Photo from the African American Wellness Walk website.

Photo from the African American Wellness Walk website.

Taking care of his community’s health

Local advocates focus on African American men’s health with 5K

African American men are dying from preventable diseases at higher rate than other men, and younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But regular health screenings can help men live longer.

National African American Male Wellness Walk and Run 5K is the first walk with free health screening catered to black men on the West Coast, according to its coordinators, and it’s happening in Renton.

The family event, on July 20 at Renton Memorial Stadium, has a children’s area, live music and Hot 103.7 FM, healthy living vendors, free health screening area and the walk. The screening goes from 7 – 9 a.m., then the walk begins around 9:30 a.m. Screenings start again after the walk.

“In our community, men just don’t like to go to the doctor or get screened,” Coordinator Victor Tolbert said. “This initiative is all about getting African American men screened, so that way we know our numbers.”

Tolbert said knowing your numbers allows you to hold yourself responsible to your health, and hold yourself accountable for being there for your family and children.

If someone doesn’t get checked, then their health problems can continue down for generations. It also sets a precedent that men and young men are too “masculine” to get to the doctor, Tolbert said.

“As African American men, we need to make sure we get checked out so we can be there for our families and set a good example for our kids. It’s good to go to the doctor,” Tolbert said.

The National African American Male Wellness Intiative began in 2004 in Columbus, Ohio.

John Gregory partnered with a local hospital, trying to figure out what was happening to African American men between 18 and 30 years old. So they decided to offer some of these men a job where they were paid and required to have a health screening every week.

Then they made a shocking discovery from the data, that 90 percent of the men had elevated health issues they weren’t aware of or taking care of. Those health problems kept young men from sustaining jobs.

After the study, Gregory started the walk. The third year of the walk, they added free health screenings for men at the event. Tolbert has helped set up the event in Columbus every year from the beginning, getting there as early as 3 a.m. to set up what is a crowded occasion.

The walk then started to expand to other cities in the South and East Coast in 2012. In 2018, they had over 50,000 participants, according to the group’s website.

Since its inception, Tolbert said he’s wanted to be part of the event in a bigger way. He’s always wanted to promote health in general. He lives in Kent after moving from Ohio.

He said he thought to himself, “Seattle’s a healthy place. They have all these walks: me and my dog walk, drinking champagne walk, ton of events. But there’s nothing like this out here.”

So Tolbert went to Gregory about bringing the initiative to Seattle, and he supported the expansion.

Bothel councilmember James McNeal coordinated a meeting for Tolbert with surrounding councilmembers, and that was how it got started. Tolbert decided on Renton Memorial Stadium due to its central location in the metro area. He hopes to have everyone come together, and touch the communities in SeaTac, Auburn, Federal Way, Rainier Beach and inner-city Seattle, as well as Renton.

“Here there’s a lot of little pockets, so it’s about bridging that gap,” he said.

So far, he’s had several calls about volunteering and signing up for the walk. They recently produced a promotional video of some of the Passion Teams attending the Renton walk.

Folks can register their Passion Team, volunteer or learn more at aawalk.org.

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