"All of our personalities and our life experiences really created the dynamic of the group."
-Tristan Gross from The Lindsay Heights Men's Wellness Council
In July 2011, with funding from a Wisconsin Partnership Program grant, Walnut Way and their partners (YMCA Northside, UWM Zilber School of Pubic Health and UW Collaborative Center for Health Equity) started the Lindsay Heights Men's Wellness Council (MWC). "Our goal was to identify a group of men from the Lindsey Heights neighborhood who work, live or play here" says David Frazer from The Center For Urban Population Health. "We created a safe space where the men can look at what it means to be healthy".
For the last 18 months, a dozen men met monthly to discuss what factors they think contribute to "a healthy African-American man", with initial goals of increasing the physical activity in the men. They were offered a free membership to the YMCA as incentive to share their ideas of what physical health means to them. But, the meetings soon evolved to talk about more than just the physical health. "Initially it was focused more on physical health, but found soon found out there were different dimensions, like social health. Emotional health, financial health," says Damon Shoates, member of the Men's Wellness Council. "Talking about this was a good start. That fact that this can happen to get the ball rolling is huge."
During those 18 months of MWC discussions, the sessions were videotaped. The films served as a primary data source to help identify and understand key factors related to African American men's health. The footage was put together into a 25-minute documentary, No Longer An Island that aired in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood at a town-hall style meeting. (Filmmaker: Darren Alexander Cole)
The group still meets once a month to talk about the next steps and to continue the space for the Council's open conversation, with thoughts that they may inspire other neighborhoods to do the same.
"We have access to the data and we have a say to what happens to it and how we move forward," says Gross. "I think this has been a great experience for myself and I'm hoping for the rest of the guys as well.
Information about the Lindsay Heights Men's Wellness Council can be found online at www.walnutway.org