The curious case of the disappearing Black man. It may sound strange, but in health care, it’s an unfortunate truth — one that Keon Gilbert is addressing in his work.
The opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color is part of a larger conversation around men’s health that President Obama addressed in the national My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which launched in 2014.
Just eight miles from Keon’s home base of St. Louis, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, signed up for the initiative after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
New Connections has supported many scholars in this city, including Melody Goodman, Keith Elder, and Darrell Hudson, who have collaborated with Keon and other scholars through the years. Keon considers these partnerships essential to his research, especially in a city that has experienced so much loss and community division around racial disparities in education, health, and economic opportunity.
“It’s impossible to do my work in a silo,” Keon remarks. “Cross-sector partnerships are key to helping the St. Louis community better understand some of the unique experiences of Black boys and men that start early in life.”
Keon has been invested in the health and well-being of Black boys and men since his undergraduate studies. His 2013 New Connections grant, however, is what first enabled him to wholeheartedly pursue research in this area.
Similar to the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, Keon’s work focuses on access to opportunities for Black boys and men in a much broader context than simply health care services, although his work seeks to promote health and prevent the onset of chronic disease across multiple settings.
“I’m concerned with access to a better life in number of ways,” he explains. “I want Black boys and men to have the opportunity to live as healthy and as full of a life as possible.”
Now an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and Health Education at Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice, Keon is exploring the social and economic conditions structuring inequalities in the health of African-American males. Whether it’s looking at police killing of black males, health care services, education opportunities in schools, or studying high risks of hypertension among African-American males in St. Louis, his research always comes back to the question of the role of the physical, economic, and social environment.
As such, Keon values community participation in efforts to re-engage African-American boys and men in all systems of care and opportunity, including the health care system, especially now that many will have access to health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
He hopes that ultimately, African-American males will have a voice in the health decision-making process, claim ownership of their health solutions, and take an interest in the health and health care fields.
Read Keon Gilbert’s two posts on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health blog here: