Sci says. "He went inside himself then. He became an observer. That was the beginning of his life as a writer."
Dunbar gained national and international fame as a poet at the turn of the century, but his career was cut short by tuberculosis. In 1902 he purchased the house at 219 N. Summit Street -- now Paul Laurence Dunbar Street -- where he lived with his mother Matilda, a former slave. Dunbar died there in 1906. Matilda lived on in the house until her death in 1934. Shortly thereafter, the Ohio legislature dedicated the house as a memorial to Dunbar. It became the first public monument in America dedicated to an African-American man. "Paul Laurence Dunbar was a proclaimer of dignity. He symbolizes hope," Sci says. "I think Paul would be proud to know that his home is now being used for community events like West Dayton Diabetes Day."
The Nov. 12 event combines free health screenings and diabetes education with an opportunity to experience turn-of-the-century elegance at the Dunbar House. Tours of the Dunbar House historical exhibits will be offered for a 50-cent donation (reduced from the regular $3 admission fee). The Dunbar House staff will don festive period costumes for the occasion. Another popular feature of West Dayton Diabetes Day will be the Diabetes Soul Food Fest, a free lunch from 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. that features tasty soul food prepared and served in portions that meet the diet needs of people with diabetes. Parking will be available at the Drew Health Center, 1323 West Third Street. A free shuttle service will run between Drew and the Dunbar House from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
All health activities at West Dayton Diabetes Day are free and open to the public. West Dayton Diabetes Day is sponsored by Good Samaritan Hospital, the Center for Healthy Communities, the Diabetes Association of the Dayton Area (DADA), WDAO Radio 12.10 and WDTN TV 2.