THIS WEEK we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Given recent tragic events in Florida, Missouri, Staten Island and, well, all over America, it's obvious that racism and inequality remain a persistent American problem.

It is also worth noting that this year is the 50th anniversary of both the Selma marches and the Voting Rights Act, yet we are still marching and asserting that "black lives matter."

Related stories

Like all major urban cities, Philadelphia struggles daily with poverty, underperforming and underfunded schools, discrimination and huge disparities around health care, nutrition and fitness.

That's why, to me, King's birthday is not just about reflection and great speeches - it is a call to action. Although we may live in the wealthiest nation in the world, that wealth is not reflected in the lives of many African-Americans, whose health disparities, compared with other populations in the U.S., paint a familiar and ugly picture.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Minority Health and other sources tell us that, sadly, African-Americans are dying at alarmingly higher rates from every major disease.

Health inequalities decrease both quality and quantity of life. They also negatively affect employment opportunities, amplify social injustices and increase health-care costs for those who can least afford it.

Look at some data on African-American health in the United States from the CDC and other sources:

* African-American babies suffer the highest infant-mortality rate in the developed world.

* Black men lead the world in prostate cancer.

* Death from heart disease is 30 percent higher for blacks than whites.

* The death rate for all cancers is 30 percent higher among blacks.

* Among women, black women have the highest death rate from heart disease.

* Black women are twice as likely to have diabetes as nonblacks.

* Black women are 35 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than nonblacks.

* HIV is highest in the black community, representing 44 percent of all new infections.

Although that's the bad news, there are proactive steps we can take to reverse these trends and reclaim our health:

GET A CHECK-UP: Prevention is key. Get to a doctor or clinic for a complete checkup, including screening for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, cholesterol, high blood pressure and HIV. Get a mammogram, ladies. Gentlemen, get a prostate exam. A colonoscopy may be needed, too, depending on your age and family history.

WEIGHTY ISSUES: Being overweight or obese is a common risk factor for all preventable diseases. Losing weight is never easy but can save lives and reverse many health conditions.

EXERCISE DAILY: If exercise were a pill, everybody would take it. Without a doubt, exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your health. Even if you never lose a pound, you should exercise. I repeat, even if you never lose a pound, exercise! Just start walking, taking the stairs and doing a few calisthenics.

EAT SMART: Managing your health means managing what you eat. Give up fatty fried foods for herb-seasoned baked, broiled, grilled or steamed dishes. Prepare most, if not all, meals at home to improve your waistline and bottom line, too.

No, we cannot instantly undo centuries of racial, social, economic and health injustices, but we can continue the struggle by first reclaiming our health.

Then, in good health and with renewed vigor, we can fulfill King's long-awaited, still unfinished dream.

Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears Wednesdays.