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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Tamara Files, a registered nurse, shares a laugh with Gary Howard during a free health screening at Team Jay-Hova Barbershop on Saturday. More than 50 barbershops in the state, including 10 locally, took part in the annual Indiana Black Barbershop Health Initiative.

Sunday, April 15, 2018 1:00 am

Checkups at barbershops

Annual effort focuses on getting black men health screenings

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

The NBA playoffs dominated the conversation at Team Jay-Hova Barbershop on Saturday.

But other, far more serious topics were in the back of everyone's minds: High blood pressure. Diabetes. Cancer.

The shop in the Anthony Wayne Village Centre was one of 10 local sites that joined in the annual Indiana Black Barbershop Health Initiative. The event is sponsored by the Fort Wayne Commission on African American Males and the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males.

More than 50 barbershops in the state were scheduled to participate.

Tamara Files, a registered nurse who volunteered her time, had taken the vitals of almost a dozen people by early afternoon. Most were men, but one woman opted to get the free checkup that included weight, blood pressure and blood sugar measurements.

“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's shop, in the comfort zone of their community,” she said.

“There's a lot of health education that needs to happen in the black community,” she added.

Duran Black and Harvist Higgins, two of the three barbers working Saturday, were among those who asked Files for a limited checkup.

Black's numbers were good, but he doesn't take his good health for granted. He wants to be a good role model to his three younger brothers.

“It's so easy to get tied up in the nonsense, eating fast food,” he said. “Then you have high blood pressure. How did that happen? Well, you had the 20-piece (chicken nuggets) last time.”

As for Higgins, he didn't like what he heard from Files.

“Naw, they wasn't good,” he said about his numbers. “They weren't good at all.”

Higgins exercises and watches his diet: No soda. No salt. But ice cream is his weakness. And coffee. He blamed his high blood pressure reading on the large cup of coffee he bought that morning at the gas station.

He needed the caffeine, he said, because he'd been up since 4:30 a.m.

Some men really open up about their personal lives when they're under the cape, sitting in Higgins' chair.

“We talk about a lot of various subjects,” he said. “In fact, probably the last seven years, we've been on a health kick.”

Higgins uses what leverage he has with clients to encourage them to visit the doctor and take care of their health. Black, his younger colleague, does the same.

Files, who has participated in the annual effort four years, thinks some black men don't visit the doctor because they're trying to be macho. Or, she said, they don't trust doctors or health care facilities.

“I do believe that some people think not knowing (their vital statistics) is best for them, but that can kill them,” she said. “High blood pressure is a silent killer that eats away at the insides before symptoms appear.”

sslater@jg.net