Barbershops’ Hair & Health provides easy health monitoring for African-American men

MetroMorphosisIn the News

BY PAM BORDELON for The Advocate

Phantasy Styles II Barbershop owner James Price, right, helps Quincy Bess check his blood pressure during a break from a game of dominos at the shop.ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY PAM BORDELON

“It’s the African-American male’s country club — the original man cave.”

That’s how the Rev. Raymond Jetson, founder of the nonprofit MetroMorphosis, describes the barbershop, that place where men of color hang out even when they don’t necessarily need a trim. It’s where he turned to launch Hair & Health, a program that deals with health issues facing African-American men.

And addressing blood pressure is one of the biggest needs.

The prevalence of high blood pressure — more than 40 % — in African Americans in the United States is among the highest in the world, according to the American Heart Association. African Americans also tend to develop high blood pressure earlier in life, and it is usually more severe, the AHA reports.

“Black men’s attention to their health leaves a lot to be desired,” Jetson said, “and hypertension is especially an issue for people of color.”

So now when guys head to the barbershop — so far 10 are participating — they also can have their blood pressure checked and get information on what to do if their numbers are too high.

“The barbershop is a place where the men feel comfortable, and they’ll open up there while they might not in another setting,” said Jetson.

James Price, owner of Phantasy Styles and Phantasy Styles Barbershop II, didn’t hesitate to join the program when approached by a Michael Mitchell, a MetroMorphosis staffer working with the mayor’s office in building a coalition of barbershops to participate in Hair & Health.

“We (men) don’t take time to go to the doctor and get checkups like we should,” Mitchell said. “I know a lot of them who suffer with high blood pressure, and this is a good way to help them stay on top of their health.”

Surprisingly, none of the men who have had their blood pressure checked at his shops has had dangerously high numbers, Price said.

The 39-year-old doesn’t have high blood pressure, and there’s no history in his family, but he still regularly checks his numbers with the blood pressure monitor provided to his shop.

“I have a family, so I have no choice,” Price said.

He also tries to watch what he eats, which can be hard with his work schedule.

“Everything that’s fast and convenient is bad for you,” he said with a laugh. “And, it can be expensive to eat healthy.”

The men were introduced to the program through the monthly Barbershop Talks that MetroMorphosis was already conducting.

Jetson founded MetroMorphosis seven years ago to bring people together to come up with “sustainable solutions to persistent community challenges.”

The inspiration came from the Urban Congress on African-American Males, a supporting partner of Hair & Health. Other partners include Louisiana Healthcare Connections, the American Heart Association, the Louisiana Primary Care Association and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s HealthyBR initiative.

Be Nourished is one of the five components of the mayor’s program, which focuses on the health and well being of Baton Rougeans. The others are Be Active, Be Smart, Be Well and Be Involved.