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‘We have to try to do what we can to give Black men and boys more time on this Earth’

Florida Congresswoman brings attention to health disparities among Black men and boys

Gun violence, diabetes, colon cancer, hypertension, mental illness, and lack of access to healthcare. Those are some of the challenges Black men and boys face in the United States, according to U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson.

The Democrat from Miami-Dade County, who is the chairwoman of the Caucus on the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, hosted a briefing Thursday alongside representatives from the Howard University College of Medicine. The doctors and politicians highlighted the importance of knowing one’s family history to prevent health issues.

These disparities can be quantified in statistics, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimate that Black men born in 1960 have an average life expectancy of 61 years.

“They don’t even live long enough to collect their Social Security, and it has a lot to do with prevention,” Wilson said.

Others shared their personal struggles with illnesses. Aventura City Commissioner Michael Stern talked about his colon cancer diagnosis. Although he is white, he hoped that talking about his four-year battle with cancer would encourage men to get colonoscopies.

“This is the first time that I’ve done this, and I thought I was going to lose it because I get very emotional when I speak about this, but … I felt so comfortable,” he said.

A health epidemic

Avoiding colonoscopies is a cultural problem that is a matter of life and death, New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne Jr. said. His father, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Sr. died from colon cancer in 2012. Now, Payne Jr. chairs the Colorectal Cancer Prevention Caucus. Although he hasn’t had to deal with the same illness as his father, for the past seven years, Payne Jr. has been fending off a foot amputation from diabetes complications.

“I really believe that had I not come to Congress and received the healthcare that I have been afforded, I probably would be dead,” he said.

He acknowledged that most of his constituents don’t have access to that same level of healthcare, which is why it is important to expand affordable healthcare programs through legislation, he said.

Despite the disparities that make Black men more likely to die of heart disease and strokes, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, of Las Vegas, stressed that policymakers with the help of health professionals can intervene. Horsford is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“We are not powerless. We are not victims,” he said. “We can do things to help address the inequities in our healthcare.”

For Horsford, gun violence is a personal issue. He told attendees of the briefing that at 19 years old he lost his father because of gun violence.

“We should treat it as the health epidemic that it is,” he said.

Ultimately, health in Black communities boils down to the future of children, Wilson said.

“We have to try to do what we can to give Black men and boys more time on this Earth,” she said.