The Chicago chapter of 100 Black Men (100BMC) welcomed over 200 people to its annual Health and Wellness Expo over the weekend at Malcolm X College. From 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. a number of free resources were available, including health screenings, sports physicals, cooking and fitness demonstrations, and flu shots. Staying true to their vision of exceptional leadership, 100 Black Men of Chicago included a variety of seminars led by Dr. Terry Mason, Derrick Young, Representative Marcus Evans, Dr. Sheehan Fisher, and Chef Eric Meredith.
“Today was very successful,” says Christopher Cook, chairman of the upcoming college scholarship fair. “We felt that this was very important to our communities, specifically with our black males, because we want them to be empowered to check on their health or even go to the doctor,” added Cook. “We’re trying to change that narrative by saying ‘Hey, it’s O.K. to go and get checked up about your health because at the end of the day, we as black men play a pivotal role in this society.”
Cook is anticipating that the upcoming 100BMC college scholarship fair at UIC, will draw more than 5,000 students and parents who will receive information about colleges and resources for scholarships. The fair will be held on October 4 and 5. It’s expected that 90 percent of the colleges in attendance will be admitting students on the spot.
The energy felt throughout the wellness expo was due in large part to its master of ceremonies, afternoon radio personality Johnny “Koolout” Starks from Soul 106.3.
Starks played an active role as M.C. by also participating in various health screenings, demonstrating his belief that black men’s health is about being proactive and not reactive.
“We have to make these things important. We have to continue to teach. We have to continue to learn. We have to continue to talk it up, so that people aren’t discovering the medical treatment they needed after they get sick.”
He said that while men’s health does receive attention from the medical perspective, more events like the wellness expo could be done to raise awareness in poorer areas.
“There needs to be a very focused effort in getting into those areas [where people] can’t afford the healthcare,” says Starks. “Because most of us who are suffering from these particular illnesses generally don’t have the resources to keep up with insurance, may not have steady jobs, [or] may not be in a place where we can afford it.”
Starks also said that economic disparities prevent many men from being proactive about health. In 2016, a total of 13.7 percent of black men aged 65 years or younger were uninsured compared with 8.3 percent of white men, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
“Even when I was coming up, the most important thing was just staying alive, being safe,” said Starks. “If you’re in an area where you’re only making enough to cover rent, then your priority is either rent or what’s needed now.”
Starks recommends not only making health education and services readily available and affordable in lower-income communities but trying innovative or more realistic ways to ensure that black men are giving their health the attention it requires. He said that by connecting it with things our community often supports, like football games, more organizations like 100BMC can effectively reach more young black men.
“I’ll be honest when somebody comes to the city and it’s a concert or something, we’re the first ones to buy tickets,” says Starks. “Okay then, let’s connect with these concerts and do those screenings in there as well.”
“This was a success because it was executed [well]. Even if they only had a handful of people, at least a handful of people got some information that they wouldn’t have gotten. So, it’s a step- by-step process.”
Current health statistics on African American men further prove the need for the wellness expo and many others like it.
According to a 2018 report by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “Black men have the highest age-adjusted all-cause mortality rate and arguably the worst health status of any race–gender group in the U.S.” Data from the American Heart Association shows 60.1 percent of black men, age 20 and older, had some form of cardiovascular disease.
Personal trainer Gabori Partee was on hand to offer tips on at-home workouts and how to maintain your health and fitness without going to the gym. As the owner of Fitness for Life, he says that he is a firm believer that “each one teaches one.”
“This was an event that you could come and learn a lesson,” says Partee. “If you are a professional, it was also an event where could come and give a lesson.”
“I’m a black man and I want others to see me healthy, and understand that we do take care of ourselves, we do strive to be better physically, mentally and emotionally.”
To the black man who says grueling work hours and other responsibilities prevent an active lifestyle, Partee says you can work out anywhere and it only requires four percent of physical activity a day.