Project DIRECT (Diabetes Intervention Reaching and Educating Communities Together) is a multilevel community-based intervention project designed to address diabetes and its complications in an African-American community. This article presents results of the Project DIRECT pilot study and describes risk factors for diabetes, diabetes prevalence, complications, and care practices. During 1993, a pilot study was conducted among persons 20 to 74 years of age in Wake County, North Carolina. The study involved household interviews and examinations, and more extensive health center interviews and examinations based on the race of the head of the household, previous diagnosis of diabetes, and results of capillary glucose tests done in the household. Of the black population aged 20 to 74 years, 52 +/- 3% reported being inactive and 51 +/- 3% were overweight; the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes was 5.2 +/- 0.9%; the prevalence of undiagnosed diabetes was 5.7 +/- 2.7%; and the prevalence of impaired glucose tolerance was 11.4 +/- 7.5%. Blacks with diabetes were significantly more likely than nonblacks with diabetes to have uncontrolled hypertension and to smoke cigarettes. Blacks with diabetes were significantly less likely to report having health insurance or to have a private health-care provider. Diabetes mellitus is a major public health problem in the African-American community of Wake County. Modifiable risk factors for diabetes and undiagnosed diabetes are common. Project DIRECT is attempting to improve the health-related quality of life of this population by reducing the burden of diabetes and its complications through a multilevel, community-based intervention.