by Emily Akin
Yoruba Brewer is new to the KenTenn area, having relocated from Chicago in 2014. She’s a retired registered nurse, a member of the Crystal Family and Community Education
Club, and a volunteer at Baptist Hospital, Union City. She likes to be busy because, for years, she worked full-time in a hospital and served her church as a Faith Community Nurse.
Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, Yoruba is the oldest of five children. Her family attended a Missionary Baptist Church which had a “nurses board.” The nurses wore white uniforms during worship and were available to assist anyone having emotional or physical problems. Yoruba was about ten when she realized she wanted to be a nurse, all because of the influence of the church nurses. She said, “They wore white outfits and a special hat. I thought the nurses were cool.” The nurses had no formal medical training but were encouraged to attend first aid class. Yoruba joined the junior nurses board for girls. They got to wear the uniform and help the adults during services. “I loved being in the nursing group. When my sister became ill, I was her nurse at home.”
At Kenwood High School, Yoruba was president of the health careers club. She attended college at Chicago State University, graduating in 1985 with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She immediately went to work at The University of Illinois Medical Center as a floor nurse specializing in obstetrics, labor, and delivery. But something was missing.
“I’ve always believed that medical treatment involves a spiritual element,” Brewer said. In 1992, Yoruba sought a new church to attend. One Sunday, she visited Kenwood United Church of Christ. She joined that church the same day. After the service, Pastor Dr. Leroy Sanders asked her, “What do you do?” When she told him, he asked, “Have you ever heard of Faith Community Nursing?” He was looking for someone to head up a new Faith Community Nurse ministry. Yoruba was the perfect person for the job. Grant-funded at first, the ministry was later managed by the non-profit organization, Advocate Health Care. This ministry was just the connection between faith and health that Yoruba was looking for. She served the church in this capacity for 22 years. Yoruba then decided she needed a seminary degree. It took six years of part-time attendance at Chicago Theological Seminary, but she graduated in 2001. She was ordained as minister in the United Church of Christ in 2008.
Asked what a Faith Community Nurse does, Yoruba said they have several functions:
Integrator of faith and health, preaching sermons on health, for example,
Health educator, giving programs about health topics, Personal health counselor, one-on-one counseling (her favorite activity),vReferral agent, sending people to a doctor if they need it, Liaison between church and community, perhaps bringing the Red Cross or American Cancer Society representatives to do programs at the church or helping them with special events, Coordinator of volunteers, recruiting people to help with projects such as getting a vendor to have a flu shot clinic at the church, Developer of support groups, referring people with specific problems to an existing support group or starting a new group, Health advocate, being active in the personal, social, and political health related issues of the congregation and community.
After the move to Union City, Yoruba joined First Christian Church. To continue her health ministry, she hopes to start a church-connected ministry for seniors. She’s still motivated by the motto that has guided her ministry for years, a paraphrase of Hosea 4:6a: “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” Her desire is to help area seniors improve their health by offering senior health programs and partnering with the community. At events like blood pressure clinics or private appointments for health counseling, she wants to bring seniors together for educational and social interaction. “I want to help people connect spirituality and health,” she said. She mentioned hopes for a health fair at some point. Last time I saw her, she was on her way to the senior center to see how she could help there.
Yoruba works as a volunteer at Baptist Hospital, assigned to help in the lab. “You can’t keep an old nurse away from the hospital,” she said. She likes the work because it helps her get to know people in the health care community. She enjoys the Crystal FCE Club and the charitable work they do. Married to Terrence Brewer, she’s the mother of two sons, Shabaka of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Jabari of Atlanta. Plus, she is the grandmother of seven.
“I’m also researching what some call alternative medicine,” Yoruba said. “Others call it complementary medicine. Natural and medical remedies can work together to improve people’s health.” A good example is turmeric, a common spice used in cooking. Research has shown that it helps reduce inflammation. In addition, blueberries or apple cider vinegar seem to help lower blood pressure. “I want to experiment with these things myself and share my experience with others,” she said.
Learning and sharing about spirituality and health—that’s what Yoruba is all about.