Barbershops and Black Men's Health

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If you want more black men to visit the doctor's office, sometimes you have to bring the doctor's office to them. A registered nurse, Tamara Files, spent her Saturday afternoon checking vital signs of almost a dozen people. Mostly men, local residents were given free check-ups, having their weight, blood pressure and blood sugar measured. Was this a health fair or free health clinic? No, this all took place at a barbershop.

"Generally, black men don't go to the doctor, so this is a good way to reach young black men and older black men on a Saturday morning, in the barber shop, in the comfort zone of their community."

"There's a lot of health education that needs to happen in the black community," said Files.

50 barbershops joined in the annual Black Barbershop Health Initiative, sponsored by the Fort Wayne Commission on African American Males and the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males.

Typically, sports, politics, money, cars and even fashion dominate conversations in barbershops. Rarely, if ever, is health a topic for discussion. A few of the barbers working that day said that men open up about their personal lives while in the chair, but few ever talk about their health. One of the barbers, Harvist Higgins, says he's been on a health-kick the last seven years encouraging his clients to take better care of themselves and visit the doctor regularly.

Files says she believes black men don't visit the doctor because of mistrust. “I do believe that some people think not knowing (their vital statistics) is best for them, but that can kill them. High blood pressure is a silent killer that eats away at the insides before symptoms appear."

The idea of providing health screenings at barbershops is a noble one; this concept is something that can be replicated across the country. Gun violence isn’t the only thing putting black lives in jeopardy, the lack of focus on health poses as big a threat to the lives on black men of all ages. We have to do better.