“I remember when the Race to Equity report came out how it was a wake-up call. I’m hoping that this report will be our wake-up call that strongly indicates that we are not doing nearly enough,” says Aaron Perry. “I like the quote by Barack Obama where he says, ‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time.’ That is very profound. Because that is where we are at. We cannot sit back and wait for someone to do this for us. We have to do it ourselves.”
Perry, founder and president of Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association (RLWA), has partnered with Public Health of Madison & Dane County this week to release a report on the social and health conditions of black men in Dane County. The report titled “The Health Conditions of Black Men in Dane County” found some overall dismal statistics and laid out the challenges for black men in Dane County around health. But Perry says that knowing is half of the battle.
And now it’s time to get to work.
“I spoke with the folks from Public Health and we created this document because we knew how important it was. In order to move forward, you have to know where you are at,” Perry tells Madison365. “This document clearly tells us where we are at and it tells us where we need to be. It is my hope, as the leader of this project, that we can immediately begin to address many of these issues that are outlined in this report.
“I purposely coinciding the timing of the release of this report to be this week during National Men’s Health Week (June 12-18),” he adds. “Because it’s Men’s Health Week, I’m really encouraging men to go out and get an annual check-up and that is one of the things I am hoping that comes from releasing this report.”
The statistics from the report show that black men in Dane County are in a crisis situation in so many ways and so many areas.
“When you look at these numbers, they speak for themselves. If this does not spell out ‘We’re in a crisis situation!’ I don’t know what will,” Perry says. “These are alarming numbers. But, now that we have the information, let’s start building from here. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
“The Health Conditions of Black Men in Dane County” found that:
◆ 66 percent of black men are overweight or obese
◆ 26 percent do not exercise
◆ 36 percent smoke cigarettes
◆ 41 percent have high blood pressure
◆ Heart disease, cancer, and stroke are the leading causes of death in black men
◆ Black men are twice as likely to die of complications from diabetes as white men
◆ Black men in Wisconsin die 6 years younger than white men
Too often, people get caught up in just the physical health, but the report also showed that black men in Dane County were suffering mentally. The report found that black men need safe spaces. “The mental part is so important, too. Sometimes we forget about that,” Perry says.
“The Health Conditions of Black Men in Dane County” also found:
◆ 18 percent of black adults report poor mental health, twice the rate of white adults
◆ Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among black men ages 15-24
◆ Black men are less likely to access mental health services than other men.
Information for the report came from a variety of sources including the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health America, JAIDS, the Mayo Clinic and more. For Perry, who has been dealing with and helping other people with issues pertaining to African American men’s health for a good portion of his life, was there anything surprising?
“The average age of life expectancy surprised me. We have a tendency to focus on the national average, but what I can tell you is that Wisconsin is significantly lower than the national average,” he says. “It’s not something that people would think.”
A lot of the issues that were found in the report is what Perry deals with every day as the owner of RLWA Men’s Health & Education Center, Dane County’s leading grassroots organization focused exclusively on improving the health of African-American men.
“We believe that we have found the model for a national model at the Health & Education Center. With these disparities that you see in this report, it really signals that more needs to be done and that we need to be more creative on how to improve these health disparities,” Perry says. “That was the central focus on me opening the Men’s Health and Education Center inside of JP Hair Design. We knew that there was a significant number of men who came to the barbershop, and it was our hope that we would begin to reach those men.”
Perry also hosts a Black Men Run group that has really taken off and helped area African-American men improve their health.
“We’ve gotten men’s attention with that and we are growing,” he says, “so I’m really excited about that.”
Perry says that the new report should be a wake-up call for Madison and Dane County but that he has to up his own game, too.
“Even for me as an organization, we have to do more. We have typically reached about 400 men a year – getting them actively involved whether it be our men’s health conference, our Black Men Run group, or some of our other initiatives. Looking at this report, it is my goal to significantly reach higher and target a higher number of men,” Perry says. “I know that some people will not think this is achievable, but my goal moving forward is to be able to target 3,900 men a year. That’s a lofty goal, but that would put us right around reaching 28 percent of the African-American men in Dane County. I think that’s a good start.
“It is my hope that the data will continue to reflect that we are, in fact, reaching the men that the medical communities have consistently stated that they cannot reach,” he adds. “I feel like we have been reaching them.”
Perry encourages other organizations to establish their own health goals for the number of African-American men they want to reach and to start making a dent in huge racial heath disparities here in Madison.
“The bottom line is: We have to reach higher. We can do this,” he says. “We have great resources in this community and it is really time for us all to unite and get well together.”