On a recent Saturday, the Northern Indiana Chapter of the LINKS, Inc. hosted a health fair at the Indiana University Northwest/Ivy Tech campus in Gary. That same day across town, LINKS members were at Sojourner Truth House with a donation of winter coats and pajamas for the shelter’s clients.
The women’s organization is not a sorority. Fulfilling its motto, “linked in friendship, connected in service,” the women developed bonds that have paid dividends to their community since the chapter’s founding in 1958. Currently, no other social organization in Gary can match it for financial gift giving, volunteer hours, and sponsorships.
Why a women’s group was hosting a “for men only health fair” was answered by LINKS’ vice president Ché King. “You are our husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, and cousins. Black men are important to us and we need you.”
U.S. health statistics show Black men have the shortest life span. “Out of all ethnicities, males and females, you die first,” is how King put it.
The reason we brought you here today, King said, is to change that and to talk to you about kidney disease, heart disease and prostate cancer. “Here in Lake County we lead the state in incidences of prostate cancer; even greater than Marion County and we have a smaller population.”
The men heard about care and prevention from Dr. Sandra Gadson, a Nephrologist; Dr. Andre Artis, a Cardiologist; Dr. Adam Murphy, a Urologist; and Desmond Crews, aka Iron Man Des, a Fitness Trainer. Women were not allowed to sit in, so the men could speak freely in the Q&A sessions.
This is the 2nd year of the chapter’s “Men’s Health & Wellness Fair.” Started by the Northern Indiana Chapter, the national LINKS, Inc. awarded it first place in the Health & Human Services sector.
Alesia Pritchett, the past chapter president said Baxter Pharmaceuticals’ Black KARE (Kidney Awareness, Resources, and Education) initiative is the fair’s biggest sponsor. “In its first year, the fair was only held in the LINKS’ Central area chapters. A Black KARE grant of $400,000 supported those fairs. This year, Black KARE doubled it to $800,000 so we could do it nationally.”
According to the Black KARE website, Black Americans are almost 4 times as likely as White Americans to develop kidney failure. While Black Americans make up about 13% of the population, they account for approximately 35 percent of the people with kidney failure in the U.S.
A component of Black KARE shows how high blood pressure and diabetes correlates with chronic kidney disease, said Mona Derico Howell, the chapter’s Black KARE coordinator.
Grants don’t come just by asking for them, Pritchett said.
“Donors look at what we’ve done in other programs. They recognize the impacts of our financial donations to the Food Bank of NWI, Sojourner Truth House, and Gary Y; our years long sponsorship of the STEM program at McCullough Elementary in Gary when it was the Girls Academy. Purdue University will join us in sponsoring a food backpack program at McCullough in 2023.”
We look at the needs in our community, said Cheryl Pruitt, director of the chapter’s programs. Two years ago, the LINKS formed a partnership with the National Society of Black Engineers to add 10,000 Black engineers by 2025.
“We are starting NSBE Jr. chapters at the pre-collegiate level; one in Gary began at 21st Century Charter and one will be starting in Hammond.”
LINKS have 5 areas of service: Services to Youth, The Arts, National Trends and Services, International Trends and Services, and Health and Human Services. The first chapter was founded in 1946 by friends in Philadelphia.