It was pleasant surprise for Aaron Perry when his Re-balanced Life Wellness Association (RLWA) was announced as the top innovative non-profit at the 2018 Wisconsin Innovation Awards October 3 at the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union in Madison.
“When you think of an award where they got proposals from all over the state of Wisconsin, the thought of us being in the company of many, many innovative ideas was very humbling. It was very rewarding to win this award,” Perry tells Madison365. “It’s pretty incredible.”
The RLWA Men’s Health & Education Center, located inside of Madison’s largest black barbershop JP Hair Design, is an innovative health model for reducing health disparities and improving the social and health conditions of African-American men in Dane County. The organization is an important health resource and hosts signature events like Black Men Run, the Men’s Health Conference, Men’s Health Night Out, and Black Men Run/Brown Boys Read to help provide a valuable health support system for black men in Dane County.
“We also have four local barbershops on board with their barbershop health advisory committee,” Perry says. “And, of course, there is the Black Men’s Health and Education Center.”
The Wisconsin Innovation Awards (WIA) are held every year and seek to celebrate and inspire innovation by highlighting and honoring the development of groundbreaking, innovative and transformational ideas. Their goal is to encourage an even greater environment of innovation by bringing innovators together from various business sectors (e.g. tech, food, healthcare, agriculture, nonprofits, education, government), and from throughout the state.
Ten winners were honored on Oct. 3 at the Wisconsin Union Terrace out of 33 finalists and more than 350 nominees during the celebration for the 2018 Wisconsin Innovation Awards.
The Re-balanced Life Wellness Association’s innovation has been featured on national shows like the Megyn Kelly Show. “Oprah Winfrey’s producers contacted us about 6 weeks ago, too, and we have been given an opportunity to articulate our vision in the national media for improving the overall health of black men and boys … That’s pretty special,” Perry says. “So we know that we are moving in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.”
Perry works on many interested health-related collaborations with Dr. Jasmine Zapata, who is the Health Empowerment Director & Strategic Advisor for Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association. Their mission is ensuring that black men and boys, who live in underrepresented communities and bear a heavy burden of disease and poor health status, will have the opportunity to live fuller and healthier lives.
“One of the things that we are most proud of are our collaborations that we’ve been able to have in this journey,” Perry says. “We’ve collaborated with Public Health Madison Dane County, Edgewood College Nursing, UW Medical Students. We’ve also been able to get some of the financial support that we need from SSM Health. It’s really been the grant that we received from the Wisconsin Partnership Program. They funded our Black Men’s Wellness Sustainable Initiative. That is really what this innovative award speaks to – our organization’s tireless effort to reach our mission.”