On Father’s Day, I can’t help but reflect on the life of my late father, Eric Westbrook Sr. At age 45, my father suffered a massive heart attack that would eventually lead to severe brain damage and his last 11 years of life spent in an anoxic coma. I can’t help but remember my mother telling me how much she begged him to go to the hospital when he complained about chest pains. He passed away in December of 2016 at age 56.
Eric Sr. was a father of four, a committed husband, faithful pastor, dependable employee, and loyal son. He worked tirelessly to balance all of his roles and responsibilities — everything except his own health. I remember him telling me whenever he would get sick that he would just “drink a lot of fluids and keep moving.” No matter how bad it was, he always assured us that it would eventually pass. Eating fast grew “more convenient” than ever and exercise was just “too time-consuming.”
Recently, the City of Philadelphia released Brotherly Love: Health of Black Men and Boys in Philadelphia. Created in collaboration among the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement, the Mayor’s Commission on African American Men and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the report states that life expectancy is the lowest among black men and boys due to violence, heart disease, cancer, and drug overdoses. From poverty, economic and educational disadvantages at disproportionate rates, being overexposed to community violence and trauma, racism, racial profiling, and mass incarceration — the report draws clear correlations to these adverse physical and mental health outcomes.