The quiet walls of an ordinarily empty classroom on a Saturday afternoon at Harvest Preparatory Academy were filled with an intimate message of courage and responsibility when they were blanketed with the presence of a timely messenger of Hope.
The Men of M.A.R.C.H. (Men Are Responsible for Cultivating Hope) and members of our diverse community were happy to welcome R&B singer Charlie Wilson and hear his Declaration of Awareness, prior to his musical performance Saturday, May 9 at Epic Night Club. He happily participated in a round table discussion designed to address a major issue seeking lives in our community; the growing rate of Prostate Cancer in African American males.
Wilson, a former member of the acclaimed musical ensemble The Gap Band, is continually hitting high notes with his solo career as an artist and has already garnered the number 1 spot on the R&B charts with the introduction of his latest album Uncle Charlie. But aside from singing his way back into the depths of our hearts with musical testimonies of love and redemption, his words off the stage amass the same significance and vulnerability yet reside on a different hill of heightened importance.
As you know, the world is “masking up” to steer clear of endemics like H1N1 (Swine Flu), but apart from the pandemonium of this contagious disease lays another epidemic seeking the lives of our brothers. Remember, not every potential life-threatening illness is one that’s communicable or can be discerned through symptoms. Sometimes the necessity is not in covering up to prevent a problem, but rather by “unmasking” ourselves to discover a hidden one.
Having overcome an onslaught of self-made obstacles, like his prior drug abuse, which Wilson has long since recovered from, the last thing he expected in his life was to be stricken with prostate cancer. “Some [hurdles] have been higher than others, but I’ve been jumping like hell to get over them. This is what I’ve been doing since that last part of the 80s,” he shared, when asked about overcoming cancer and other obstacles in his life and career.
Early detection was a saving grace for Wilson, but like many African American men, he too was stubborn when it came to his health and keeping on top of yearly checkups and doctor visits. “You know we don’t like to go to the doctor. My wife made me go to the doctor,” he recalled. “You have to do it. The numbers are just staggering: one in every three African American males will develop prostate cancer.”
Never having had any symptoms aside from lower back pain, he naturally assumed he was healthy due to his active lifestyle and maintaining proper diet and exercise. At the advice of his wife, he still underwent his yearly routine checkups. After receiving high numbers as a result of a P.S.A. Test (Prostate Specific Antigen Test) and a rectal exam, his doctors diagnosed him with prostate cancer and began treating him for the disease.
Catching it in enough time is what afforded him the ability to make a full recovery. “Prostate cancer basically is a slow growing cancer. They call it the good cancer. If you catch it, you can take care of it. The numbers can be really high and you can still take care of it because it’s very slow. However, there are aggressive strains as well that will just take off,” Wilson said.
He encourages people to understand that Prostate Cancer is no longer an age discriminatory disease affecting merely the older generation. “I heard of a brother, who on his 40th birthday had already had six operations and there was nothing they could do for him. He just passed a few months back. Over the years it’s been coming down more and more. People always tell me, ‘I’ll worry about that when I’m 55.’ But no, it’s not just that [age]. I’m convinced that it’s not just a number,” he said.
Wilson painted a vivid picture of the importance of early detection and getting on top of yearly exams and checkups. Joined by his wife Mahin, the two touched on the vulnerability and emotion’s men face when it comes to the diagnosis. They spoke on how the disease affects not only men, but also the family.
Wilson, now an advocate for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, understands that a lot of men don’t gleam with excitement when it comes to taking a rectal exam, but a few minutes of possible discomfort can buy years, or rather decades, of a life worth living.
“It’s not about me,” said Wilson. “This is a disease that’s attacking African Americans and a lot of us don’t know anything about this. They don’t know what the symptoms are or that this is happening. I’m trying to spread the word. I’m here. If I have a platform, I’m here to talk to the brothers. You need to go get a check up. I know we don’t like to go to the doctors. People keep saying, ‘You’re telling all your business.’ It’s not my business anymore. I took care of me, now I’m trying to take care of you. If I can help tell you something, that’s why I’m here.”
The Men of M.A.R.C.H. meeting, in existence for nearly 15 years, was the perfect forum for relaying the message of survival and self-reliance. Like Wilson, the brothers who make up this extraordinary group of “Hope Cultivators” share a similar purpose with the work they do in uplifting, restructuring and creating awareness on the issues that effect the African American community. The gentleman meet every Saturday at Harvest Preparatory Academy at 1 pm where they encourage brothers of all ages to stop by, be enlightened and be accepted into a circle of men who actively participate in resonating positive change, not only within themselves, but also the community at large.
Before the session closed, one of the Men of M.A.R.C.H. reflected: “We are still maintaining, but also sustaining. This, in party, has to do with coming into a safe environment where there are Black men who can disclose and open up without judgment. Everybody here feels safe enough to be their real self.” The comfort within in the enclosed circle is what made it easy for Wilson and other visitors to communicate this personal yet important message to all that were listening.
Through him and the testimonies of the Men of M.A.R.C.H., it’s easy to discover the obvious conclusion; if you’re going to show up for life, then you might as well be healthy enough to live in it. Time is of the essence. Get your prostate checked today.
For more information on Prostate Cancer, the causes, symptoms and testing, please contact your local doctor or visit www.prostatecancerfoundation.org
For more information on the Men of M.A.R.C.H. organization and how you can participate email Tyrone Terrill at firstname.lastname@example.org