The Apollo Theater kicked off the month of June with the 1st annual Harlem Healthy Soul Festival (HHSF), sponsored by Coca-Cola and EmblemHealth. The 6-hour, free event transformed 126th street into an entertaining and educational family-oriented block party with one motto: “Be Educated. Be Entertained. Be Healthy.”
Despite Saturday’s scorching heat, adults and children alike crowded from station to station to learn about the various health resources the community provided to help families live healthy and active lives. Several stations encouraged attendees to stay in the know about their health, providing free blood pressure and cancer screenings, as well as STD testing.
Representatives from the Harlem Hospital Center and the Coalition on Positive Health Empowerment (C.O.P.E.) set up their table with informative pamphlets and had rapid HIV and Hepatitis-C testing that gave participants their results in twenty minutes.
“People need to be knowledgeable about what’s going on with their bodies,” C.O.P.E. representative Gloria Anderson said. “We are glad to have a table here.”
Nurses and health experts from the Northeast Natural Health Educators (N.E.C) also had stations set up to make assessments of biological age versus the age someone is based on how they treat their bodies. By collecting data about personal lifestyles, members of the N.E.C. were able to tell if there body was younger or older than their biological age. While this information may seem scary to some, one member of the N.E.C., Owen Edwards, said that there is value in having this information.
“This exercise adds shock value,” Edwards said. “We help people understand that what they eat and what they drink and the lifestyle that they live will determine how long they live.”
When it came to getting tips for eating healthier and getting more exercise, festival-goers did not have to look far. While one tent offered lessons for cooking a healthy, vegetarian meal as well as free samples, other tents housed spaces for physical activity. The New York Knicks and New York Liberty teams led activities that kept kids active all afternoon.
Nearby, star trainer Ana Caban encouraged adults to stay active with her best-selling pilates videos. She handed out cards with a promo code to her videos, which she said costs less than a gym membership and allows people to exercise anywhere at any time.
“I’ve had a lot of people sign up on my mailing list, so I can send them fitness tips,” Caban said. “I love serving the community and inspiring people to live a healthy lifestyle.”
Other big name celebrities such as actor Lamman Rucker, Harlem hip-hop legend Doug E. Fresh, “Law & Order” star Tamara Tunie, and “Everybody Hates Chris” star Tichina Arnold, hopped on HHSF’s specially-constructed stage to inform the audience about the respective health initiatives they were each passionate about.
For Tichina Arnold, it was Lupus awareness. She brought her sister, a survivor of Lupus, onstage to discuss the symptoms and causes of the destructive autoimmune disease. Alongside the Jeff Foxx Band, she improvised a song about the importance of reguarly going to the doctor to avoid health issues.
“Stay healthy in your mind and stay healthy in your heart,” Arnold urged the audience.
WBLS’ Dr. Bob Lee served as the MC throughout the evening and introduced several performances including winners from the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night, Grammy-award winning Gospel artist Hezekiah Walker, Noel Gourdin, and John Michael. Grammy-nominated artist and HHSF headliner Angie Stone was the last performer and sang a few of her most popular songs.
An afternoon that combined education and entertainment proved to be both fun and informative for the community. One attendee, Norma Stubbs, said she especially appreciated the balance of music with hard-hitting health awareness.
“Sometimes we don’t hear,” Stubbs said. “The information has to be shaken into us.”