The Office of Minority Health (OMH), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, has put men at the heart of National Minority Health Month. At their Fatherhood and Men’s Health Forum on Sunday, April 18 – held at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC – the panelists used four words to articulate the role of men: provide, nurture, guide and protect.
But what happens when young boys are raised in a community where there are few responsible men who present a positive way of life for the boys to follow?
Several key issues were discussed, from the man’s perception of health to the grandmother’s role as the matriarch of the family.
The events moderator was Attorney Tonya Lee Lewis, the spokesperson for “A Healthy Baby Begins with You” campaign. She stated that the goal of Sunday’s forum was not to criticize men for what they don’t do. It was a chance for those who attended to share information.
“I certainly love my Black men and I’m trying to help them as I help myself.” said Lewis.
Dr. Garth Graham, the deputy assistant secretary at OMH, established the connection between health and the longevity of life early in the discussion.
If people are doing meaningful work and have access to health insurance, their perception of health will change, according to Dr. Willie J. Parker. As a result, they will be more productive and able to contribute rather than cost society.
“When people are healthy they can be more self-determined,” said Parker.
According to statistics obtained from OMH’s website, African Americans have a higher risk than Caucasians of being diagnosed with or dying from any of the top health threats. For instance, they are twice as likely of being diagnosed with diabetes and 33 percent more likely of dying from all types of cancer.
On the topic of youth violence, Parker stated that the youth feel as though they aren’t important so they act out violently – even sexually.
That feeling of inadequacy is only one example of the stress that affects the mental health of the African-American community.
“We’re seeing the outcome of some internalized negative valuation,” said Parker.
According to Dr. Jermaine Bond, a research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the media doesn’t help the youth develop a positive self image by regularly showing negative images of African Americans.
About single mothers, Roland Warren, the president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, believes single mothers can raise responsible men – but they shouldn’t have to.
He also pointed out that many grandmothers (mostly the mothers of men) don’t have access to their grandchildren. Therefore, if young mothers want access to their children’s children when they grow older, the need to understand that the type of father their son(s) become is connected to their knowledge of what it means to be a father.
During the question and answer component of the forum, an anthropologist and representative for her mentor who is a professor at the University of Maryland, stood up to contribute to the discussion.
She said that family law judges need to be trained to deal with young, African American males – since so many are seen before the courts repeatedly, and so many are fathers. Instead of sentencing them to time away from their children, they should be sentenced to parenting classes.
This event is being followed by another forum at Hue-Man Bookstore & Café in New York City.
This years National Minority Health Month was dedicated to men. OMH wants men to “Man Up for Your Health” because “Healthy Men Move Our Communities Forward.