The Importance of Black Men’s Health with Jon D. Brown

On this week’s episode of the Empowering Patients Podcast, our co-founder Theo Harvey got a chance to talk to Jon D. Brown, founder of Black Men’s Health. 

Jon talks about how the lack of representation in the men’s health space, specifically for black men, led him to develop and grow

Theo: When we talk about black health, black men’s health, and the help that they need, one of the things that I’m really interested in is crafting healthcare for specific communities who suffer from things like medical debt and knowledge and access. So tell us a little bit more about what led you down this path to create the black men’s health initiative.

Don: Yeah. So my background is engineering and computer applications and I had a blessed experience of being in the NASA family, as you did Theo, and did some work at Kennedy Space Center. Amazing experience. Did some work at the jet proportional laboratory and at JPL had a lot of early internet technology experience, specifically on the back end and in that work, I learned how to build functional systems. Then learning how to tie them into the worldwide web. This is early man, right? This is the 90s. This is 94, 95 – specifically 95, and was able to take this knowledge, come back to campus at Florida A&M University – the best HBCU in the nation – and started a business in undergrad.

And when you’re in the space of doing website development in 1996, you’re really in a digital real estate game as well. So, not just your execution of services and consultation, but also in the sense of like, you can buy up digital real estate and potentially own that forever. So we did. And one of the acquisitions I made along the way was

Coming across an email – I remember the date – sitting in my office at midnight, sending an email related to black women’s health, immediately going to check out, which was taken, and then checking out, which was available, and immediately buying the real estate. And one of the reasons that I bought it, my thought at the time, which is still very relevant today, is just not enough representation. At the time, we didn’t have all of these devices at the level that it is now.

Newsstands and physical print magazines were still huge. If you go and look at the print newsstand of men’s magazines period, but definitely related to health, there’s just not enough us, right? It’s a lot of white men period, and the women got it under control, man. The women have done far better over the last decade or so. But if you’re talking about tall, short, fat, skinny, all beautiful colors of the rainbow, no matter what it is, if it’s wedding dresses or photos or gardening, or cycling or whatever, the women got it under control. Just diversity, the lore. But for men, especially big magazines – Men’s health, Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness – it’s like a lot of white boys, a lot of white boys.

And if there is a man of color, specifically a black man, you and I know who they are – 200, 300 yards away. It’s like, oh, that’s Idris Elba. That’s Jamie Fox. That’s Kevin Hart, Barack Obama, which is what I call kind of like the two-three percenters. Those are people that are amazingly aspirational, but unobtainable. How many more Barack Obamas are there going to be? So what about 97 to 98% of us, just like regular brothers, that’s trying to figure it out?

That’s what Black Men’s Health is about, just creating this platform. It’s really about creating more balance through health for men of color, specifically black men. We are covering that holistically. Mental, physical, financial, spiritual, social. So this is not just about how to have rock hard abs and how to have sex all night long. This is about balance. In academia, as well as in the medical profession, a lot of times we’re asking men, specifically black men, to go from zero to like 11, like beyond 10, right? And that’s not always feasible. So, we are approaching men. We want to be relevant. We want to be approachable. And we want to give men information that’s accessible and palatable to them.

Theo: I can see your passion around this and definitely going back to 1999 and just having that thought and just putting out there into your universe, definitely key to building something like this. I talked to Dr. Lee Green over at Moffitt Cancer Center. He talked about this as a researcher that goes into black men’s health. It’s almost nascent and unfortunate. When you look at all the other health indicators, he said black men are always at the bottom of the list. 

Don: The first of the worst. That’s what I say. The first of the worst.

Theo: To like heart disease, diabetes – he said black men are always there right at the bottom of that list. And so it’s something that I think is needed and necessary as we start to think about the future and strong families and just what’s happening for this community. 

Mental health was a stigma in our community for so long and now people are speaking up, talking about it. Now you see LeBron James communicating the importance of mental health and peace. Everything you’re saying, I think we want to see more of that. And we can connect you with the folks that we know that we’re dealing with in our space in patient monitoring, helping patients who suffer from chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes – a lot of them are black men.

Thank you for your time today. Just talking about your passion and helping the black community and giving people wisdom and thoughts on how they can shape their community when it comes to healthcare. 

Don: Thank you, brother.

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