July 17, 2020
Over the last twelve years, Yale’s African American Affinity Group (YAAA) has celebrated Men’s Health Month by partnering with local medical volunteers to provide free blood pressure screenings and health information to members of the Greater New Haven community at local barbershops and salons.
We started this event because members of the African American and Latinx communities are at higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease and more likely to be disengaged from the health care system. We thought that offering free blood pressure screenings in a friendly non-traditional setting during a weekend that celebrated men and fatherhood would be a great opportunity to promote reengagement and raise awareness. The event has evolved over the years. We create spaces for men and women in our communities to have casual conversations about health in a safe environment. These screenings have become opportunities for people to improve their health literacy and empower themselves to take charge of their health.
This year is different.
The African American and Latinx communities in which many of us live, work and volunteer have been hit hardest by the COVID 19 virus over the last few months. We are being infected, hospitalized and dying from the virus at a higher rate than other communities. In New Haven, the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases are in predominantly African American and Latinx neighborhoods like Dixwell, Newhallville, Fair Haven and Dwight.
The barber shops and hair salons that have partnered with us over the last dozen years have been closed for over two months due to the pandemic. Although many reopened last week, they are operating at limited capacity for safety reasons.
As a result, we will be unable to hold the annual Men’s Health Day event this year. We plan to work with some of our longstanding partners (including the Yale Latino Networking Group - YLNG) to explore alternate ways of engaging with and informing our communities over the coming months.
The last few weeks have also been a reminder of something that our communities have always known - that African Americans have experienced a public health crisis since we entered this country. Dr. Gregg Gonsalves and Dr. Julia Marcus (both epidemiologists, one from the Yale School of Public Health and the other from Harvard Medical School) may have put it best in a recent article in the Atlantic when they explained that “the health crisis for black Americans didn’t start in 2020. It started in 1619.” The stress that is caused by racism increases the risk for a range of chronic conditions in the African American community, from heart disease to autoimmune and inflammatory disorders (according to the American Psychological Association).
We would like to do our part to respond to this ongoing crisis.
In the coming year, we want to:
- Deepen our partnerships with community organizations and businesses who can help us connect members of our community to the resources that will improve their health
- Explore new ways to empower our community around health issues
- Coordinate with existing affinity group health initiatives (from YAAA and YLNG) that engage with Black and Latinx women and gender diverse people (because we need to support and fight for every member of our community.
- In order to accomplish these goals, we need your help. We are recruiting a Men’s Health Committee that can help us get this work done.
Join us by contacting the YAAA Men’s Health Day Co-Chair Jamaal Thomas at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We plan to hold our first meeting (virtually) on Friday, July 17, 2020.