a young man sits at the table and gets his blood pressure taken by female nurse
Walk participants getting health screenings before the 5K walk which began and ended on the TSU campus. Credit: Jimmie Aggison

Houston’s inaugural “Walk to Save Black Men’s Lives,” held on April 15 at Texas Southern University, and sponsored by the African American Male Wellness Agency Houston, was deemed an overwhelming success by organizers and participants.

The Defender Network’s photojournalist Jimmie Aggison was on the scene video recording interviews and taking photos of the historic happening. Here (below) are some of the testimonies and reflections shared by participants:

“It’s always good to look into your health. And it’s a seminar and it’s free, so why not. Take the time out … My prostate was elevated, so I decided to come out and try to see what’s going on.”

Frederick Bettis, Generation X

“I want to break the generational curses. As far as diabetes and hypertension, a lot of those are preventable. And they’ve sent a lot of our elders to an early grave when they could have had more days here on earth. So, I feel like, something that’s controllable with eating habits, that’s something that can be avoided just with the right diet. I feel like as men, generally, we’re stubborn. And we go through this like, ‘We’ll go when we wanna go.’ I feel like women kind of got us beat on average in terms of getting our health right and being more health conscious. I know a lot of men, like myself and others, we are health conscious. We know we’re kinda genetically at a disadvantage when it comes to women. They usually outlive us. So, we need all the help that we can get.”

DeAndre Deason-Vaughn, Millennial

“What brought me out [to the event] is my health. I’m trying to stay on top of it. First of all, I’m 82 years old. And I have to work at my health. And working means changing my diet and just being aware of all my basic habits. One of the things I would share is I’m in my sixth year of remission from prostate cancer. And one of the things I’d like to share with the younger brothers when they wanna listen is going to the doctor and getting checked up. We tend to wait or we tend to be embarrassed about the kinds of questions that are related to that area of the body. And we need to get over that. There’s so many ‘isms’ hear (pointing at his head) for us, because we wanna be big, bad brothers. We wanna be important. But we don’t do what we need to do to get to that point. We talk a good game, but we don’t play the game well. The health game.”

William “Bill” Crossland, Baby Boomer

“This event is to really bring awareness to health. So, [this event is geared] for the people who aren’t able to get access to health. And this is very preventative measures. So, checking your blood pressure, checking your coronary arteries and making sure that things that generally cost hundreds of dollars to get you can get for free, just to make sure that in the future you’re really well-prepared for your healthcare. It’s important for us to take advantage of (events like this) because there are a lot of health disparities within our community. Oftentimes, things go overlooked. There’s really not a lot of education about these diseases. So, coming to events like this is very, very important so that in the future you will be able to keep track of your health.”

Linda Etufugh; Student National Medical Association, UTMB Galveston

“At the end of the day it’s important to have people who look like you, who have a similar experience to you kind of advocating for you. Sort of like, someone in the field who knows it can be scary and you might not wanna do this, but it’s important, though. And to hear that from someone who can relate to you is a way to connect and a way to bring that awareness, and have someone who initially wasn’t interested in doing that know that’s something that’s really important. That’s why it’s good that we have representation, for people who look like us, people who love is in the community coming here and advocating on (participants’) behalf.”

Chinedu Onwudebee; Student National Medical Association, UTMB Galveston

“For one, I think men’s health is always a big factor. And a lot Black men are behind as far as checking up on their health. So, I think we should come out and make them more aware. (The way we get more Black men to check on their health is to) lead by example, and then put the word out that it’s important.”

Jason Cunningham, Millennial

“So, ‘Save Legs, Change Lives,’ it’s a very important initiative; this being undertaken by Johnson & Johnson’s. What’s happening right now is, there is an epidemic of amputations that’s happening across the United States of America. This is happening to people of all races, but it’s particularly profound in people who are African Americans. It turns out a lot of people are aware of the fact that you can lose a limb as a consequence of controlled diabetes. I think that a lot of people know about that. But few people are aware of the fact that you can also lose one of your legs, feet as a consequence of something called PAD, peripheral artery disease. So, a lot of Americans have it; probably over 20 million Americans. Large numbers of African Americans, because race, being Black increases your risk of PAD. But no one’s ever heard of it, and people don’t know what to do if they have it. So, it turns out that if you have PAD, you are at risk of having an amputation, you’re at risk of having a stroke, you’re at risk of having a heart attack, you’re at risk of dying from one of these things. And that should never happen to somebody because PAD can be diagnosed early. And it can be diagnosed by having a simple 10-minute screening test like the one that’s being offered in that van right there (points to the ‘Save Legs, Change Lives’ van). What we’re doing here, we’re trying to raise awareness within the community. We want people to know, A) that there’s a thing called PAD that exists, B) that if it’s not diagnosed early and then treated with simple medications and things like walking exercise therapy, then untreated for five years, seven years, 10 years, you can wind up in a situation in which you might lose your leg. We don’t want that. We want the community to know about it, we want the community t get screened and we want you to talk to your doctor about it. The next time you’re in your doctor’s office, say, ‘Hey, I heard about PAD” and take your shoes off, take your socks off and have your doctor examine your feet. Just that fact can start a conversation about PAD, that in the end could wind up saving your leg or wind up saving your life.”

Dr. Avery Ince, vice president of medical affairs in the cardiovascular franchise at Johnson & Johnson’s

“It’s already off to a huge start, and highly successful already. To see all these men out, getting screened, getting their numbers, I mean, look, this is the National African American Males Wellness Initiative. It started off in Columbus, Ohio 20 years ago. This is the first in the city of Houston. But it’s so important for men to notice their bodies, to act on it and not just to ignore it. And I can personally attest to that. If there’s an ache or a pain, you just can’t ignore it. It could mean something a lot more. And for Black men in particular, they’re dying 12 years earlier than their counterparts. So, it’s not just having health care available and accessible, it’s also recognizing that you need to go. And then, I especially want to thank the women for helping to get their significant others, their family members, their friends out to get screened and know your numbers. I want to thank all the leaders (pointing to Pastor Jamail Johnson and Donnell Cooper) who have worked to make this happen. I appreciate them because they’re the boots on the ground. I’m simply coming in as the chorus. My advice to (those who may have an ache, but aren’t getting it checked out) is if there’s an ache or a pain that won’t go away, don’t ignore it. It could be a lot worse. In my case, it was a toothache, and I was just taking some Tylenol and going on about my business. But it ended up being much more than a toothache. It ended up being cancer. And even today, after follow-up procedures, there’s some stitches right here right now. But, I’m in good health, and that’s because I didn’t wait too long; and then, in part, I did wait too long. So, my advice to everyone, but men in particular: don’t try to be macho. Don’t try to work and play through the pain. If your body is talking to you, listen to it … Don’t be selfish. The health that you provide to yourself benefits your family and your friends and the community, as a whole.”

Sylvester Turner, Mayor of Houston and event chairman

“I’m the chief nursing officer and chief operating officer, New Orleans East Hospital and we’re part of the African American Wellness Agency to bring the walk back to New Orleans. We have the walk back in 2017, and we’re bringing it back. New Orleans had the largest inaugural Walk to date. So, we’re excited about bringing it back because we know Black men’s health is a major issue. Black men sit at the bottom of the totem pole in many health issues around the nation. So, we’re excited about having it in New Orleans.

C.J. Marbley, chief nursing officer and chief operating officer, New Orleans East Hospital

“So, not only am I representing the National Black Nurse Practitioner Association who’s out here providing health consultations and interpreting the medical screenings, but I am also one of the co-chairs of the screening committee for the African American Wellness Walk that’s taking place here today. Today, we have a conglomerate of excellent screening tests that will definitely help to save Black men’s lives. We have biometrics such as glucose screenings, cholesterol, we are checking for hypertension by doing blood pressures. If our participants are at a high risk, we have Jansen out which is actually performing ABIs (Ankle Brachial Index test that compares the blood pressure in the upper and lower limbs) on the site which checks for peripheral artery disease. We have UT Physicians out, an entire group of neurologists who are also doing stroke risk assessments. We’re doing EKGs. We’re checking for atrial fabulation. We have organizations out here checking for PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen). If you are a man, you need your prostate checked. We have people out here doing colon screenings to see if you qualify for a colon screen. We have HIV and hepatitis C, all STIs—whatever you need, we have it out here today.”

Stephanie Brown Elder, National Black Nurse Practitioner Association

*Interviews, video and photos by Jimmie Aggison

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...