MADISON, Wis. - Former Badgers wide receiver JC Dawkins played for Barry Alvarez and won a Rose Bowl in his time at Wisconsin. But last year, at the age of 46, the unthinkable happened.
"For a minute and 39 seconds," he explained, "my heart had stopped."
Dawkins had a heart attack and distinctly remembers being wheeled away in a bed.
"My sons were standing there, at the time 16 and 11, and just the look of terror on their faces," he said. "I live my life for them, so that right there told me that I have to make it through this."
Dawkins had two stints put into his heart, and today, he feels great - despite some of what he calls "survivor's remorse."
So he got involved at a place he knew well - JP Hair Design on the west side of Madison, a black barbershop.
There was already a Men's Health and Education Center there, where Aaron Perry founded the Rebalance-Life Wellness Association. The center is inside the barbershop and encourages everyone who walks through the doors to get themselves checked out.
Perry himself is a diabetic and overcame his own health struggles through a lot of research and hard work. Now, he's planning on competing in his third triathlon in Des Moines next year.
Dawkins and Perry were both customers at JP's because they both needed haircuts, and Perry in particular, noticed the conversations going on while he was getting a trim.
"They would make statements like, 'Well, I was diagnosed with diabetes,' and there would be some discussion, but that person would get a really nice haircut, and he would just walk out the door," Perry explained, "Someone else would come in limping, people would ask, 'You're limping really bad.' Yeah, I have gout.' And we would talk about that, that person would get that nice haircut, they walk out the door."
Historically, the black community doesn't have a lot of confidence in health care.
"You talk to a young boy and you ask him: 'Who's your favorite NFL football team?' Nine times out of 10, it's going to be the same team his father likes because that's how he's been conditioned," Dawkins explained, "Well, if your father has particular feelings about the health care community, has trust issues with the health care community, which goes all the way back to the Tuskegee experiments and things like that, it carries down."
But that is changing. This group of men is making the black community in Madison a little healthier - and they see the results.
"One lady came in this past Saturday to thank us and to get her blood pressure checked again because I believe JC had checked her blood pressure while she was here, and it was high and he recommended she should go see the doctor and found out she had high blood pressure," Patterson said proudly.
Former Badger JC Dawkins is part of an innovative initiative to improve health for black men in Dane County. The initiative is funded by a $300,000 grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
You can learn more about the work here:
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