By Marnette Federis
Oakland’s Center Stage Salon was buzzing like any other busy Saturday morning last weekend. But salon clients weren’t there just to get haircuts. They also lined up to get their blood pressure and glucose levels checked.
It was all part of a nationwide effort -- The Black Barbershop Program. The goal was to screen African American men for high blood pressure and diabetes by going to the place where you would easily find them – at the barbershop. The screenings are free and volunteers also gave out health information.
“I’d like to live a hundred years,” said James Fulbright, one of the hairstylists at the salon who was screened for high blood pressure and diabetes. “So I just try to keep myself healthy and I needed to be checked.”
According to program organizers, African American men suffer worse health outcomes compared to other racial groups. For starters, 40 percent of black men die prematurely from heart disease compared to 21 percent of white men.
Program organizers say African American men face a number of barriers and access issues when it comes to health including lack of affordable services, poor health education and insufficient services that cater to black men.
In addition, African American men tend to avoid visiting the doctor. On Saturday, both volunteers and participants told stories of family members who were afraid to go to the doctor.
“My father’s deathly afraid of the hospital and going to the doctor, he refuses to get checkups and things of that nature” said Ersie Joyner, a captain with the Oakland’s Police Department who was screened at the salon. “I think we just have this fear of either getting bad news and taking things for granted that everything's ok.”
Kim Wilson, a volunteer and medical assistant student from Merritt College, said that knowing one’s blood pressure and glucose levels can help motivate individuals to make small changes in diet and exercise to prevent an illness from becoming more serious.
“Know your numbers, go to the doctor annually, get checked up, don't be afraid,” said Wilson. “You can do something about it.”
Volunteers stood outside of Center Stage Salon, and encouraged passersby and salon clients to join in the free screenings. In just 15 minutes, volunteers took blood pressure levels and also checked for diabetes by pricking a man’s finger to get a quick read on blood sugar levels.
By noon, just an hour into the event, nearly three dozen men had been screened and given their results on the spot. Men with abnormal numbers were encouraged to go to their own doctor or received referrals to doctors in the area.
James Dailey of Oakland was positive about the event. "This place is owned by a really good family friend, so when I walked by and they suggested it, I thought it would be a good idea to come and get checked out. So far so good," he said. "It was real quick, the ladies were very good and personable. It took three minutes and I got good news also. It always makes you feel good that you know you're not in bad health. It's definitely important to know where you're at."
Paula Welsh, co-owner of Center Stage with her two sisters, said the salon plans to regularly offer the screenings.
“Men don't like to go to the doctor and here, we can reach a large amount of people in a matter of hours,” said Welsh.
Center Stage Salon has been a community hub in Oakland’s Grand-Lakeshore district for nearly 30 years. In the past, the family-owned business has hosted a number of health-related community outreach events for HIV/AIDS and breast cancer awareness and violence prevention.