To honor Black History Month, we’re recognizing five African-Americans for their contributions to the prostate cancer community. These men share a common bond – prostate cancer, a disease black men are 1.8 times more likely to be diagnosed with and 2.2 times more likely to die from than white men.
The 1990s marked a turning point in prostate cancer awareness as celebrities and other prominent individuals spoke up about the disease. Sidney Poitier was one of the first celebrities to speak about his experience and penned an op-ed about it. Without people like Sidney Poitier sharing his prostate cancer journey, we would not have made the advancements we have today in the cause,
Sidney Poitier was a groundbreaking actor, director and activist. In 1964 he became the first Black man to receive an Academy Award for Best Actor in his role as Homer Smith in “Lilies of the Field”. It would certainly not be the last award for Poitier. In 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama and an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. On January 6, 2022, he died at age 94 from a combination of health issues. Poitier was diagnosed with prostate cancer nearly 30 years ago.
Actor, singer and songwriter Harry Belafonte is one of the most successful Jamaican-American singers, and was nicknamed the “King of Calypso ” for his Caribbean style music in the 1950s. Belafonte was also known for “The Banana Boat Song,” which was recognized in the 1988 movie “Beetlejuice”. Outside of his career, Belafonte was a profound social, political and civil rights activist. He has worked for the Peace Corps and UNICEF (United Nations Children Fund) in the fight to end hunger in Africa. In 2001, he traveled to South Africa to support the campaign against HIV/AIDS. Belafonte has also been involved in prostate cancer outreach since 1996. He was diagnosed and treated for the disease at age 69.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was the first Black U.S. Secretary of State and a retired four-star general in the U.S. Army. Powell was noted for not only leading by example, but also for encouraging the ambitions of young African-Americans. In 2003 Powell underwent surgery to remove his prostate and shortly thereafter he became a supporter of prostate cancer awareness. Powell died in October of 2021 of COVID complications, according to reports.
KEN GRIFFEY SR.
Retired Major League Baseball All-Star Ken Griffey Sr. was first diagnosed with prostate cancer when he was 55 years-old. In Griffey’s case, doctors caught the disease early enough that he only needed surgery to remove the cancer. Griffey says four of his uncles passed away from the disease as well. He and his Hall of Fame baseball player son, Ken Griffey Jr. have been outspoken advocates of the need for men to understand their risk factors.
Weather forecaster and morning TV co-host on NBC’s Today Show, Al Roker learned that he had prostate cancer in September 2020. One month later he had surgery to remove his prostate. Since then, Roker continues to share his cancer journey to encourage other men, especially black men, to get checked regularly. In February of 2022, Roker participated in the Blue Jacket Fashion Show as part of New York’s Fashion Week. The event benefited ZERO and the need for direct support to black and brown communities, who are at highest risk for prostate cancer and who are experiencing additional financial and mental distress due to COVID-19.
As we honor Black History Month, remember that every 18 minutes a black man is diagnosed with prostate cancer. One in seven black men will be diagnosed with this disease in his lifetime. As these celebrities have proven, raising awareness and speaking out is crucial to saving lives.