Aaron Perry founded the Men’s Health and Education Center, located inside JP Hair Design, after he noticed that many of the Black male customers getting haircuts at JP’s often talked about their health problems, but didn’t see any physicians. The center has grown quite a bit since its beginnings and now hosts inspiring programs that bring Black men from throughout the area together to focus on their health like Black Men Run, Black Men Cycle and Black Men Hike.
The kickoff for the 2023 season of those initiatives will take place Saturday, March 25, at 11 a.m., at the Men’s Health & Education Center, 588 Grand Canyon Drive, on Madison’s west side. Lunch will be catered by David’s Jamaican Cuisine.
“This is just a continuation of our efforts to keep improving the health of Black men in Dane County,” Perry tells Madison365. “Someone asked the question the other day: Is this kickoff event just for Back men? No, it’s actually not. Anybody can come out and join us. But our focus is on Black men because the numbers and the disparities continue to illustrate that we are in a crisis and so this event is just a response or a wake-up call to men that may be in a sedentary lifestyle. It’s time to get up and get moving and this is an opportunity for them to do that.”
Perry, the first African-American diabetic man to ever finish an Ironman competition, is nationally known for his work in reducing racial disparities in men’s health and is the CEO and founder of Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association.
“When we started Black Men Run Madison we actually received permission from the National Black Men Run organization back in 2015,” Perry remembers. “So we were blessed with a chapter here and that was always my goal — to try to diversify Madison’s running community. Because there were times when I was doing Ironman and I was training, and I just didn’t see very many people that looked like me out on the course. So my goal was to diversify Madison’s running community.”
But then the pandemic came and the Black Men Run group was forced to stay indoors or if they went outdoors, they had to social distance. That’s when more initiatives were started.
“So starting Black Men Hike and Black Men Cycle Madison was an opportunity for us to all stay together. But at the same time, we can get exercise while continuing to social distance,” Perry says. “And so that’s where all of the three events come in together.
“At the end of the day, what we do know is that 19 percent of adults in Dane County reported no participation in physical activity outside of work,” Perry continues. “What we do know is that a large number of this percentage are Black men. So we’re just trying to let guys know that these opportunities are available. We try to make them at times where anyone can come out and join us … so that’s the goal of the day.”
At the kickoff event, James Mills, an outdoors journalist, independent media producer, author, and avid outdoorsman, will lead trail hikes.
“James Mills coordinated that Ice Age Trail hike up north. So we drove about three hours up north, and we hiked the Ice Age Trail and that was a phenomenal experience,” Perry says. “We got a cabin; we stayed overnight. We talked about Black people in hiking. James is phenomenal. He’s going to lead the hike portion.”
Retired University of Wisconsin police officer Fred Conley will lead the Black Men Run morning walks.
“I worked with Fred as a police officer back in the day at UW. He is now in his early 70s,” Perry says. “He will lead our walks on Saturday mornings. And then we will have Mr. Dino Lucas leading the cycling rides. He’s been a triathlete. He has done almost every Ironman pretty much in the world.
“Dino had a hip replacement. So, again, he’s able to show people that even when you have something like a knee replacement or a hip replacement, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your exercise.”
Perry says that there are five specific health goals that they are trying to achieve in 2023.
“We want men to get to a point where they are less than 40 inches with their waist circumference,” he says. “With their blood pressure, we want guys to maintain that 120/80 blood pressure. We want men to get their LDL cholesterol less than 70 mg/dL, and their Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL. Obviously, the biggest one is the blood sugars and we want guys to be less than 100mg/dL and that’s fasting.
“We focus on those things, particularly with the blood sugars and diabetes, because we do know that 93 million people in the United States are living with pre-diabetes and they don’t know it,” Perry adds. “Sadly for a lot of those people where they, unfortunately, get a cut that won’t heal, that’s when they realize that they’re diabetic, and sometimes that could potentially lead to foot/toe amputation. So, all of this that we’re doing … there is a purpose for it and we just want guys to not only get healthy, but stay healthy.”
Perry adds that since they started Black Men Run in 2015, they’ve had over 520 men come out and participate with them.
“People always ask me: how do you know how many people you’ve had through the years? Well, guess what, I got photos,” Perry laughs. “Every time we do anything, we take photos … and we’ve counted. So we’ve had about 520 guys come out and run/walk with us. We’ve grown the Black Men Cycle Madison group to about 49 guys, and then with our hiking group, we’ve had about 12 guys come out and hike with us. So we want to just keep this momentum going.”