Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele
Samuel L. Jackson (Cindy Ord/Getty Images); John Salley (Kevin Winter/Getty Images); Styles P (D Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Mainstream narratives about black men and their health include bloated beer bellies, postponed doctors’ appointments and high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading causes of death for black men between the ages of 35 and 65 are heart disease and cancer (pdf).


In part 2 of The Root series Keeping Black Men Healthy (read part 1 here), we highlight a few public figures who are setting an example for how black men can take control of their health by cutting out an ingredient or two or implementing a new regimen that might give them a whole new outlook on life.

Jay Z

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In late 2013, Jay Z committed himself to a vegan diet for 22 days to undergo a “spiritual and physical cleanse.” After a few months of eating a plant-based diet for breakfast and realizing that it wasn’t all that bad, the hip-hop icon, along with wife Beyoncé, decided to give the health regimen a full whirl. The 22-day challenge began on his 44th birthday, and the world watched as hip-hop’s reigning couple frequented the very best vegan restaurants across the nation. There’s no word on whether Jay Z stuck to the routine after the challenge ended, although he did blog that he would consider becoming a semivegan. (Vegans don’t eat any animal-based products at all.) It’s nice to see that one of hip-hop’s most prominent figures is encouraging people to learn the benefits of reducing their meat consumption.

Samuel L. Jackson

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At the beginning of his career, Jackson swore off alcohol and drugs to kick his addiction to cocaine. He describes how in his early days on the audition circuit, he felt as if he were on the cusp of succeeding, but he couldn’t because drugs always made him feel “a little bit off.” He says that he would sometimes appear onstage and on-screen high as a kite. After a near-death incident, he went to rehab and got clean. Jackson says his career has flourished ever since.

Lil Wayne

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In 2010 Lil Wayne received a serious wake-up call about oral hygiene just days before he was to begin a one-year bid in federal prison. He needed eight root canals and other dental work performed. He was also dealing with a serious marijuana habit. After prison, the New Orleans rapper was forced to take his health more seriously because of his parole conditions: no drugs or alcohol. Lil Wayne stuck to it and describes the health benefits he reaped as a result. He was sober and fully present during performances: “Yeah, it’s a big difference. I almost jumped in the crowd … I’m sober … I could see everything right now … it’s a great feeling.”

President Barack Obama

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Obama works out every single morning alongside his sweetheart, first lady Michelle Obama. That routine probably helps stave off high blood pressure and divorce! Here’s a funny video of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden doing a few workouts in and around the West Wing to support Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative. The president is also said to have given up a cigarette habit that he brought with him to the White House.

Rick Ross

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Ross now gets more than a few hours of sleep every night after a string of seizures exposed him to the dangers of a nonstop work schedule. After running a few tests, the Miami rapper heeded his doctors’ advice that some serious shut-eye would likely do his body some good: “I would get two hours of sleep and keep moving … that has to stop.”

Ruben Studdard

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When singer Studdard, America’s favorite teddy bear, realized that he needed professional help to reduce his hefty frame, he became a contestant on the reality show The Biggest Loser. He lost more than 100 pounds and now says he’s no longer tired after performances.

Styles P

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If someone told you that Styles P, one-third of the legendary rap group the Lox, is an avid juicer and owns a juicing bar in the Bronx, N.Y., would you believe that person? It’s true. Juices for Life is a natural extension of Styles P’s passion for healthy living. Whenever he took a break after several months of roughing it on a tour bus, he would replenish his body with juices. He explains that he wants communities of color to consider juicing an integral part of a cool lifestyle.

Russell Simmons

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Simmons is the consummate health guru: meditation, yoga, juicing—not to mention that he’s always on a de facto promotional tour for veganism. The entrepreneur just cannot grasp why people eat animals. He’s totally against it and says it causes cancer. He’s also got a new book out that promotes meditation for adults and children, too.

John Salley

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The former NBA player once kicked his daughter out of the house because she ordered a box of pizza. “I told her not to bring animal products in my house,” the vegan explains. At the tender age of 26, Salley had high blood pressure and back problems, but instead of taking medication, he completely changed his lifestyle. Salley gets a colonic every time the seasons change (yes, four times a year) and is encouraging people to read food labels more closely to detect signs of meat. (Did you know that there’s pork in some toothpastes?)

50 Cent

Jamie McCarthy

50 Cent, if nothing else, has an uncanny ability to control the girth and size of his body through sheer discipline. After getting shot nine times, he sculpted his body to the muscled frame we’ve all come to know and love and then was able to lose more than 50 pounds to portray a football player in the movie Things Fall Apart who is diagnosed with cancer. He spent three hours every day in the gym and went on a strict liquid diet. 

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