Encouraging black men to pay attention to their health

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Hundreds of men attend the 2019 Men's Health Initiative at the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church Saturday in Northwest Philadelphia. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

Hundreds of men attend the 2019 Men's Health Initiative at the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church Saturday in Northwest Philadelphia. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

For one day, leaders of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Mount Airy transformed their massive house of worship into a men’s-only health and wellness clinic. And a bit of a man cave.

Hundreds of men from all over Philadelphia made their way to the church to take advantage of free screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, kidneys, HIV, and more at the eighth annual “Know Your Numbers” men’s health initiative.

The all-day Saturday event encouraged men to stay on top of their health.

Pastor Alyn Walder at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church Saturday during the 2019 Men’s Health Iniative. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

“It’s hard to get men to go to the doctor,” said Pastor Alyn Waller, senior pastor at Enon.

“We tend to be the ones to wait until it’s red, swollen, about to fall off before we address it. So we wanted to create an atmosphere that was conducive to men, to get men thinking about, talking about, and acting on their best health.”

All men were welcome, but the vast majority who attended, and the day’s focus, was on black men. The church takeover coincided with the release of a new report by the city examining the the health of black men and boys.

It found that the life expectancy of black men is 69.1 years, more than five years less than other men and 10 less than women.

The report listed cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and kidney disease among the drivers of premature death among black men in 2016. It also found that 40 percent of black men suffer from hypertension, and that nearly 33 percent are obese.

Russell Davis, 63, of Southwest Philadelphia, said he doesn’t go to the doctor often to get checked out. But at Enon, Davis said, he had “everything” checked: blood pressure, glucose, and tests for HIV and hepatitis C, and he was on his way to do more.

“I’m just trying to take advantage as much as I can while I am here,” he said.

Event attendee Russell Davis is pictured in the main room of the 2019 Men’s Health Iniative event at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

And the results?

“So far, so good. No complaints.”

Though the inside of the body was the day’s priority, Enon also took care of the outside by providing free, gently used clothes and free haircuts.

Rev. Leroy Miles, project manager of the event, said the idea was for the men to feel respected and dignified as they tend to their health and appearance.

“It’s quality stuff,” he said. “We want them to have the best that’s out there, so at least for a day they feel like a champ … You get your haircut, get some fresh clothes, you feel really good about yourself.”

Reverend Leroy Miles of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church during the 2019 Men’s Health Iniative held at his church. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

Many of the men came from shelters and transitional homes, so Enon also provided transportation to and from the church.

James Wilson of North Philadelphia took SEPTA, however. The 27-year-old is unemployed, but he has a two job interviews this week, so he picked up some “interview clothes” in preparation. The clothes will increase his chances of getting work, he said.

“It’s all about perception,” Wilson said. “You could be the best worker, but no one is going to get to know you if you don’t look good for the interview.”

A job fair for returning citizens and a panel discussion on the city’s report on black male health were also part of the day’s agenda.

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