There's an invisible health crisis facing American Black men. But in Knoxville, they are doing something about it.
They're running for our lives literally, they say.
Phillip Tucker, a licensed mental health professional and Austin-East Magnet High School alum, started the first Knoxville chapter of Black Men Run, a national running group focused on promoting a healthy lifestyle.
"I'm a runner, and there's not a lot of Black representation here in the Knoxville running the community, despite how large it is. There's just not a lot of us," Tucker told Knox News.
After joining the Black Men Run organization's Facebook group, he said the local chapter came to be after a national representative gauged his interest in bringing it to Knoxville.
"It took off from there," he said.
Since the group's inception in September, about eight men take part in the weekly runs at Victor Ashe Park, and the group hopes to attract more runners to get involved. But the turnout isn't stopping them from collectively coming together and taking advantage of all the benefits of physical activity and camaraderie.
"We've got guys who are out there all ages, with kids, grandkids, married, single and just interested in taking care of their health," Tucker said.
Even better, the group's mission has produced results.
"We've got a diabetic in the group and every week he's coming in talking about having fewer symptoms. Since he started actively participating in the group, his sugar levels subsided and his energy increased. That's what it's all about. Just seeing guys come out and bond with other Black men and see the results in their daily lives," he said.
Black men's health disparities part of the cause
Racial disparities in men's health in the U.S. are well documented, with consistently higher prevalence and poorer outcomes observed in Black males across the age spectrum — from unintentional and violence-related injuries at the lower end to chronic illnesses at the upper end, according to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
Black men have the highest age-adjusted, all-cause mortality rate and arguably the worst health status of any race/gender group in the U.S.
"Our numbers are terrible when it comes to our health. When it comes to hypertension, diabetes, depression. And there's a discrepancy in the culture in terms of us addressing our mental health, but it applies to other aspects of our health as well," Tucker said.
Black Men Run is creating that space where runners can begin to address these health issues in a way that doesn't feel overwhelming or daunting. It's just a jog, after all.
"Whether they want to run, walk, train for marathons, everybody feels comfortable and we don't leave anybody behind," he said.
Sean Powell, 51, a UT Police Department senior officer and group member, told Knox News that, for him, the group is simply about Black men coming together during a time it's needed most.
"The commonality of being in shape and expressing our love toward each other as Black men should be a part of life. It's about much more than the running," Powell said.
"This is also helping us as Black men to be vulnerable because we are conditioned in society on how we are supposed to be as men. It's valuable to be able to tell another Black man what you are going through because so many of us are going through the same struggles."
Tucker says that the group is creating a social space that Black Knoxvillians have been missing.
"It's hard to find places to find other like-minded Black people. We have the barbershop for us as Black men and that's about it. This is intentionally a place where people can come to get healthy but also build healthy connections and network," he said.
The Knoxville chapter meets to run at 8 a.m. each Saturday at Victor Ashe Park. Tucker said all are welcome and that they plan to have more runs and activities in the near future.
"We are coming together for a unified purpose, guys of all ages and from all different walks of life. If it weren't for this chapter we might not even talk to each other out on the streets with the culture being what it is. We might get a head nod. But out here we are brothers, we are supporting each other, and it's just a beautiful thing."
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Knoxville Black Men Run movement is about 'much more than the running'