Cedric the Entertainer

L-R, Freda Lewis-Hall, Chief Medical Officer, Pfizer, Inc., Cedric the Entertainer, Tonya Roberson, New Beginnings health ministry leader. Photo by Andrea V. Watson

CHICAGO–On the TV Land sitcom, The Soul Man, Cedric the Entertainer plays a minister, but while standing on a South Side church’s pulpit on Sunday, he wasn’t acting.

“Touch three people and say step on up,” the comedian/actor said to a congregation at New Beginnings Church on Sunday.

Pastor Corey Brooks invited the entertainer to talk about  “Step On Up,”  a program developed by Pfizer, Inc., a pharmaceutical corporation and the American Diabetes Association. The program’s purpose is to encourage those living with diabetes to go to the doctor if they experience a burning, shooting or stabbing-like pain in their feet or hands. For people diagnosed with diabetes, this diabetic nerve pain could mean that they have nerve damage.

Tonya Roberson is the health ministry leader at New Beginnings and she said there is a larger concentration of African Americans, more than 35,000, living with diabetes on the South Side of Chicago than any other part of the city.

Nationwide, 86 million live with pre-diabetes, meaning their blood glucose levels are high, but not high enough for a diagnosis. They are at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes. And 29 million have been diagnosed, said Freda Lewis-Hall, Pfizer’s chief medical officer.

“It is an illness that disproportionately affects African Americans,” she said.

If an individual doesn’t know they have diabetes, they aren’t able to manage it, Lewis-Hall said.

“Controlling it is really important because without doing that, there’s an increase risk for developing complications,” she said.

Some of those complications can affect a person’s kidney or eyes and even their nerves.

“Overtime, having diabetes damages your nerves and about half of the people who have diabetes actually have some nerve damage,” Lewis-Hall said.

The disease is called Diabetic Nerve Pain or Painful Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy (PDPN). It causes a burning, stabbing feeling in your hands and feet. Most people aren’t familiar with this symptom, which is why Cedric got involved with Step On Up to educate them on it.

“We wanted to bring someone who could identify with diabetes and the struggles that people have with diabetes, Brooks said. We knew that he could relate and we also wanted someone who the people could connect with.”

Cedric shared with an attentive audience that his father has diabetes and started experiencing the painful symptoms that come along with PDPN. He said he noticed that he stopped doing many of the activities that he once loved, like working in his yard. Encouraging his father to schedule a doctor’s appointment was at the top of the list. Cedric told the congregation to be observant to drastic changes in their loved ones’ lives.

He said that it isn’t unusual for African Americans to “self diagnose.” Even though Cedric isn’t living with diabetes, his father is, which is why he decided to use his celebrity status to create awareness about diabetic nerve pain.

Lewis-Hall said that it affects about one-in-five people with diabetes and many don’t even realize that it is related to their diabetes.

“If you are experiencing a burning sensation, a shooting pain, a stabbing pain in your hands and feet and you have diabetes, go to your doctor,” she said.

There is a free online assessment that people can take if they aren’t sure they have diabetic nerve pain.

Cedric said this will allow people to do it in the privacy of their home and then bring their printed results to their appointment. This can help make it easier for people to strike the much needed conversation with their physician.

“It is customary for us in our community to feel like we got it under control, and we don’t really want to bother anyone with it,” he said.

Some don’t want to say anything because they feel like they are complaining or don’t want to worry their family, Lewis-Hall said. Others don’t want to talk to their doctor because they might be afraid of it being something serious and they don’t want to know, she said.

Ignoring it is not an option, Cedric told church goers who nodded and clapped in agreement.

“We need to step up and speak up,” he said.

Working on this campaign isn’t all that the comedian is doing these days. He is working on “Top Five,” a new comedy with Chris Rock.

“All of your favorite comedians are in this movie,” Cedric said.

The film stars well-known actors and actresses like Rosario Dawson, JB Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Tracy Morgan, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd, Jay Pharoah, Anders Holm and Michael Che. C.

“Chris Rock was able to grab a lot of where we live, what we experienced, the insecurities, the highs and the lows of it and he used all of his friends to tell this story,” he said.

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