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Hampton Roads Community News

Diabetes Awareness Goes To Community

By Rosaland Tyler

Associate Editor

New Journal and Guide

Black barbershops in Los Angeles helped launch a health care trend several years ago that recently reached into a beauty shop in Virginia Beach.

Black women at Heart’s Desire Salon and Spa located at 977 Reon Dr. raised their sleeves to receive free blood-pressure and blood-sugar screenings on June 5, like hundreds of men sat in barbershops in Los Angeles in 2009 and rolled up their sleeves to slip on blood pressure cuffs. About 20 women participated in the recent event in Virginia Beach. It was sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, Jen Care Neighborhood Medical Centers, Farm Fresh, Subway, and Sun Trust Foundation.

 “It was important because many women are walking around with diabetes and do not know it,” said Mark Johnson, vice president and community development manager at Sun Trust for the past five years, who facilitated the health outreach program.

The point is to start a new conversation about diabetes. To do so, more screenings should be held in places where women talk a lot. “We plan to go to where people gather and conversations take place,” Johnson said.

“We want people to know it is important to have this conversation,” said Johnson who has served on the board of the American Diabetes Association for three years.” He organized a similar health outreach event last year at a Norfolk barbershop.


While there is not a specific schedule for future screenings in this area, Johnson said some screenings may be held in Franklin and Western Tidewater. “Diabetes runs in families,” Johnson said. “It affects other organs if it is not managed. It can create other issues. So we thought this was a major opportunity to focus on it.”

Firm dates and locations have not been finalized, said Avanti Allen-Benson, mission delivery manager for the American Diabetes Association.

But upcoming events are planned in July at Mabel’s Barber Shop in Franklin. In August, screenings will be held in Portsmouth at Creations 2 and in Hampton at DJ’s Cut & Curl.

This means like free blood pressure screenings were launched in many barbershops in Los Angeles about six years ago by Dr. Ronald Victor, the director of Cedars-Sinai Center for Hypertension. The recent health screenings in Virginia Beach were a type of intervention tactic. In other words, it aimed to start a brand-new conversation where people gather and talk.

Launched in barbershops with an $8.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Victor’s landmark intervention program aimed to train Los Angeles barbers to take their customers’ blood pressure. In other words, Victor wanted to move blood pressure testing from the doctor’s office to the barbershop chair. Soon he partnered with Dr. Anthony Reid, a cardiologist in nearby Inglewood.

Smith said of his landmark project in a 2014 NPR story, “I was always the one asking men, ‘How’s your wife, how’s your children?’ So it was easy for me to say, ‘Well, look, brother how’s your blood pressure? How’s your health?’ 

The same logic applies to the recent diabetes tests for women in Virginia Beach, said Dr. Mack Bonner, who attended the event. Bonner has spent more than 40 years treating diabetes in several underserved communities including Harlem Hospital, where he was the former medical director. He was the deputy secretary for the Department of Health in Maryland.

He began working in corrections in 1992, retired about a year ago, relocated to Virginia Beach, and joined the American Diabetes Association.

“This was not our first effort,” Bonner said “Last year we held health screenings that involved four beauty and barber shops in this area. This is a continuation.”

“This one went reasonably well,” Bonner said. “We interacted with maybe 20 clients at the recent event. We hoped for more. But if you talk to 20 people and they spread the word, more will come in for screenings. Several of the women were known diabetics and said they had it under control. Some had diabetics in their family.”


“It was a positive experience,” Bonner said. “The whole point is diabetes is controllable and the complications can be minimized by people knowing they have it. The problem is one third of those who do have it, do not know they have it. Management will delay complications. And that is our mission.”


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