Prince Hall Shriners de­scend on Baltimore

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Jes­sica An­der­son

Un­der hazy skies, the Prince Hall Shriners traded in their red fezzes for T-shirts, shorts and sneak­ers for a walk to raise aware­ness and money for di­a­betes re­search at Mor­gan State Univer­sity’s cam­pus Saturday.

The walk kicked off the his­tor­i­cally African-Amer­i­can fra­ter­nity’s an­nual na­tional con­ven­tion, held in Baltimore this year. The week-long event in­cludes vol­un­teer­ing ef­forts, a school sup­plies give­away and a pa­rade Wed­nes­day down Pratt Street.

The head of the 126-year-old or­ga­ni­za­tion, Charles W. Daven­port, known as the Im­pe­rial Po­ten­tate, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion has chap­ters across the United States and in 17 other coun­tries that lead vol­un­teer­ing ef­forts in their com­mu­ni­ties. About 5,000 men and women had reg­is­tered for the Baltimore con­fer­ence, he said.

“We’re one of the [fra­ter­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions] that is al­ways do­ing some­thing,” he said.

The Prince Hall Shriners have fo­cused their na­tional ef­forts on di­a­betes aware­ness, pre­ven­tion and re­search, he said. He pointed out that the dis­ease heav­ily af­fects the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, black adults are al­most twice as likely as white adults to de­velop type 2 di­a­betes, and the dis­par­ity has been in­creas­ing over the past three decades.

The Prince Hall Shriners’ Na­tional Di­a­betes Ini­tia­tive has set a goal to raise $1 mil­lion an­nu­ally for 10 years for the Amer­i­can Di­a­betes As­so­ci­a­tion, said Otis W. Kirk­sey, di­rec­tor of the Ini­tia­tive. The Shriners met the first $1 mil­lion fundrais­ing goal last year, he said. The money sup­ports re­search and out­reach, with a fo­cus in African-Amer­i­can and His­panic com­mu­ni­ties.

Kirk­sey, a phar­ma­cist, said while di­a­betes is a slow-de­vel­op­ing dis­ease, many peo­ple are un­aware they have it. He said if peo­ple are di­ag­nosed early and make life­style changes, such as get­ting more ex­er­cise and im­prov­ing their diet, they can greatly re­duce their risk.

In ad­di­tion to rais­ing re­search money, the Shriners have a cam­paign to urge those who might be at risk for di­a­betes to un­dergo early risk as­sess­ment. Of­ten, Kirk­sey said, those in un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties are at the most risk be­cause they might not have ac­cess to med­i­cal care. These com­mu­ni­ties are also more likely to be af­fected by food deserts and lack other re­sources for a health­ier life­style, he said.

“We’re ex­tremely ex­cited to be here and do the work in the com­mu­nity,” he said.

Mem­bers of the lo­cal Baltimore chap­ter, Jerusalem Tem­ple 4, said they were happy to wel­come their brothers and sis­ters to their home city.

Jeff Flight, who holds the Ori­en­tal Guide po­si­tion at the Baltimore tem­ple and is re­spon­si­ble for man­ag­ing day-to-day tasks, said he’s al­ready given tu­to­ri­als on how to pick blue crabs to Shriners from out of town.

On Wed­nes­day, as part of the con­ven­tion, Shriners will hand out school sup­plies — more than 500 back­packs — to chil­dren at an event at Booker T. Wash­ing­ton Mid­dle School in Up­ton. The Shriners’ clowns and dune bug­gies will also be at the give­away event.

On Saturday, about 600 par­tic­i­pants, in­clud­ing mem­bers and non-mem­bers, reg­is­tered for the 5K walk from Mor­gan’s Univer­sity Stu­dent Cen­ter, around Lake Mon­te­bello and back de­spite the heat.

“It was a lit­tle too hot,” said Ed­wina Har­ris, a mem­ber of the Mecca 2 Court in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. (Tem­ples are for the male mem­bers, and courts are the women’s chap­ters.)

But Har­ris said she looks for­ward to the con­ven­tion, which is held in a different city each year.

“We get to see peo­ple we don’t nor­mally get to see,” she said. At each con­ven­tion, she said, she will meet new mem­bers from all over the coun­try. “We make new friends each year,” she said.

Har­ris said she’s been a mem­ber for 30 years and con­tin­ues to en­joy the re­la­tion­ships and the pos­i­tive im­pact on her com­mu­nity.

“You meet peo­ple. You feel good about the things you do,” she said. “You get a lot of grat­i­tude.”

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