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Whittier Street Men’s Health Summit emphasizes prevention, fitness — and dancing

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Billy Blanks Jr. knows you can’t dance away all your problems. But the second-generation fitness guru and choreographer also knows you can dance your way to better health and have a good time doing it.

That’s the message he will deliver as the keynote speaker for the Whittier Street Health Center’s annual Men’s Health Summit, “Educating, Engaging and Empowering Men for the Future.” The free event, which brings 300 people to the health center at 1290 Tremont St. in Roxbury, will be held Saturday, June 29 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Blanks Jr. is the son of Billy Blanks, who started the Tae Bo fitness revolution of the 1990s. Although similarly dedicated to health and fitness, the son has followed a different, sometimes difficult path — one to which the racially and ethnically diverse populations served by Whittier can relate.

Just a few years ago, Blanks Jr. and his wife, Sharon Catherine Blanks, were nearly homeless, working at a fitness center in California. Their belief in each other and their dance-fitness program has fueled their success, which includes winning funding from Daymond John and Mark Cuban via the ABC-TV program Shark Tank, and more recently, an appearance on the TV show Dr. Oz. They are also in the process of launching their own original family lifestyle and fitness show, America’s Fit Party.

“Billy Blanks Jr. is an exceptional example of how strong men can engage and empower others,” said Frederica Williams, President and CEO, Whittier Street Health Center. “His passion for fitness, along with inclusion of all people at all levels of fitness makes him a great ambassador for both men’s health and this summit. We hope that with his influence, and that of our honorees and panelists, we continue to raise the awareness of how important it is for men to seek preventative health care.”

The annual Men’s Health Summit is one of the innovative ways Williams has drawn attention to the issues of men’s health, especially among communities of color. An integral part of the summit is providing a general understanding of men’s health and educating men on the importance of getting screened for diseases for which they may be at risk.

According to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, men are much less likely than women to look after their health and see physicians. They’re 25 percent less likely to have visited a health care provider in the past year, and almost 40 percent more likely to have skipped recommended cholesterol screenings. According to the CDC 2012 report on life expectancy, since 1980, men’s life expectancy rose from 70 to 76, while women’s increased from 77 to 81. The average life expectancy of black men is 70 years

The goal of the summit is to raise awareness among men that physical, mental and spiritual health are interconnected and that by taking charge of their own health, they can build a stronger family and community. Blanks’ fitness DVD, Dance With Me, and workout program also ties these elements together.

In addition to the keynote address, free health fair, youth workshops and free health screenings, the Men’s Health Summit will also recognize the 2013 Whittier Men’s Health Champions, including:

  • Frank Doyle, Executive Director of the Boston HealthNet
  • Andrew Davis, President and CEO of Carney Hospital
  • Matthew Shadrick, Executive Vice President of Eastern Benefits Group
  • Jay Gonzalez, Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer of Celt iCare Insurance
  • Dr. Cyril Ubiem, Coordinator of the Structured Outpatient Addiction Program (SOAP) at Whittier Street Health Center

Whittier serves more than 25,000 clients annually, including approximately 100,000 clinic visits and 20,000 community outreach visits. Whittier provides a comprehensive array of 40 healthcare programs and services designed to meet the primary health care, behavioral health and social needs of its ethnically and racially diverse community.

More information about the Men’s Health Summit and Whittier’s other innovative and groundbreaking programs — including its Cancer Care Center and diabetes prevention and control programs — visit or call 617-989-3111.