Originally published in the New Pittsburgh Courier on March 27, 2024

The Community Health Series Partnership (CHSP) has always made a point to center its information on the health and wellness of the Black community at large. This month, we’re focusing specifically on the health of Black men — a topic the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and others have indicated is especially important.

Q: Thanks for joining us again, Carlos. Why is Black men’s health so crucial?

Carlos Carter: The mere fact that Black men are dying too early is reason enough for this topic’s importance. Unfortunately, Black men have some of the lowest life expectancies and health outcomes of all groups except Native Americans.

As a middle-aged Black man, I watch too many of my peers — some folks younger than me and others slightly older — face daunting health issues that could be avoided. I’ve seen friends and community members suffer from heart disease, diabetes, strokes, obesity and poor diets, and mental health crises.

Recently, I was heartbroken (and terrified) when I was called to visit a close friend in his early forties who was hospitalized (barely escaping death) because he simply didn’t take his blood pressure medicine. Because he hasn’t prioritized his health, he has many challenges ahead of him. Saddest of all is that the crisis could have been avoided through preventative care.

The unadulterated reality is that Black men are in danger. Not just from gun violence, but from failing to take care of our health.  All of us at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh want to help sound the alarm about the systems that perpetuate inequitable health outcomes for Black men. We also want to empower them to be more intentional about prioritizing their mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Q: This edition of the New Pittsburgh Courier highlights three key perspectives on understanding the barriers that exist to Black men’s health: Racism, incarceration, and chronic disease. What other conditions and factors should we bring attention to as we seek to eliminate the obstacles Black men face in achieving health?

Carlos Carter: We all know many Black men — and Black people in general — distrust the healthcare system and other institutions that have harmed us.  I believe it’s important to build trust with Black men to help them understand the need for preventative care and healthy living.

Although I’m relatively healthy, I was not getting regular checkups. I only visited the doctor when something was wrong. My doctor and I have a 20-plus year relationship. So when this person explained I need regular tests and checkups as I get older, I listened. Because I value my life — and trust my doctor — I now consistently receive preventative care.

If Black men are approached with empathy and intentionality (and not talked down to), it can do wonders to remove barriers and engage us in preventative care. This relational approach can help us be more receptive to listening to health professionals and increasing the likelihood of engaging in preventive care and healthy lifestyles.

Something else we must address is Black obesity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reports that 38% of Black men who are 20 years or older are obese. This is scary and underscores the need for better health education and access.

To attack obesity, we must make better food choices, such as eating foods that our worthy of our Black lives. When healthy food options are available, such as at an event, we should more deliberately seek them out. We must also get more exercise and embed physical activity into our daily routines.

Q: What role do organizations like the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh play in toppling the barriers to Black men’s health? How can we mobilize our organizations and communities to contribute to Black men’s wellness and help them thrive?

Carlos Carter: Organizations like ours need to take opportunities (including this column) to sound the alarm about the challenges to Black men’s health.

We must hold institutions accountable for their role in damaging Black men’s health.

We need to empower Black men by giving them the information and resources they need to live healthy lifestyles.

Black men are strong men and can thrive if people take the time to build relationships with us and support our journeys.  It’s never good to look at people as victims. It diminishes their power. Instead, we need to educate and support our Black men to thrive economically and holistically.

Further, Black men need to support and encourage each other. We need to openly talk about and prioritize our health and hold ourselves accountable. We need to share resources and information to help take care of our health.

At the end of the day, I want all men — and that includes Black men — to thrive and live their best lives. Let’s face it. If we don’t prioritize and fight for our health no one else will!