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Shave and a health check

ASU project uses barbers' standing in black community to promote health.
March 31, 2016

ASU program promotes health and community by equipping barbers with blood-pressure monitors, training

Barber Marvin Davis takes pride in knowing his clients’ likes and dislikes. He knows how high to cut their hair, knows when they’re due for a shave and when they aren’t feeling their best.

And when that happens, he also knows how to talk to them about their health.

Health is an important topic to Davis, who knows that conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer and diabetes are claiming the lives of African-American men in record numbers. That fact was underscored by a customer whom Davis recently groomed.

“A customer who’s a mortician came in a few weeks ago. I was clipping his hair, making small talk and asked, ‘How’s business?’ He said without hesitation, ‘Very good,’ ” recalled Davis, who was taken aback.

The mortician told Davis that the average age range of his dead black clients was between 30 to 50 years old, which Davis said chilled him to the bone.

“The sad part is, most of them died from diseases that would have shown up on a blood-pressure machine, which is why we keep one in the shop,” Davis said.

Men have their hair cut in a barbershop.

Barber Marvin Davis trims Michael Okonkwo's hair at the
Ageez Hair Center in Chandler on March 30.
Top: Silester Rivers laughs as Ageez owner Anthony
Gathers takes his blood pressure.

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Davis is the manager of Ageez Hair Center in Chandler and is one of a handful Phoenix-area barbers who sit on the steering committee of the African American Cardiovascular Disease Health Literacy Demonstration ProjectThe project is supported by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, a National Institutes on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)/National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center of Excellence (Award: P20MD002316-10) for the study of health disparities in the Southwest, in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.. The project puts an emphasis on prevention and health literacy through culturally grounded community efforts for African-American men in the greater Phoenix area. Participating barbershops and hair centers are supplied with blood-pressure monitors — and trainingThe Black Nurses Association of the Greater Phoenix Area partnered with Olga Davis to train and certify the barbers. — to give readings to their customers.

“Barbers hold a unique and esteemed place in the African-American community,” said Dr. Olga Idriss DavisDavis, no relation to Marvin Davis, is also a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., who is principal investigator for the project and for community engagement at the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center (SIRC).

“The culture of the black barbershop is a folk tradition, a gathering place in the male community, a site where knowledge can be traded, disputes resolved and wisdom transferred from generation to generation. It’s a wonderful microcosm of society.

“Barbers are looked upon as leaders in the African-American community. Clients often tell their barbers intimate things, sometimes things they would never tell their partners and family members.”

Dr. Davis, who started the project in 2013, admits it took her a while to earn the trust of the barbershops and the surrounding communities in which they serve.

“Researchers employed by institutions of higher learning have not had the best interactions with African-American and Native American communities. Historically, they smile at the door, gather data and leave without any follow-up that supports the community,” Dr. Davis said. 

A man has his blood pressure taken at a barbershop.

ASU professor Olga Idriss Davis checks the blood pressure of barber Marvin Davis (no relation) in between clients March 30. Olga Davis is the principal investigator for the African American Cardiovascular Disease Health Literacy Demonstration Project. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Dr. Davis said even though she’s African-American, it didn’t entitle her to a free pass or easy entree into the community. That trust had to be earned over a long period of time.

“Early in my research and fieldwork there was a woman from the community who frequented a barbershop, and all of the barbers were her ‘babies.’ She walked into the shop one day, and asked the barbers, ‘Who is this chick on my turf?’ ” Dr. Davis said. “She then got an inch away from my face and said, ‘I wanna talk to you. You’re one of them and you’re here to take our stories. You’re part of the establishment.’ ”

Dr. Davis calmly explained to her that nearly 50 million men in the U.S. have high blood pressure, 40 percent of whom are African-Americans. She added that African-American males are particularly at risk because they are often unaware of the disease, do not receive treatment and rarely adhere to a treatment regimen if one is prescribed. That had to change, Dr. Davis said.

She then explained a vision: transforming barbershops into a health-care space where barbers become “community health advocates.” Dr. Davis said it was a moment where she could see the woman’s defiance morph into understanding.

“I told her, ‘I want this to have a ripple effect throughout the entire African-American population, not just in this community … but I’m going to need your help, too,’ ” Dr. Davis said. “She finally got it and smiled, then said, ‘You all right, sister.’ I said, ‘You’re all right, too, sister.’ We’ve been good ever since.”

So has the program, which had made serious headway in the African-American communities in Chandler and south Phoenix. Barbers are casually talking to their clients about their health and discreetly taking blood-pressure readings.

“I usually say, ‘Hey man, sit down and let me take your numbers, check you out and make sure you’re all right,’ ” said Anthony Gathers, the owner of Ageez Hair Center who sits on the steering committee with Marvin Davis. “In this business you get to know your clients and so it’s not real hard to get them to allow you to take their blood pressure. Then others see it and they say, ‘Hey, take mine, too.’ It catches on.”

And sometimes they catch on to others’ health issues before they become a crisis.

A man has his blood pressure taken at a barbershop.

Jamall Anderson (left) is surprised to see his blood pressure higher than average March 30. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“I can definitely tell when someone has an iron deficiency, and I counsel some of the younger men about getting insurance under the Affordable Health Care Act,” Gathers said.

He recalled an incident in the shop where a customer had a seizure and an ambulance had to be called. Another time a customer’s blood-pressure numbers were “off the charts,” and he was forced to sit in the barber’s chair until he was escorted to the hospital.

Those sorts of health scares, as well as countless opportunities to gently counsel their clients on their well-being, makes the barbers more resolved than ever before.

Dr. Flavio Marsiglia, director of the SIRC, said the project is highly relevant and innovative, pointing out that the project has the possibility to address other health conditions in the future.

“Other communities around the nation are closely looking at this demonstration project as a model,” Marsiglia said. 

The next phase of the project includes partnering with hair stylists in African-American beauty shops. 

“What we underscore at SIRC is that ‘culture matters.’ Culture is an anchor in developing health promotion and health interventions where communities and their culture count,” said Olga Davis.

Gathers said clients also count, whom he views as extended family, and only wants the best for them.

“I care about other people and I want them to have good health,” Gathers said. “If you have your health, you have everything. You can have a million bucks but if you don’t have your health, you don’t get to experience everything life has to offer.”

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Going full throttle for PIR

March 31, 2016

Looming deadline for appearance at Phoenix International Raceway has ASU race car team battling stress, expectations

Editor’s note: This is the latest installation in a yearlong series about ASU's Formula SAEFormula SAE is a student design competition organized by the International Society of Automotive Engineers (now known as SAE International). team. Find links to previous stories at the end of this article.

These are the times that try men’s souls.

While the student engineers building a Formula-style car for competition in June aren’t inspiring a revolution like Thomas Paine, they are battling the tensions that always accompany great struggles.

Infighting. Disagreements. Discord.

They’re not pretty, but they’re a feature of every one of man’s great accomplishments, from the Shackleton expedition’s escape from Antarctica to the launch of the Voyager spacecraft. To suggest otherwise would be disingenuous.

The pressure notched up March 18, when news arrived that the team had secured a $10 million insurance policy to drive the pace car lap at the Indy car races at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2.

Insurance requirements for either a pace car lap or a booth at the raceway had been insurmountable, so the team was resigned to missing the event. Now they were faced with turning a (mostly) completed engine, a completed chassis and a pile of components into a car.

In about two weeks.

The cry went out across email, for shop days, shop nights, shop afternoons: “WE NEED YOU!” “Shop Night TONIGHT!” “Shop Day for IndyCar event.”

A student engineer works on the chassis of a race car.

Gede Andiyastika measure
segments of the frame for
welding tabs to connect
the underbody tray on
March 30 in Tempe.

Photo by Charlie
Leight/ASU Now

Since the announcement about the insurance, the team has been working to complete eight major tasks, each of which has countless sub-tasks. About 10 to 20 team members have been in the shop every night.

“I honestly had a hard time making sure I say the right things correctly,” chief engineer Wes Kudela said last Saturday. “It’s hard to motivate people to make the final push.”

With a huge raceway appearance and a $10 million insurance policy in hand, “we expected people to be fired up,” said Kudela, a senior in mechanical engineering. Leap Carpenter Kemps provided the insurance, at no cost to the team. “We owe these people our 100 percent effort.”

The abrupt deadline has caused tension between the leadership and the team, both admit. A deadline like this is going to cause issues in any endeavor, no matter how well it’s going, and that’s not taught in any classroom.

“Not what I was hoping to tell you at this point,” said team manager Troy Buhr, a junior in mechanical engineering. “I can’t tell you otherwise.”

Sub team leaders said getting the car running in two weeks was unrealistic, with the team divided on their chances.

Everyone has been making sacrifices. A tough challenge is made even tougher by the fact that team members have classes and jobs on the side. Spare time, recreation, relaxation — these are pipe dreams.

“In between classes I’ll either be contacting companies to try and get parts or I’ll go to the shop to work on something,” said vehicle systems lead engineer Curtis Swift, a senior in mechanical engineering. “Also, there is definitely less sleep due to staying late at the shop or waking up early to get into the machine shop.”

Manufacturing and shop manager Arik Jacobson, a sophomore in automotive systems engineering, said he has been going without sleep.

“Sleep has been the majority of the sacrifice since I still have class plus I have a job and Formula to attend to,” he said. “We have put some projects on hold until we get the car to the event.”

“As the Grand Prix approaches a lot of my relaxation time starts becoming ‘build racecar time,’” said brake team leader Colin Twist, a junior in mechanical engineering. “Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

The engine is mounted and headers from the old car have been mounted for the raceway appearance.

“There’s a lot of that going on,” Buhr said. “Scrapping stuff from the old car.”

“This’ll help us out later, figuring out placement,” said team captain Pranav Mamidi, a senior in mechanical engineering. “It speeds up the process later significantly. ... There’s something we’ve learned working about cars. Nothing ever goes to plan. ... Our goal is competition, not (the raceway appearance).”

There is a fair amount of mocking up assemblies on the car, Swift said.

“We have to hurry and get everything finished for PIR so even if we don’t have the parts yet we still have to figure out how everything will fit and mount into the car, which makes things difficult,” he said.

Jacobson said they are doing their best to ensure 100 percent quality. No corners are being cut anywhere.

“The motto in our shop is, ‘Aim for perfection’ and we realize that we are learning and this means we shoot for the absolute best result and a lot of the times we get really close and we accept that and learn from each experience,” he said. “There have been some temporary tabs put on the car, but we have plans to try and integrate those into the final design. We are in no way cutting any corners to our end product.”

Kudela said whatever happens, he will be proud of the team and the results they have to show at the raceway on Saturday.

“Whatever we pull off at this point, we have something pretty incredible to show at the team booth,” he said.

Find the group's PitchFunder page here:

Previous stories in this series:

Oct. 14: Tempe Drift: How an underdog student engineering team is building a race car from the ground up.

Nov. 4: Racing time and money to build a fast car.

Dec. 10: Braking bad: Pressure is on for ASU student engineers building race car

Dec. 17: No brake: ASU team powers through to edge closer to race car

Feb. 1: Coming into the home stretch

March 8: Starting to look like a car

March 29: One step closer to PIR