For actor Boris Kodjoe and his family, the motivation has always been there to make health and wellness a priority. With wife Nicole Ari Parker and his siblings Patrick and Nicole, he recently launched a fitness app called KOFIT to help people find time in their busy schedules to get moving. Nicole also has a successful line of workout headbands with her company, Gymwrap, to help women not put their hair over exercise. Taking care of one’s self, whether physically or mentally, has always been at the forefront of the Kodjoe household.
But the passion to motivate others to prioritize it in a similar manner, men especially, grew significantly as the Station 19 actor watched people dear to him battle with prostate cancer.
“It was a personal sort of impetus for me to get involved because one of my close friends and mentors went through a battle with prostate cancer. So, I was intimately familiar with the difficulties and the challenges that us men face when we are presented with that kind of diagnosis,” he tells ESSENCE. “Then, I found out that one in eight men in the country at some point will be affected, as well as one in four Black men, which is just a very sobering stat to consider.”
Kodjoe decided to team up with Depend, the brand behind absorbent, disposable underwear, as well as the Prostate Cancer Foundation, to bring awareness during National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and onward. Depend’s products are used by many men with prostate cancer, as urinary incontinence is a common result of treatment for men with the disease.
“Depend is doing so much. They’re donating up to $350,000 to the Prostate Cancer Foundation,” he said. “I did more research on that as well because another friend of mine, Robert Smith, partnered with the Prostate Cancer Foundation to launch the Smith Polygenic Risk Test, which is a test that’s designed specifically to detect early-stage disease in Black men who’re at the highest risk. So it was a very personal thing.”
It’s also an incredibly personal effort for another reason. While his close friend and mentor was able to beat prostate cancer, another recently succumbed to the disease. Kodjoe called the loss “devastating” and it was further motivation to highlight the importance of men taking prostate cancer screenings seriously. Exams are recommended to begin at the age of 50 for guys with average risk of prostate cancer, while those with a higher risk (due to a family history for example) are encouraged to start at the age of 45.
“A lot of men are affected. A lot of men in my circle,” he says. “I want to use my platform to speak on these things because it’s important that we remove the stigma that’s often attached to diseases like prostate cancer where men just refuse to talk about it. The problem is that if we don’t talk about it, we don’t acquire information. If we don’t educate ourselves, the numbers will just continue to go up.”
One way people can help is to support research and resources such as the Stand Strong for Men’s Health initiative by the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Depend. Another is for people to emphasize the need for early testing and annual checkups with the men in their lives. He also recommends parents start early to foster practices that will encourage young boys to have consistent checkups with doctors of all kinds. If such practices are prioritized now, they will continue to be prioritized later.
“These are some of the things that we have to address, especially as Black men and men who in our communities are considered pillars of strength,” he says. “Sometimes when we talk about these things and we’re vulnerable, we have the fear of being looked at as weak. We have to overcome that. We have to talk to our healthcare providers, our doctors, and make sure that we get the appropriate testing done.”
At a time when the the pandemic has put the spotlight on the need for everyone to better care for themselves, the star is hopeful that his efforts will help start necessary conversations to save lives, especially since prostate cancer has been found to be more aggressive in Black men.
“We just have to start talking about these things,” Kodjoe says. “We can’t shy away from these topics and continue to perpetuate these stigmas because our lives are in danger. Our lives are on the line.”
To learn more about Kodjoe’s partnership with Depend and their work with the Prostate Cancer Foundation, head over to the Depend website.