Actress pushes for diabetes awareness
S. Epatha Merkerson is on a Thanksgiving mission.
When the Emmy-winning actress, best known for her nearly two-decade-long role as Lt. Anita Van Buren on "Law & Order," comes back to her hometown of Detroit for the Thanksgiving holiday, she'll be spending some quality time with the people she loves. At the same time, the Wayne State University grad will be challenging family members, friends and fans with type 2 diabetes to eat better, exercise and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Merkerson has been battling her own type 2 diabetes battle for 11 years; she lost her father and grandmother to the disease. In time for the holiday and National Diabetes Awareness month, she's teaming up with the pharmaceutical company Merck to urge people to take control of their type 2 diabetes, visit AmericasDiabetesChallenge.com and know their A1C (average blood sugar over the past two to three months).
"I've seen the complications of not managing type 2 diabetes," said Merkerson, who turns 62 the day after Thanksgiving. "We're really trying to urge people to know their A1C. This allows the doctor to really help you with the treatment plan and the lifestyle changes and medication if necessary. There are 29 million Americans who have diabetes and nearly half of them are not at goal. So it becomes imperative that we start having this dialogue."
It's a conversation Merkerson, who lives in New York, has been having with one of her brothers. Of those living with diabetes in this country, 5 million are African-American.
"Anytime something affects one person in the family, it's going to affect everyone else," she said. "I have a brother who's dealing with these issues right now, and there are five of us, five children. He's the fourth. I'm the last. But we're all dealing with it because what affects him is going to affect us. And we want him to be well. It's my brother. I love him."
Merkerson is thankful that her 87-year-old mother, who has diabetes too, cooks delicious but healthy holiday feasts and is taking good care of herself.
"My mother throws the pots in the kitchen. She can throw down," Merkerson said. "Here's the deal: One of the things that I appreciate about my mom, who will be 88 in December, is that she changed her diet when she turned 40. So what I do know is that the food will be prepared in a healthy way. And what I also know, at some point, I have to do some exercise with her. My mother exercises every day for 30 minutes. She may be healthier than all five of us.
"So, I have this role model. And then on the other side, I saw what not managing your diabetes can do with my dad, with my grandmother. So I have the choice, and the choices have always been in front of me with my mom and with my dad and how they lived their lives."
Sadly for Merkerson's fans, "Law & Order" ended its run in 2010 (it can still be seen in syndicated reruns) and TV One canceled its 2012 crime reenactment series "Find Our Missing," which she hosted.
But the Tony-nominated thespian is always busy. Merkerson starred in the off-Broadway production of Billy Porter's "While I Yet Live," which recently wrapped, and she has been directing. Her film "The Contradictions of Fair Hope" is now on DVD and she tweets @s_Epatha.
As for the holiday, Merkerson will be taking brisk walks, relaxing and skipping the Detroit Lions' game against the Chicago Bears.
"Sports and me don't mix," said the one-time Cooley High School cheerleader and drama club member. "I won't be watching the Lions game. If Bette Davis is somewhere on the TV, I will be watching her — her or Kerry Washington."
Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based TV critic.