Actor Ben Vereen in Chicago speaking out on diabetes

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Tony Award-winning actor,singer and dancer Ben Vereen is starring in the most pivotal role of his life: managing his Type 2 diabetes.

Tony Award-winning actor,singer and dancer Ben Vereen is starring in the most  pivotal role of his life: managing his Type 2 diabetes.

Vereen was in Chicago Saturday on behalf of the American Diabetes Association for the organization’s expo. It featured cooking demonstrations, health screenings and leading experts lecturing how to manage and prevent diabetes.

In 2007, the actor was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes –– the adult-onset version of the diseas –– and is encouraging individuals to Start Taking Action Now For Diabetes (S.T.A.N.D.).

"It’s important that we get the word out because no one is talking about it (diabetes). This is not just a campaign. This is not just a convention. This is a movement," he told the Defender adamantly.

According to the ADA 25.8 million children and adults in the United States – 8.3 percent of the population – have diabetes. Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes in which the body does produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Seven million cases  are undiagnosed and 79 million people are said to be pre-diabetic.

Vereen is always working, and hasn’t let his diagnosis of the disease limit him.

"I listen to what my caregiver tells me (to do). I check my blood sugar and take my insulin. I exercise. I changed my eating habits. I feel better…look better. I feel wonderful. It has not slowed me down," said Vereen, born Benjamin Augustus Middleton. "Awareness is the key. When I had the symptoms … dry mouth, lethargic, tired, urinating a lot, I didn’t know the symptoms, but once I became aware, my life is better."

The actor, who starred as "Chicken" George Moore in Alex Haley’s 1977 ground breaking mini-series, Roots, said he is encountering transformative developments in his own life. In the 1960s, while applying for a passport to tour with Sammy Davis Jr., he learned he was adopted. In his yet-to-be-titled autobiography, he discusses the journey of finding his birth mother and siblings.

"It’s been amazing. Also when I found my family, that’s when I found out I had been diagnosed with diabetes. I said, ‘thank you Alex Haley,’" Vereen said, laughing.

The multi-talented entertainment icon has not put away his top hat, fedora or his tap shoes. He recently released a live CD, Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen, where he performs songs ("I’ve Got You Under My Skin", "Getting to Know You") from his famed Broadway show career ("Aquarius", "Mr. Bojangles").

"People have asked me for years to put out a CD. I’m proud to say I have five stars on iTunes. I’m very excited," he said.  

The Tony Award winner who has starred in Broadway productions of  "Jesus Christ Superstar, "Hair", and "Pippin" is a passionate advocate in preserving the arts.

"When you cut the funds to the arts, you’re cutting our culture. Arts is the main thing that drives our culture. Music and rhythms is usually through the song and dance…movement. When you cut that string off you’re cutting off God’s expression of our creative ability," he explained.  The famed dancer wants everyone to support and appreciate theater performances.

"We gotta change the consciousness (towards theater). It’s a matter of a mindset. We have to stand together as a people. It’s not about a certain sector of people. It’s about all people. We must include all people in the arts. We have to get that mindset…in the producers and the press. It’s an inclusive thing. So the African American community doesn’t feel excluded. We don’t need separatism now. We need unity,” Vereen said.

Vereen’s name has been among the credits on the big screen and the small screen. He has maintained a presence on television with appearances of shows from back in the day ¡– New York Undercover and Touched By An Angel – and ones on air now, including Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

"Do not strive for perfection when excellence will do," the veteran actor encouraged.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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