We all know the dire statistics — Black men have the worst health outcomes of any demographic in America for just about every health condition. And we’ve all heard — or know personally — that Black men have a serious aversion to going to the doctor. These two related realities equal to Black men having the lowest life expectancy of any demographic, which is not good news for Black couples, families and communities.
Enter the African American Male Wellness Agency Houston, an organization on a mission to move Black men to prioritize their health and create a support community of like-minded brothers.
The Defender recently spoke with Donnell Cooper, the AAMWA’s logistics director, about the organization’s recent arrival in Houston, its mission and programs and its upcoming event this Saturday, April 15, “The Walk to Save Black Men’s Lives.”
DEFENDER: What’s the story behind the AAMWA?
COOPER: Twenty years ago, the AAMWA was established in Columbus, Ohio focusing on African American males not prone to going to the doctor. Statistics show that African American men as a population, we’re leaving Earth are almost 12 years earlier than our counterparts. They started an African-American 5K Walk; actually a screening walk. It’s called the best day that African-American males will have ever going to the doctor in life. When you arrive to the 5K walk in that particular city, there’s 18 cities that are doing the walk currently, from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. we’ll have every screening known to man; anything from BMI (body mass index), blood pressure, glucose. Then at 9 a.m. we start the 5K walk. This year, April 15, we’re bringing the walk to Houston for the first time.
DEFENDER: How did the Columbus-Houston connection happen?
COOPER: Pastor Jamail Johnson of the Word Church and I saw this article saying that 30,000 men were showing up on one day for a walk, and it just sounded unrealistic. We took a chance, and went out to witness it. And 30,000 could have been a low estimate. It was definitely 30,000-plus men there on one day; men showing up, having all the screenings that are known to mankind, doing the 5K walk there in the city. We said, ‘We want to bring this to Houston.’ And upon the Columbus, Ohio team starting to visit the Houston area, they really thought with the resources we have here that Houston could be just as big, if not better, than what they’re doing in Columbus, even though it’s been in existence 20 years now. So, we started off last year, we’re planning for a walk, and then in January of this year, the Columbus team decided this would be a prime time to found their second agency branch in the country. February 1, we opened up the AAMWA Houston office. Pastor Johnson is the executive director.
DEFENDER: So, when’s the Houston 5K “Walk to Save Black Men’s Lives”?
COOPER: On April 15, we’re bringing the walk to Houston. It’s gonna be housed at Texas Southern University and happen right there in the heart of Third Ward. The walk will start and end at TSU. Right now, we have over 30 vendors and over 30 screening companies will be there, as well. And we wanna let everybody know this is a family event. It was designed for African-American males, but we just recently kicked off the ‘her’ version. So, we are embracing women to get tested, as well. We’ll have some testing elements out there on April 15 for women, as well. We’ll have a designated area for our seniors, and we’ll have a designated area for our kids. Mayor Sylvester Turner will be our honorary chair.
DEFENDER: Are you expecting to match Columbus’s numbers this first year?
COOPER: We know we’re not gonna have 30,000, but we’re at least in position to have at a good 2,500.
For more information, visit www.aawellness.org.
DEFENDER: Does AAMWA have any other programs?
COOPER: The second phase of this initiative is the ‘Real Men, Real Talk.’ And these are events where we partner with our faith-based agencies, and we really encouraged men to come out and just to be able to unveil identities that they probably have never shared with someone. These are opportunities where we do very engaging exercises with men, where we allow them to release, relax, but most importantly, to find a quiet safety net where they are willing to expose some things that they may have experienced maybe from their childhood.
DEFENDER: How do you get brothers to open up?
COOPER: Some the questions we may address include how many men have grown up in a home environment where your parents were incarcerated; how many young men have grown up in a very intangible community environment; how many of your parents have graduated from college; how many of you have a high school diploma; how many of you are married; how many of you have been divorced? These are questions that most men tend to get a little sensitive about, especially in the African-American culture.
DEFENDER: What are some of the benefits for men who participate?
COOPER: So, the ‘Real Men, Real Talk’ opportunities allow men to come together, be embraced by other men that have maybe had a similar or the same type of experiences. But at the same time, you are able to build a safety net with a partner that now you can communicate with. And at the closing of these sessions, we allow the male that you’ve been partnered with for that hour and a half to exchange contact telephone numbers. You guys create a safety word. Let’s say, over the next 30 days before the next ‘Real Men, Real Talk’ there’s a challenging moment that happens in your life. I can text my accountability partner my safety word, and he would know at that immediate time to either go in prayer or give me a phone call. So, now you have a safety mirror. So, instead of carrying all of that burden, those barriers, that as African American men we carry in life all in yourself, the ‘Real Men, Real Talk’ sessions give you an opportunity to release, to talk about some of these things, but most importantly, be able to engage with another male that you’ve never seen, but be able to walk away with an accountability partner.