Thousands turn out for Youngstown wellness event for black men

By Sean Barron


The Rev. Lewis W. Macklin II was happy to see plenty of camaraderie, fellowship and information at a large health-and-wellness event, but to him, the gathering’s greatest importance could be summed up in four words: Get your numbers checked.

“Screening gives folks an idea of where their numbers are,” noted the Rev. Mr. Macklin, pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church on the South Side. He was referring to the value of checking blood pressure, glucose, weight, body-mass index and body-fat percentage figures.

That was the main thrust behind Saturday’s 5-kilometer African American Male Wellness Walk/Run initiative at the Covelli Centre, downtown.

An estimated 2,200 people of all ages took part in the event, themed “Healthy men make healthy families.” The gathering was to promote the importance of exercise and a good diet, encourage men to get checked regularly and increase the number of men who visit a doctor yearly, organizers said.

Black men have disproportionately high rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. In addition, the prevalence of high blood pressure in African-American men is the highest in the world, which places them at greater risk for stroke and heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

One of those determined to rise above that grim scenario was Blakely McKelley of Youngstown, who walked and ran the entire distance.

“I came out to support this effort and good cause,” McKelley said, adding that he took part in the screenings and received a clean bill of health.

McKelley, who works for General Motors Corp. in Lordstown, said he encourages people to get checked, regardless of how healthy they may feel.

“You never know. A small thing they test for could be your biggest problem,” he said.

“You could think you’re in the best of health, but you never know for sure,” added McKelley’s fiancee, Alexis Harris, a therapeutic-support-staff member of the Sharon, Pa.-based Youth Advocate Program Inc.

Also accompanying McKelley on the walk and run was his 5-year-old daughter, Kyla McKelley.

Echoing McKelley’s sentiments were Josh and Carissa Avery of Youngstown, both of whom also had their glucose, BMI, weight and blood pressure checked.

Josh, who works for the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, said those who are afraid to see a doctor should try to overcome their fear, at least for the sake of their families and loved ones.

“It could be selfish not to,” he added. “It’s not just about yourself.”

Carissa, a caregiver who’s attending Kent State University to be a sign-language interpreter, said more people should take advantage of free screenings such as those offered at Saturday’s wellness walk.

Conducting the screenings were members of the Black Nurses Association, students at ETI Technical College in Niles and nurses from the community who volunteered, Mr. Macklin noted.

“If we can get them screened here, we can save a lot of lives,” said Mercedes McMillin, an ETI nursing student who plans to be a nurse practitioner.

High-blood pressure – which often is called the “silent killer” – can be especially dangerous because it produces few symptoms, so people can be unaware they have hypertension, McMillin explained.

Also available was information on health and wellness, healthful diets, optical and dental care, health and life insurance, health care plans, recycling drives, Head Start programs and offerings in the Youngstown City School District.

Two free presentations on blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes are set for 11 a.m. to noon and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 26 in St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital’s Youngstown Room. Registration is required. To register, call Community Health Education at 330-480-3070.

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