July 2010 - Pay It Forward

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I happened to stop for gas the other day and stood outside my car while I filled the gas tank. It was one of those "Hotlanta" Days-upwards of 90 degrees. High heat, hazy, and high humidity. A Hotlanta Classic. As I stood there, I noticed a man near the gas delivery truck, sweating like he'd just stepped out of a sauna. He was sweating so profusely that I offered him several Kleenex to wipe his face. We struck up a conversation during which I asked if he was hypertensive (he was) and diabetic (right again). He wondered how I "knew." Quite frankly, it was a good guess on my part-I guess you could say I used a bit of racial profiling: African-American male, overweight (mostly abdominal fat), seemingly in his late 30s/early 40s, perspiring profusely as a result of very minor physical activity.

As we talked, he explained that he'd been to the doctor earlier in the week and been told that he had high blood pressure and was borderline diabetic. The doctor also told him that he needed to drop at least 60 pounds. Problem was, the brother had no real idea how he could accomplish this. He worked 5 days a week, from 11 am to 1 am the following morning, delivering gasoline to area stations. He was too exhausted to exercise after work and could not find time in the mornings before he left to begin the day's deliveries. To add to his dilemma, lunch was always fast food so that he could stay on schedule with deliveries-mostly burgers, fried food, soda. He ate a large dinner when he got home after 1 am, and then went right to bed. As a result, his weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar were all beginning to spiral out of control. He was well on his way to an early grave due to stroke, heart attack, or diabetes. How many other Black men (and women) are on this same highway to disaster?

We spent about 20 minutes talking about things that he could do to get on the right track: pack his lunch made of healthy foods/snacks so that he wouldn't be tempted to stop at a fast food restaurant. I helped him identify 24 hour exercise gyms in the area that would accommodate his work schedule, talked with him about diet, salt, benefits of eating a plant based diet, and the importance of staying alive for himself and for his wife. He was genuinely interested in hearing what I had to say.

He thanked me for being willing to share what I knew and said he wished that he could have someone like me to coach him daily. I assured him that he could make the lifestyle changes we discussed without daily coaching and that he'd see a real difference. I also sent him to Journey to Wellness for additional information and inspiration.

He offered to pay me-really he did, but I declined any payment. I was just happy that he was willing to make the effort to change. Instead of payment, I asked him to "pay it forward." That is, if he knew of other Black men who were in the same shape, I'd like for him to share the information I shared with him. It would help other Black men like himself-hardworking, wanting to do the right thing, but just not sure how to get it done. He promised he would pay it forward and I hope he keeps his promise...for him, for me, and for all the "Brothers' (and Sisters) out there who are tying so hard to do the right thing.

With You on Your Journey to Wellness.

Dr. Mary S. Harris


0 Anonymous 2010-08-27 08:23
When I received this article initially, I quickly perused it, but then decided to read it slowly and thoroughly. It was truly insightful. Dr. Harris, your willingness to take time out of your schedule to simply 'engage' with someone else was admirable to say the least. However, taking the time to discuss a matter as important as health and well being, well that was all the more amazing and very motivating.

I'm sure the man appreciated your interest and took your good advice to heart.

Thanks for sharing your story. It has caused me to be more concerned about my well being and the well being of others.

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0 Denise Irish 2010-07-12 10:16
Dr. Harris,

Bless You!!! I meet so many people in the work that I do that share the same habit of placing themselves last. I am so pleased that your conversation had the impact that it did. I hope that others will benefit by placing themselves FIRST in their day. This verbal exchange that occurred on a Hotlanta day serves as a reality check as to where we often place ourselves. Work truly is a necessary component to our existence, but if we become too sick to work---what good is it??? We seem to find time for work and chores, but seldom eeek out time for honoring ourselves by taking care of ourselves.

Thanks for the insightful article.
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0 Shirley 2010-07-12 10:06
Wonderful! Thanks for all that you do to keep us healthy!
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