Fighting Diabetes: Talking Diabetes In A Barbershop
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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Dr. Bill Releford’s community outreach is saving lives

Many black men will go years before scheduling a doctor’s appointment, but won’t let a few weeks pass without a visit to the barber. That may sound like a bad joke, but in the experience of Dr. Bill Releford, it’s the sad reality that prodded him to create the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program in December 2007. “Historically, black-owned barbershops are a place where African American men have always felt comfortable. It’s the only place where you’ll see the whole spectrum of the black socioeconomic strata,” says Releford, 50, a podiatric surgeon dedicated to reducing diabetes-related amputations.

Releford, author of 5 Colors a Day to Better Health (Milligan Books; $19.95), knew there was no better place than a barbershop to help black men feel comfortable talking about their health. He was all too familiar with the attitudes of most black men toward the medical profession–and the importance of changing the prevailing mindset. He created the Diabetic Amputation Prevention Foundation in 2000, and also founded the Releford Foot and Ankle Institute in 2007 in Inglewood, California. African American men, compared with white men, are more likely to be uninsured; they also experience higher rates of death from cardiovascular disease related to diabetes and hypertension. And they are less likely to get a checkup. Black men and women over the age of 44 have the highest instances of diagnosed diabetes in the U.S.

Initially, Releford approached the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association about creating brochures for African Americans. His idea was to feature black people on the cover and distribute the brochures in black communities. But the organizations took a more multicultural approach, because there wasn’t enough money to target each minority group with its own campaign, he says. Releford took up the cause himself and began the Black Barbershop Program, using $75,000 of his own money to start the nonprofit. And over the past 10 years, he has donated close to $175,000 from his personal savings to the Diabetic Amputation Prevention Program. “You can’t rely on traditional or government institutions to do everything. There are times when we need to be the first responders in our community,” says Releford.

Since the program’s inception, Releford has visited more than 375 barbershops and screened more than 12,000 men for diabetes and hypertension in 22 cities. With a $240,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2009 and a two-year $550,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health in November 2009, Releford is planning a barbershop tour to 50 cities using a network of more than 200 nonmedical volunteers and medically skilled doctors and nurses in cities such as Chicago; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; and New York. Releford also partnered with the Prostate Cancer Foundation and will now add P.E.P Talks (Prostate Education Project) and prostate screenings to the barbershop visits.

In 2008 and 2009, the barbershop program received a series of sponsorships totaling $600,000 from the Abbott Fund, the nonprofit arm of Abbott, the global healthcare company. Releford also garnered funds from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Novo Nordisk, and Pfizer Inc. In 2009, the program’s costs came to roughly $600,000. This year, Releford expects his budget to be $1.5 million. Less than $5,000 of his budget comes from individual private donations.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.