The state of black men’s health in America poses a significant public health crisis. Our nation’s greatness was built on our backs through our physical strength, industriousness and hard work. In the new millennium, men regardless of class, find ourselves at the vanguard of becoming museum quality material when it comes to the state of our health. It might be likened to the disappearance of the dinosaur if we continue on the present course. Our survival is in direct correlation to the length of our years as a husband, father, brother and son. Without critical relationships, black men become an endangered species. Action must be taken to prevent this.
What will save us is transformation of our minds. Global education is the key – the kind of education that includes health education. It begins at home, in neighborhoods, and at schools and communities of faith. Treatment in hospitals without translation to behavior and lifestyle choices in the community must not remain the only option. Without a modification of our states of mind, we will continue to die at a young age through gunshot wounds; suicides; and self hatred. Tragically, our nation’s response to our pressing needs appears to be indifference; or a preference for incarceration over mental health treatment. This approach to change kills the spirit of a man and ruins him for life.
Men are reared in a culture measured by the warrior and gladiator mentality. Early in life the socialization patterns for boys teaches them to play hard and to win. In order to win one must play hurt, ignore pain, and suck it up. These same boys become men. Later in life these habits are well infused into our psyche and we refuse to seek medical treatment. This is because we have been socialized to ignore, endure, and withstand pain — until we are too sick to live.
If a black man does not compete in sports or fight in wars, what is left for him to do? Clearly, black men are missing from college campuses. The absence of a quality education has far too many of us working at menial jobs at all ages. Unfortunately, when we do find menial work, it is often the kind of labor that does not pay if we are sick. Our tradition of being alienated from the health care system leaves those of us with health insurance avoiding preventative care. Then when we do seek a medical professional we are impacted by differential treatment. Some people call differential treatment outcomes, racial and ethnic health disparities. I simply call it bad medicine.
So, where do we go from here? The Connecticut Health Foundation is leading the charge on just this issue – when so many others have walked away. I believe we can improve the health care outcomes of black men through time, support and functional partnerships with a focus on creating better options for our future. We need time to educate communities on the importance and need to create space for healing psychic wounds. Finding safe space and powerful partnerships with authentic and accountable institutions is a critical nexus for creating places of hope and trust. If we can agree that the pathway to manhood for an inner-city Black boy in America kills his spirit, and then takes his future, which are filled with dreams about life as an adult. Black boys need help and healthcare as boys long before we become men. If we are to deal effectively with moving men to better health then we must deal with the fear and pain of being ostracized as boys. Through poor education, beat-down of the mental spirit, subsequent incarceration, re-incarceration, isolation, and social retardation begs for inspired choices.
Left without hope Black boys never grow up to become men, and at the dawn and age of manhood; these men are forever treated as boys. Having inspired choices, meaningful work and spirited play, are about creating a design for healing the boy that lives inside the man. Learning to deal with the system, any/all systems, opens the door to the presence of and access to great healthcare. After-all, black men want to be healthy men, too.