A few months ago I was approached by a close friend and asked to take part in a new startup centered around Black men’s mental health. Upon talking to the team for the first time I immediately knew this was something I wanted to be a part of, but I also knew it would be a huge challenge due to my lack of experience working in the healthcare industry.
I spent the last few months learning as much as I could about acronyms such as HIPAA, HITRUST, CBT, and even LCSW. While I still have a lot to learn, I believe I’ve learned enough to be able to talk intelligently about the field of mental health and the variety of entities involved at different stages. More importantly, I’ve been able to identify areas where current solutions are lacking and find a fit for our product in this increasingly growing market.
In a recent call with an organization called Startup Health, our team was really challenged to determine what our moonshot would be as a potential part of their Health Transformers program. In their ecosystem they have identified 10 different moonshot areas designed to make 100 years of progress in an area of healthcare in the next 25 years.
At its core, a moonshot is an idea so wild and crazy that pretty much anyone that hears it immediately calls you crazy and tells you just how unobtainable it is. Some people would say getting Black men to care about their mental health would be a moonshot in itself, but the men we’ve talked to in focus groups would definitely disagree. We’ve learned that many men are actually realizing they don’t have all the answers and looking for help they can rely on and trust.
Moonshots change the course of history when they work and at the very least get people thinking differently when they fail. Some of the most basic things we have today were once considered moonshots such as airplanes, automobiles, and smartphones. A number of people tried to bring them to fruition, some even losing their lives in the process. The ones who were successful will always have a place in history such as the Wright brothers, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs.
"While I doubt we’ll ever figure out how to completely create life, and we likely shouldn’t, I do believe finding solutions to living longer and fuller lives is completely within our grasp."
- Kevin Dedner, MPH
Tying It To Our Mission
As I gave more thought to our mission at Henry I kept going back to one key statistic we talk about a lot, Black men have the lowest life expectancy of any group in America. A variety of things contribute to this situation such as disease, crime and poverty, and the situation has been improving over the last few years as we have made progress in medical research. However we still lag behind the rest of society with a ways to go before we can fully close the gap.
Through a few conversations with one of my co-founders I posed the question of what if we could extend the life expectancy of Black men to not only match other groups, but exceed them. I actually told him pretty bluntly if life started with a Black man (Adam), there’s really no legitimate reason we shouldn’t be living longer than anyone else.
Reflecting over my 40 years of life, I frequently think about the people who impacted me the most both positively and otherwise. The first person that always comes to mind is my grandfather who was born in 1912 and died in 1993. Today’s discussion really made me think about what it would have been like to have 10 more years with him in my life. If he had lived another 18 months he would have been able to see me graduate high school as valedictorian of my class and go on to college at UT-Austin with a full scholarship in computer science. This would have been special for him because he once wanted to go to UT as well and couldn’t due to segregation and racism, but also because he helped buy my first computer at the age of 7. That computer is the reason I’ve had a successful career in technology for the last 20+ years, winning a number of awards along the way.
In those 10 extra years he would have seen me enter the US Army where he was a decorated WWII and Korean War veteran and been able to give me guidance on my journey. He would have also seen me graduate college along with a long list of other memories and accomplishments I made during that time period. He also might have lived longer than 10 years because of the advancements that were made in cancer research that might have completely saved his life.
While I doubt we’ll ever figure out how to completely create life, and we likely shouldn’t, I do believe finding solutions to living longer and fuller lives is completely within our grasp. When I question what should our moonshot be, I think it’s pretty simple, “increase the life expectancy of Black men in America by 10 quality years”.
I stress the word quality here because no one wants to be a burden on their loved ones just hanging onto life for the sake of not dying. My team and I are building a platform to engage men on a regular basis to help them deal with mental health issues, but also areas such as nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness. Utilizing a variety of technologies such as telemedicine, machine learning and artificial intelligence, we will be able to make it possible for men to receive the personalized care they need and deserve.
We believe our care model will revolutionize the lives of men who follow it, helping them transform themselves in ways they may have never thought possible. Not only will this help them, but it will also flow into their life-mates, children, family and friends.
I truly believe in 25 years we’ll look back and find that we not only achieved our moonshot, but actually made more progress in this area than had been made in the last 300 years. While Startup Health wants to add 50 years to everyone’s life, which I believe is an incredible moonshot, I believe if we can give every Black man in this country an extra 10 quality years we will contribute to one of the biggest transformations in all of history.
Patrice O’Neal, Dwight Errington Myers, Bernie Mac, Artimus Lamont Bentley, Manute Bol, Wylie Draper, Fred Berry, Harold Melvin, Steve James, Grover Washington, Jr., Lawrence Payton, Paul Winfield, Willi Smith, Claydes Smith, Tony Thompson, Ron Winans, Milan Williams, Richard Biggs, Edwin Starr, and Malik Taylor all have a few things in common. All of them were successful Black men across a variety of fields. All of them died from health related issues. None of them reached their 65th birthday.