Reginald M. Harris, Seventh District representative for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., has seen the toll mental illness and other health issues have taken on the Black community. So, the organization has teamed up with Black Health Matters to create new initiatives that bring resources back to each chapter.
According to Harris, who represents 6,100 Ques throughout Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida, the partnership is focusing on prostate cancer, diabetes and mental health. “This is an awesome partnership because Black Health Matters takes a holistic approach to health,” Harris said. “The gradual approach that they have is in alignment with our fraternity’s mission.”
Black men are more likely than their white counterparts to get prostate cancer and are twice as likely to die from the disease, states the National Cancer Institute. Omega Psi Phi hopes the partnership with Black Health Matters will change that. “Because we are a fraternity of African American men, it is our duty to break the stigma on getting our prostates checked. In this partnership, we get the information from Black Health Matters and share it at chapter meetings,” Harris said.
The fraternity, which has 750 chapters in the United States and 14 other countries, has also partnered with the American Diabetes Association because diabetes continues to plague the Black community. African American adults are 60 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes by a physician, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. ”I am a type 2 diabetic, and I understand that we need to get that information out,” Harris said. “We share information on how to avoid diabetes with healthy eating and exercise, how to treat it if you have it, and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
Mental health is the cornerstone of the partnership, said the fraternity’s Grand Basileus David Marion, a psychologist who practices in Jackson, Mississippi. As a trained clinician, Marion has seen the impact of mental illness on the Black community. The fraternity has a solid background in programming that targets mental health.
After traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Omega Psi Phi leaders joined Brother You’re On My Mind, a program started under the administration of former President Barack Obama. The purpose of that program is to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness and to encourage black men to get help once they are diagnosed with a mental illness, Marion said.
“We bring experts into local chapter meetings to discuss signs and symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse,” Marion said. “We offer information on available resources in local areas where one can go to get help.”
In addition, the fraternity has a program called “Called A Brother Wednesday,” Harris said. With this program, brothers call three or four other members each Wednesday to check on them. “We need to make sure that we’re OK during this quarantine with COVID-19, and not just our senior members,” he said.
Younger members of the fraternity are taking the partnership with Black Health Matters and other initiatives very seriously, according to Marion. “We’ve shared the information at conclaves, at the international undergraduate summit, local chapter meetings and leadership meetings,” he said. “The response has been great. I’ve even heard from brothers who say they have done interventions with family members and offer to get them the help they need.”
In the future, the fraternity plans to create joint chapter health programs with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a partnership delayed because of COVID-19, Marion said. “We hope to spread the message of good health, mental and physical, to our brothers—and to residents of our communities,” Marion said.