Note: This article was originally published on Madison 365, which partners with Community Shares of Wisconsin to promote the Inspiring Voices program. Please visit and support their great work at madison365.com.
By David Dahmer, Madison 365
“I have to remind people that the average age of death for black men in Dane County is really low. We want to – we need to – raise awareness and to really change this narrative around our black men,” says Aaron Perry, founder of Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association.
Perry has been on a mission to close the rampant racial health disparities that plague African-American men in Madison. His mission just got a big boost recently when Community Shares of Wisconsin announced it has chosen Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association as the second of its two organizations it will be highlighting in its Inspiring Voices Project this summer.
“It’s nice to be recognized by your peers. That’s always a good thing,” Perry tells Madison365. “But to also be recognized for your passion, that’s honorable and I’m appreciative of it. I definitely hope that the community will come out and support this. It’s all about the men and getting our men healthy.”
Aaron Perry gives a blood pressure screening to an elderly man at the Selfless Ambition Block Party at Aldo Leopold Park last weekend.
In August 2018, Community Shares will be helping Rebalance-Life Wellness Association fundraise. Perry says that the funds that will be raised will go towards enhancing preventative health, education and screenings for African-American men who need it the most.
“We will be able to get more blood pressure cuffs to help keep men keep tabs on their blood pressure health,” says Perry, who beyond the Center, offers provide mobile health screenings at high schools and community organizations. “In addition, we want to be able to offer more incentive to our men like gas cards. We’re asking them to give up their time and we’re asking them to come out and one of the barriers remains transportation.
“A lot of our men are fathers and they have their kids with them so what we want to do is when we host these events, we want be able to hire somebody who can provide childcare for the men, as well,” Perry adds. “We’re asking them to give up their time and we want to be mindful that these men are taking care of their kids, too, so when they come and participate in our men’s health event we want to be able to provide childcare for them and we also want to continue to be able to provide meals for them. Some of this money will go towards that.”
Community Shares of Wisconsin developed the Inspiring Voices program in 2016 to highlight people of color-led organizations working to reduce racial disparities and advance racial equity. The awardees are supported with a $1,000 matching grant and are given tools and consultation to help them develop an online fundraising campaign.
“We’re excited to introduce you to this year’s second Inspiring Voices awardee, Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association, a local grassroots organization working to advance health equity for local African American men,” said Cheri Dubiel, executive director of Community Shares of Wisconsin, in a statement.
Community Shares created this program with an acknowledgment that, as a largely white-led organization, few of the groups represented in their membership are led by people of color or emerging from the communities most impacted by systemic racism.
Wenona Wolf, director of communications and development at Kids Forward, nominated Perry and Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association for this award.
“The best solutions to overcoming health disparities are often found within the communities most affected,” Wolf says in a press release. “The Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association is a community-based program that connects and engages African-American men by providing mobile health screenings in local barbershops.”
What makes Rebalanced-Wellness Association different than other outreach health programs is that Perry has developed a partnership with local black barbers and the men there can access questions and screens regarding their health. When you can connect with men on a cultural level, Perry says, it’s encouraging them to ask questions that they wouldn’t otherwise.
“One of the misnomers is that men don’t talk about their health and what we realized – and the reason we exist in the barbershop – is because years ago when I was a client, I’d see men come in and talk about their gout or their diabetes and I remember that they would get their hair cut and after their hair cut they would walk out,” Perry says. “I remember thinking, ‘Hey, these men are talking about their health challenges. We have to have a response to this.’
“That’s why we exist at the barbershop. Now, we can really provide them responses to their concerns,” Perry adds. “That’s what really makes us unique. We have literally eliminated all of the gaps that are known to exist in health care – the fear, the shame, the trust – we have knocked all of that down by our sheer existence.”
To kick off the matching grant, there will be a meet and greet event at Working Draft Beer Company, 1129 East Wilson Street, on Wednesday, August 8, 5-7 p.m.
“I’m looking forward to having a lot of people come out to this event and getting to know all of the supporters in the community,” Perry says. “It will be a fun meet and greet and I want people to learn more about our vision for this community.”