On June 10, the NAACP hosted a virtual town hall meeting, focusing on the topic of men’s health in the African American community. This timely discussion, which was moderated by radio personality, Joe Clair, included panelists, Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP; African American medical professionals, Dr. Cameron Webb, Dr. Robert Drummond and Dr. Myron Rolle. Also added to the roster was the actor and mental health advocate, Kofi Siriboe, who is most known for his role in the television series, “Queen Sugar”.
Opening the floor for discussion, President Johnson expressed, “Oftentimes we talk about the segmentation of healthcare based on race, but very rarely do we go as specific as talk[ing] about Black men’s health.” He further noted, “Many of us…don’t take care of ourselves, whether it’s physical health, mental health or spiritual health.”
Johnson’s opening remarks led the panelists into an informative and “real” dialogue specifically about African Americans and the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Dr. Cameron Webb, who is the White House Senior Policy Advisor for COVID-19 Equity, contended that even though there is notable progress, there still is the need to make sure everyone in all communities witness that progress and have equal access to the resources needed. Dr. Webb further emphasized that African American men were disproportionately affected by COVID as it relates to the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. He said these numbers are further compounded by the fact that African American men are currently being left behind in the vaccination phase. He added that one of the reasons for disparities in vaccinations is due to “historical atrocities and contemporary atrocities” in society and the healthcare systems. He specifically alluded to the infamous Tuskegee experiment.
Dr. Robert Drummond, a physician of internal medicine, agreed with Webb, but he also added that the hesitancy for vaccines has somewhat subsided and the most pressing issue is now access to vaccines and the lack of health literacy. He advised, “You can’t make an informed consent, without being informed.”
Sharing further insight to the issue, Dr. Myron Rolle, who is the Senior Neurosurgery Resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that there are other factors that lead to the health disparities seen in African American men during the pandemic. First, he spoke of chronic health conditions that make African American men more susceptible to the virus. Finally, he spoke of the “lifestyle modifications” that were put in place to stop the spread of COVID —particularly social distancing.
Of course, there was a general consensus among the panelists that many of these matters could simply be resolved if more African Americans would get vaccinated; however, it was also a general consensus that misinformation has been the key factor in African Americans being hesitant and slow to act. Dr. Webb stated that having “frank” and “natural” conversations during our everyday life would be a great beginning to getting accurate information out. Both he and Johnson spoke of barbershops as being the perfect platform to hold the discussion. Johnson said, “The barbershop is the great equalizer regardless of your walk of life. When you walk into a Black barbershop, everyone is equal. And that’s when we have the responsibility to push facts over fear.”
Another issue brought to surface, was the matter of mental health. Kofi Siriboe joined the conversation by discussing the creation of safe spaces, which will provide information that is “real” and “relative” to help combat mental health issues among African American males. He expressed, “We’ve got to create spaces where the solution is priority…We need more people openly talking about their experiences.” President Johnson concurred, adding, “Tell people it is okay if they are not feeling mentally strong. It is okay to talk to people — talk to professionals.” Dr. Webb and the other medical professionals wholeheartedly agreed that normalizing therapy and self-expression would be beneficial in matters of mental health.
Overall, the prevailing theme of the discussion whether it related to the physical, mental or spiritual health of African American men, was that there must be equal access to resources, dissemination of factual information, and access to safe spaces in which all of these issues can be talked about and resolved. Johnson said, “We must continue to push facts and not “fiction”, and communities must continue to discuss trauma and the need for mental health support.
Wrapping the forum up with his final thoughts, Johnson emphasized, “We have to be one another’s keeper, and the best way we can do that is by providing factual information, being the listening ear and a compassionate individual to understand that it may be our neighbor today, but it could very well be us tomorrow.”
Carolina Peacemaker intern Johnna Thatch is a senior at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication. She is from Wilmington, N.C.
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