The African American Church Empowerment Project

Introducing the African American Church Empowerment Project

The African American Church Empowerment Project seeks to empower and support caregivers through education and training by relying on trusted relationships inherent in faith communities. Churches are communities of trust, empathy, and compassion. This is especially important in minority communities where members rely heavily on the church’s leadership and one another for support through life crisis.

“It is time to refocus, reinforce, and repeat the message
that health disparities exist and that health equity benefits everyone.”
– Kathleen G. Sebelius,
Former Secretary, US Dept of Health and Human Services

Racial Disparity

Hospice care is a covered Medicare benefit. Most healthcare professionals consider hospice to be the gold standard for end-of-life care. And yet, it is largely underutilized by minorities and people of color.

Because minority communities are underutilizing hospice care, thousands of terminally ill patients and their families are likely not receiving the many benefits that hospice provides to those facing the end of life, including: expert pain control, symptom management, increased quality of life, emotional and spiritual support, holistic comfort measures, volunteer assistance, social work services, and grief support.

The African American Church Empowerment Project seeks to address this disparity.


Today the African American Church Empowerment Project provides education and resources to help caregivers navigate the task of caring for loved ones approaching end of life. By training members of the faith community, we prepare embedded advocates for caregivers and patients.

The Project is comprised of five 2-hour sessions, held virtually via Zoom, or in person. Each session includes robust conversations addressing the following topics:


In this first session, we’ll explain hospice eligibility, who pays for hospice, where hospice care happens, the hospice team concept, and grief support.


Experience the emotional journey of doctors, patients, and family members as they make difficult end-of-life decisions in an ICU setting, as seen through the documentary ‘Extremis’. We’ll explore documents used to make someone’s wishes known in regards to medical treatment when they are unable to speak for themselves. Participants are encouraged to begin difficult conversations about end-of-life preferences and plans with family members and friends.


Participants will engage in a discussion about the impact loss has on all our lives, what supportive presence looks like, and how to offer that presence to others. This session includes role-play.


Follow a physician on his journey to understand the importance of preparing patients and families for end-of-life issues in the documentary Being Mortal. Our hospice medical director will join the group to share experiences and answer questions. Participants are encouraged to talk with members of the community about the training and coursework.


Bren’e Brown defines empathy as “…simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of you’re not alone.” Participants will review elements of empathic listening, and then use role-play to heighten listening skills. The goal will be to encourage conversation even if they do not have answers. Participants will be presented with a certificate acknowledging their training.

The African American Church Empowerment Project director is available for follow-up support for one year, offering additional educational opportunities and resources. This also encompasses facilitating grief support, including grief support groups for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.

The African American Church Empowerment Project is presented at no cost to participants, thanks to a grant from the St. Francis Fund. A second project, the Faith Community Empowerment Project, has been funded by The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, to provide end-of-life care education in other underserved communities.

To learn more, simply reach out to our team.

“After learning about hospice/palliative care, my perspective has totally changed, for I know now it is actually more beneficial to our loved ones instead of an abrupt end to life. In moving forward, I believe I have the tools needed for conversations concerning hospice that I never had before.”

–Renee W.,
Second Ebenezer Church , Detroit

How It Began

In a feasibility study funded by the St. Francis Fund, Angela Hospice brought together African Americans in higher education, churches, senior health care facilities, and social service programs to explore their responses to the literature and data surrounding the underutilization of hospice care by minority communities. They confirmed these disturbing findings, explaining that the statistics reflect a lack of trust in our healthcare system. For African Americans, that distrust is rooted in both historical and present-day experiences, including the lack of healthcare access, affordability, and trusted healthcare resources.

Consequently, when it comes to end-of-life care or hospice, a large number of patients in physical and emotional distress question the medical community’s stated commitment to equitably provide a type of care that primarily focuses on comfort rather than healing. Family caregivers also question the medical community’s commitment, especially when approached about hospice while they are emotionally distressed and are given limited facts to inform their decision.

The feasibility study included basic hospice education for those in attendance. Additionally, we asked for recommendations about how best to share this information with the African American community. With basic hospice education, participants agreed that this information should be shared in the community. They recommended that, with the approval of church leadership, this education be made available to local churches.