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This is the first graduation season in many years I haven’t done a HBCU commencement speech.  It’s been a busy spring for me though.  Along with two amazing trips to Cuba I just returned from the 17th Tom Joyner Foundation Fantastic Voyage Cruise.

But in between those events, my world was rocked by the death of two friends, Doug Banks and Miriam McGee.  And before I could recover from the news, Prince passed away.

My friend Doug battled diabetes for years but never gave it the attention it deserved and now we’re finding out that Prince may have been addicted to prescription drugs.

Prescription drugs are easy to get hooked on, especially after having a major surgery like hip replacement or any condition that leads to chronic pain.  I heard Dr. Drew say the majority of the high-profile deaths we’ve heard about lately were related to either overdosing or mixing the wrong types of prescription drugs.  I just heard a study this weekend that said more than half of the opiate overdoses that took place in this country last year involved people in the age groups ranging from 45 to 65.  We know enough about it now to realize that if a doctor prescribes Oxycodone or any opiate based drug the more we use, the more of a tolerance we develop.  When we develop a tolerance, we need more in order to alleviate the pain and that leads to addiction and death.

If I had to do a commencement speech it probably would be about a theme I’ve been passionate about for many years and that is healthy living.

I’m not here to judge.  I was a fat kid who struggled with my weight my entire life. I’ve lost very close family members from cancer and complications from diabetes. I’ve gotten up at 2:30 a.m. five days a week for more than 20 years and let’s just say I’ve partied like it was 1999 since 1969.

But what I also do is work out without a trainer, drink plenty of water, get tested, poked and prodded as much as my doctors recommend and eat as organically as possible.

Is this a prescription for longevity?  Who can say?  We all know people who do all the right things and still drop dead from a heart attack, get killed in a car accident or develop a weird or not so weird terminal disease.  BUT, a lot of people, especially Black people who die early have developed conditions that are either preventable or manageable.

If you’re under 30 or can remember when you were, think about your aunts and uncles and grandparents.  If they were overweight, had diabetes, hypertension, abused drugs and alcohol, there’s a good chance that you will suffer that same fate or are already experiencing it.

So, college students should know that watching their elders is like watching a movie of what their life will look like if they don’t begin to get a handle on their health today.

We talk a lot about the problems that plague our communities and we protest when African-Americans are wrongly arrested or killed by police, and we should.  But, Black Lives Matter and preserving Black lives also includes doing things that prevent illness and disease.

Racism, poverty, the education gap and gang violence are all things the next President needs to continue to address.  Some of us worry that each of those things are leading to genocide.  But what’s going to take us out before any of those things is going to be our poor health unless we take more responsibility for what we eat, drink, smoke and how much exercise we get daily.

There is a segment of our society that is not messing around. They are making sacrifices by paying more for better food that isn’t laden with chemicals, they are walking 10,000 plus steps a day and they’re making sure their children are active in sports.

Major companies are taking notice of these lifestyle changes and they are already deciding to hire the healthiest candidates.   That means you can have a 3. 8 GPA and be the most qualified for the position but if your unhealthy or potentially unhealthy you might not be hired.  If you’re already employed at some of these health conscious companies, you’re already getting incentives for losing weight, being active and being proactive about your health.

Once they get a work force of the healthiest people they will use that as a bench mark to measure how their new hires compare to their healthy staff.   If African-Americans continue to lead in the most chronic illnesses and disease, how easy will it be to say no to us, not based on our race but on our health?

The good news is you have a chance to turn it around, if not for yourself, for your kids or grand kids because the writing is on the wall.

I’ve heard of families with three 3 generations of dialysis patients all trying to take care of each other.  Don’t let that be your legacy.

I would say to the class of 2016, if you’re smart enough to graduate, that means you’re smart enough to take control of managing your health.  You may not have a 100 percent success rate, but the odds for a better future will be in your favor.  That’s a gamble any of us should be willing to take.

Here’s to a healthy class of 2016, now and in the future!

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