Rolling Out

Barney Morris’ mission to educate and empower Black men about prostate health

In an enlightening conversation on Health IQ, Barney Morris shares his personal battle with prostate cancer and his efforts to raise awareness within the African American community.

Barney Morris is a member of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Patient and Family Advisory Council and Community Advisory Board. He is the chairman for Oncology Research Information Exchange Network’s (ORIEN) Patient Advisory Council where as a cancer survivor and advocate he frequently uses his public-speaking skills and real-life experiences to bring home the importance of being purposeful and intentional in eliminating health care disparities and inequities particularly as it relates to prostate cancer.

He is the Past President of 100 Black Men of Tampa Bay Inc.’s chapter and Chair of their Health and Wellness committee. Barney is an alumnus of the University of Georgia (Bachelor of Science in Computer Science), University of California-Riverside ( Certificate in Governmental Accounting and Budgeting), Air Force Squadron Officer School and Air Force Air Command and Staff College. He’s a decorated retired Air Force Officer, (Major), having served a combined total of twenty years between active and reserve forces.

Barney recently retired as an Assistant Inspector in Charge, United States Postal Inspection Service where he was responsible for the investigative efforts in Georgia and Florida.

More recently, Barney joined the Prostate Health Education Network, PHEN, as a Field Ambassador.

Munson Steed: Hey, everybody! This is Munson Steed, and welcome to another edition of Health IQ, where we highlight those individuals who are making a difference in the health outcomes of our community. I am so proud today to have my dear brother, who truly is making a difference each and every day in the lives and the health of our community. I’d like to introduce you to the one, the only Barney Morris. How are you?

Barney D. Morris: I’m doing just fine. Thank you.

MS: What and how have you decided to reach and lean into the health IQ, and bring health awareness to our community? If you would just introduce yourself and the mission that you have to improve the health protocols of our community.

BM: Sure. First, let’s just give a little bit about me and my background story. What got me motivated and this work that I’m doing. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 41, didn’t have any symptoms, nothing. And then, all of a sudden got diagnosed with prostate cancer. That was in 2004, and that time there’s little to no information regarding prostate cancer for black men and even little information for black men under the age of 40 to 41 years old. 

So, you can imagine for me it was very frustrating, which lit the fire for me to do what I can to make sure no one has fallen in that same situation, to where they’re not able to be educated about this disease, was getting on the journey. So right now, I’m on Moffitt Cancer Center’s Patient and Family Advisory Council. So their Community Advisory Board helped share awareness of 100 Black Men of Tampa Bay, and most recently I joined PHEN, Prostate Health Education Network, as one of their ambassadors, and I’m really excited about the work that they’re doing to reduce this disparity when it comes to this disease. 

Black men tend to die twice the rate when compared to our Caucasian brothers and some areas like in Florida, we’re almost 128% higher. So there’s more alarm but Florida ranks second highest in the country when it comes to prostate cancer death rates.

MS: So, for most brothers, and thank you very much for being open, honest, and obviously vulnerable to understanding and sharing your journey, but for most brothers who we are just having brother conversation. Why don’t we discuss the reality that this disease touches us? And yet, when you go to the barbershop, it is not talked about. What are we missing about? Not challenging each other, and having accountability to each other, as it relates to prostrate health?

BM: Real quick, it’s prostate.

MS: Prostate.

BM: Mr. Farridge always says, there’s no prostrate when it comes to prostate. A lot of it comes from a lack of education, lack of knowledge and exposure to the disease. And then, when they do the information, a lot of men get information from the wrong source. One of the statements we have — when I say we, I’m doing a broad brush with man. Our masculinity, we are very apprehensive towards anything that’s challenging the question on masculinity, and with prostate cancer screening. One of the normal screening techniques is a digital rectal exam, or DRE. 

And our men shy away from that, and they go. No, you’re not doing that. And what I always say for a few seconds of discomfort could mean the difference between life and death. So, a lot of it is education. Now with prostate cancer, I think if you can educate them and they really found out about the importance of early screening. Now the statistics clearly show. If caught early, the curable rate is close to 99 to 100, it ain’t a 100 but it’s pretty close. 

But if caught late, that rate drops down to about 18%. So that’s a huge disparity. So we get the word out, they find out about information. And really, and there’s some new screening techniques out there that are available now, which I like to share. And we can talk about this later. If you don’t want to have a DRE, Digital Rectal Exam, there are some others out there. If you are adamant that can help detect this disease.

MS: Let’s talk about the reaction. Your initial reaction and how brothers should react, given the outcome of their prostate. 

BM: There you go.

MS: No, I’m educational. I’m willing to be educated, brother. The last thing I want to be as a brother that can’t receive information and corrections from a brother that might save my life and make me not look like we don’t want brothers looking. So I appreciate you all the way. But those brothers who are gonna get this diagnosis? What should he know? And how would you share your experience, that he addresses and begin to go through based on your experience? This process of being positively diagnosed for prostate cancer.

BM: A couple of things. First and foremost, prostate cancer is not a death sentence. I mean the treatments out there, you can live with it. There are thousands of men living everyday, and having a very fruitful, productive, and active sexual life, throwing it there for a reason. Active sexual life after having treatment for this disease and that’s first and foremost. When I was diagnosed early, 41, I had young kids, was married and active and involved. So that was a fear. First of all, am I gonna die? Some men will say, I’d rather not know. Just leave me alone. What I don’t know won’t hurt me. I say, yeah, what you don’t know will kill you. 

So you need to get educated and once you have like. When I got diagnosed, it was shocking of course. I went on a mission to become educated as much as I could. Now there’s no excuse. We have the Internet. In 2004, it was just getting off the ground. Now you have Dr. Google. What I like about PHEN, we put all of the resources and not all, but a lot of resources in one location where you can go find it. It’s in plain language, and you can understand. 

If you still have questions, you can call somebody. And that’s what PHEN is doing. Mr. Thomas Farrington founded PHEN in 2003, because he realized there was a huge disparity, and he wanted to do what he could to reduce the effects that we have, primarily on the black… We die twice the rate, I said earlier. One in six men get to develop this disease. Might not be able to do a lot about contracting disease, but then do a lot about the treatment, and so you can live a long time.

MS: When you think about young brothers, we think about barbers and messengers. What should we do differently about challenging ourselves as men and brothers, as it relates to accountability, and asking our brothers and friends with each basketball game we watch together? Do you know your numbers, should there be knowing, should they be aware of their prostate number?

BM: You bring up the barber shop. One of the initiatives we have in Tampa, Florida. We have a barbershop talk. When I say, we, it’s just a group of brothers and we get together. ‘Cause we realized one thing, we’re gonna do, men. We’re gonna get the haircut.  And some of the barbers I’ll talk to, I said once we have them in a chair, they’re not going anywhere. Take that opportunity to share some information that could change their lives. So, I’m into a number of barber shops, where I leave literature and information regarding PHEN and American Cancer Society. 

Also, I do a lot of work with Moffitt Cancer Center, I’m on their community Advisory Board. But I make sure the barbers at least know what they’re talking about, and they can kind of serve as my ambassador, when they have the opportunity to talk to men, and refer them to me. I’m open and honest. I give you the good, the bad, and the ugly. But like I started off saying, if caught early, it was almost critical. Now, some of the issues we’re dealing with. In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force came out with a recommendation, kinda against screening. 

They said, based on the disease which is normally slow-growing, you are probably more apt to die from something else as opposed to from prostate cancer. So, they kind of discourage screening to after 50. Like, I said. I contracted the disease at 40. I wouldn’t have made it to 50 and they use that information. They came up with that conclusion based on the clinical trial results that they have. But what we know is that, the participation rate for Black men and clinical trials is low, less than 5%. 

And  they, the Preventative Service Task Force came back. And they said, “Yeah, we made this decision and we understand we really didn’t have the data for black men,” and it affects our population totally differently. And I say this with a blanket, there are some exceptions, but overall it tends to hit us earlier in life, and when it hits us early, tends to be more aggressive. So waiting until age 50 is not the way to go. Even now, there’s still some primary care providers. they’re sticking to the old rule, saying, your PSAs on a 4, you’re 50 years old. 

Well, you said, well, it should be kind of like .4 less than one. Now does that mean you have prostate cancer? No. It could be an enlarged prostate or could be something else. But something needs to be done, there should be some intervention. What you don’t want to do is just sit back and wait. And this information, like I said, I use the barbers, kind of as my conduit. I leave information, flyers with them. When they have them in their chair, “Okay brother, take a look at this.”

MS: When you think about just the value proposition you now know. it needs to be a healing process, and you need to select a technique or a physician. What insights has PHEN and yourself been able to provide just an understanding of how to go through that process?

BM: We have three primary portals, if you will. One is You go there, and that gives you the basic understanding of what PSA, the prostate specific antigen is, and how it affects the prostate. It breaks it down in plain language on how it can or cannot be prostate cancer. Now, once you have that for information, say, if you are diagnosed. The second one is And what when you go there, all these free too. It’s not a it’s not an app. You put in a browser, 

And what you see then, is based on your diagnosis at that time. What the standard or course of treatment should be based on the NCTN. And that’s a comprehensive cancer network, American Cancer Society as well. Kind of see what the standard or course of treatment should be for you, based on your current diagnosis. And it kind of walks you through. There’s some videos in there from survivors talking, someone Oncologists and doctors talking about it. Now, in the unfortunate chance, you have a recurrence, or the disease continues to spread, or is diagnosed at a later state, we have another section called Now with PHEN trials, we’ve taken a number of clinical trials that are out there, broken it down into plain language, so you can understand. What clinical trial may be appropriate for you. So, now you have this information. So you’re sitting down with your Doctor, clinician you’re educated, you know what you’re talking about. I know. Most recent initiative we rolled out is We understand primarily in the black community. The church is where you go for coffee. 

I mean, when stuff is hitting the fan, and then life is in turmoil. We typically notice the church. And so you go to church, now, what we rolled out is using technology, Where we will help assist the church and set up a portal, so they can have a link that they can put on their Facebook page and their website, and it drives them to our site. PHEN, prostate health, where you can get information on these aforementioned topics and the beauty of it is the pastor has the opportunity to put a personal message. 

Either written or we have a recorded verbiage. I mean, in the auto visual recording. So now, he’s talking to his congregation, one on one, and he’s a trusted individual. People in church tend to trust the pastor, and so we partner with him. This initiative kind of started in 2003. We signed an agreement with the AME Health commission but we rolled out, I mean, now we work with a number of denominations.

I talked to a group yesterday with three different denominations in the room, but we’re passionate. So now we get the information through churches, and right now in Florida, we got this rally display to rally going on. Social media campaigns, commercials, the Mayor of Tampa is assisting us to do a personal message and support, but we understand the importance of getting information out when it comes to early screening.

MS: Let’s talk diet. What did you change about your diet? What about exercise? How important are diet and exercise to black men and prostate cancer?

BM: It’s critically important to all men, not just black men. What the data shows is that prostate cancer tends to feed on protein, especially red meat protein. So, I reduced red meat to almost the bare minimum. I said one of the crack for prostate accounts, if you will, is sugar. Cancer cells love sugar. Not just prostate cancer, but it says love sugar. So, I reduce sugar intake to bare minimum and reduce the red meat, exercise. Unfortunately, our community suffers a lot from other comorbidities. 

Hypertension, cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer. All diseases tend to hit us hard. One of the reasons for the diet, the data, shows that it’s the diet, high-fat intake, high-sugar intake, high-caloric intake, overeating, obesity, all of those contradictory to an overall health, their lifestyle. So, you have to take advantage of it. If you are only walking around the block or something every day. That’s better than doing nothing sitting on the table. And I tell guys on Sunday, don’t sit there in front of their TV all day watching football and basketball. You get out. 

Get your phone, and we all have phones now and put it on your phone and at least walk around the neighborhood while you watch. Because a sedentary lifestyle is an indicator of an unhealthy lifestyle. So, it’s critically important to have some type of exercise and definitely watch your diet, because the data clearly supports that high-caloric, high-fat, high-sugar diets and processed food. Processed foods, I can’t say how bad they are. First of all, you don’t know what’s in them.

Most of them have high-sodium content, salt, and they make it pleasing. So processed food and you don’t know what other kind of chemicals are in there. You eat that as close to the natural condition of the food, fresh vegetables, fruits. Meats that are low in fat — chicken, turkey. Even pork is not necessarily bad other than how you eat and how it’s prepared, and the quantity. So you just have to be active in your diet and exercise.

MS: Great. Well, you’ve motivated me. I really appreciate all that you continue to do. You’ve educated me today. So, thank you very much for allowing me to share in your knowledge. I would ask each brother to share this video with someone that you love. Make sure that we continue to spread this message for brothers and sisters to let our community know that there is an opportunity to heal, and I wanna thank my dear brother, Barney Morris for being there to share a true and honest journey with prostate cancer.

And thank you for that Barney, ‘cause I need all the education, and I possibly could get to both heal and educate myself, to be able to represent we and others as we move this forward with health IQ. Increasing the health IQ of our community, as it relates to prostate cancer in the United States and the world. So everybody, support PHEN, and thanks to all that they do to make the lives of men a better place. and for us not to be ignorant to something that we are over indexing in, and that is prostate cancer. Thank you again, Brother Morris.

BM: Hey, my pleasure. Happy to be a part.

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Join our Newsletter

Sign up for Rolling Out news straight to your inbox.

Read more about:
Also read
Rolling Out