Black owned barber shops across the country have become a place where African American men can get the information they need as it relates to adopting healthy lifestyles. Let’s face it. Black men, already among the leaders in acquiring many preventable diseases due in large part to our general lack of health care and other resources and our individual failure to see a doctor on a regular basis, spend more time and money and devote more attention to our cars and wardrobe than to our own physical health maintenance.
Dr. Bill Releford, founder of the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program, created a program that may well offer Black men, locally and domestically, their only hope, if not increase their awareness, of the importance of completing some basic health screenings that signal the onset of medical problems that may be fatal if not identified and addressed in a timely manner.
The Black Barbershop Health Outreach, launched in December 2007 at a—barber shop in Inglewood and simultaneously conducted health screenings in over 22 Black-owned barbershops throughout Los Angeles, and sponsored in part by Bayer Pharmaceutical, One United Bank and Radio Free, KJLH Radio 102.3 FM, offered free diabetes and high-blood pressure screenings to African American men.
“The Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program has utilized the existing community-based infrastructure of Black-owned barbershops to conduct cardiovascular screenings.” Releford said. “It was the first event of its kind in Los Angeles and it addressed the growing concern of undetected cardiovascular disease in African American men where over 40 percent of African American men die prematurely from cardiovascular disease as compared to 21 percent of White men.”
The launch event in Inglewood was broadcast live on KJLH Radio’s Saturday morning community affairs program, hosted by Jackie Stevens, and featured an impressive list of health professionals, community group health advocates and elected officials. Among the dozens of men who took advantage of the free health screenings, several were referred for immediate medical treatment as a result of, primarily, elevated blood pressure readings.
“Black men suffer far worse health conditions than any other racial group in America,” Releford explained. “There are a number of reasons for this.” He continued, “They include racial discrimination; a lack of affordable health services; poor health education, cultural barriers; poverty, employment that does not carry health insurance; insufficient medical and social services catering to Black men.”
According to Dr. Releford, the mission of the Black Barbershop Health Outreach program is to increase public awareness of diabetes and its complications by early detection, information dissemination, and referral to the appropriate medical resource. “Black-owned barber shops are a valuable asset to the African American community”, he also states.
“Our goal is to screen over 1000 African American men from Watts to Wilshire Blvd. and provide preventive education about preventable diseases and their complications.”
The event was a tremendous success judging by the turnout and the subsequent response Releford received from across the nation, apparently as a result of the worldwide, internet broadcast of KJLH’s community affairs program.
“I have received calls from Oakland, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and a host of others, from individuals interested in implementing a similar program in their community,” Releford explained. “The goal now is to raise the funds necessary to expand the program in the Los Angeles area and to expand it across the nation by the spring of 2008.” Releford also believes that using the existing community infrastructure of black-owned barber shops can save money as well as save lives.
“The Black Barbershop has traditionally been a place where black men from all segments of society could come together to talk about life, family relationships, regardless of their social status, and now I am hoping we can start talking about our health,” explained Donte Kelly, the Black Barbershop outreach coordinator.
The DAP Foundation’s African American Men’s Outreach Program seeks to partner with community groups and organizations to reduce the incidence of health conditions that adversely affect African American males by utilizing education, prevention and early detection by screening activities.
Eventually, it is anticipated that Black barbershop owners and operators will be trained to administer simple cardiovascular screenings to their patrons on a regular basis.
“Since Black men generally do not go to the doctor,” Releford concluded. “We will make essential cardiovascular testing available to them in non-traditional venues so that they may take advantage of procedures that may save their life.” Historically, black-owned barber shops have represented safe places for black men to gather and organize themselves. Now, they represent outlets for black men to live longer healthier lives.
For more information about the Black Barbershop Health Outreach, visit www.blackbarbershop.org.