MICHEL MARTIN, Host:
Here is a voice you probably know.
(Soundbite of song "Brotha")
Ms. ANGIE STONE: (Singing) ...about my black brotha, I love ya, I will never try to hurt ya. I want ya, to know that, I'm here for you, forever true cos you're my black brotha, strong brotha...
MARTIN: That is Grammy nominated neo-soul diva Angie Stone with her hit "Brotha." But what you may not know is that for the last eight years she has been struggling to manage her diabetes. It is a reminder that African-Americans are far more vulnerable to diabetes than other groups. They are almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to have diabetes, more likely to go blind from the disease and more likely to have to face amputation in connection with the illness.
Stone decided she wanted to bring more awareness to the disease. She acts as a spokesperson for a new campaign that encourages African-Americans to manage their diabetes better. It is called F.A.C.E., Fearless African-Americans Connected and Empowered. She joins us now from our New York bureau. Angie Stone, welcome.
Ms. ANGIE STONE (Singer): Thank you for having me. I am excited to be here.
MARTIN: Will you just tell us your story. How did you figure out that you were diabetic?
Ms. STONE: Well, first and foremost, you know, a few of my family members had been suffering from diabetes but I never thought that it could affect me. You know, I felt like I was always on the go. I was always moving to and fro. But one summer my family and I were heading to Six Flags, which is an amusement park, and on the way there I had to use the restroom quite often. Every 15 minutes or so we were stopping the car to go to the restroom. My mom, who had recently been diagnosed, said these words: I hope this is not what I think it is. Because I was too young to be suffering with something this major.
Lo and behold, we get to the park. I couldn't walk. I realized that my legs were locking up, my muscles were tightening up. And it was almost as if rubber bands were in my legs trying to pull against me walking.
MARTIN: Oh, wow, you were dehydrated.
Ms. STONE: Yeah, I was dehydrated. They called a wheelchair round and they took me to the medical facility on the ground, and as a result they encouraged me to get tests, which I did immediately. And the tests came back positive.
MARTIN: Were you upset when you found out?
Ms. STONE: Yeah. I was a little angry. I was upset, you know, as to why me? First and foremost I was in denial. So for the longest time I felt like if I just stop eating the wrong foods today, it will go away. But once diabetes had set in it needed to be treated, and becoming aware of the disease and knowing my dos and don'ts helped me to better manage the disease.
MARTIN: Why do you think you were so upset? Because diabetes is fairly common. It is manageable. You mentioned you had family members with it. So what is it you think was so upsetting to you?
Ms. STONE: It was upsetting because I knew I was being forced to change my lifestyle alongside of all other things. It upset me knowing that this was something I could have possibly avoided. Having a family history, I should have known better.
MARTIN: There are about 3 million African-Americans over the age of 20 who have diabetes. That is about 13 percent of the population.
Ms. STONE: There are 20 million people who suffer with diabetes, and we have the highest ratio of the disease.
MARTIN: Why do you think that might be? Any idea?
Ms. STONE: Well, I think it is lifestyle, things we are accustomed to being, you know, privy to a lot of the foods we shouldn't have, obesity, lack of exercise and really lack of knowledge.
MARTIN: Talk to me about F.A.C.E. What are you trying to do with F.A.C.E.?
Ms. STONE: Well, you know, F.A.C.E. actually stands for Fearless African-Americans Connected and Empowered. And what we are doing is, along with Eli Lilly, we launched a nationwide tour to bring about awareness to say, look, let's come together and pull the people of the community together to let them know that they are not alone, that even though Angie Stone is a celebrity, she is successfully living with diabetes.
MARTIN: When you said awareness, though, what are some of the things that you would like people to be aware of?
Ms. STONE: Well, I would like for people to know that just because you have a family history of diabetes, you don't have to be subjected to diabetes. However, you are a candidate for diabetes. But what I think that people are not aware of is that you can live a normal life. You don't have to deviate from eating from your fried chicken, because most people want fried chicken. If you are in control of your diabetes, you can have fried chicken. You can eat anything you have been eating but proportionately.
I think the most important fact about diabetes is that a lot of people are walking around with no symptoms. I was lucky enough to have a symptom to say something is wrong. Some of us are not. And what ends up happening is when it gets to a crucial stage, someone who has lived with diabetes for 10-15 years and your kidneys just shut down or your circulation is poor, and you go to the hospital for one thing and find out you're going to be an amputee. I think part of what my fear is, for us as African-Americans, is we are unaware that there are no symptoms in every victim.
MARTIN: You did a really bold step to achieve a lifestyle change. Your attempts to exercise and lose weight were documented in your appearances on VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club" because I think, in part, because both diet and exercise are key for managing diabetes. Was that hard for you to kind of put yourself out there in addressing weight issues? Which are a big issue for a lot of women, not just African-American women.
Ms. STONE: You know, I don't think it was very difficult for me to do it. I went there to strengthen myself because I knew I had a problem, and I knew that the only way that I would really take it seriously was if I put my own self on blast. And what I did was put myself on blast so that the rest of the world could help me to be stronger as an individual to say I have got to do this now.
MARTIN: I'm going to play a short clip for those who didn't get a chance to watch it. Here it is.
(Soundbite of show "Celebrity Fit Club")
Unidentified Announcer: So Dr. Ian stepped in and put any doubts about Angie's health to rest.
Dr. IAN SMITH: Yes, you can participate in the exercise program, even vigorously.
Unidentified Announcer: And Harvey began training Angie personally.
Mr. HARVEY WALDEN IV (Former US Marine): We are going to work out, every damn day.
Unidentified Announcer: And Angie rallied.
Mr. WALDEN IV: Angie Stone running, baby. You have made my day.
Ms. STONE: Hallelujah!
Unidentified Announcer: Working hard and flashing a new attitude.
Mr. WALDEN: You have lost five pounds.
Ms. STONE: I was slipping on my game, and at the end of the day there is nobody to blame but me.
Unidentified Announcer: Angie leaves Fit Club not only healthier, but with a fresh outlook.
Ms. STONE: Yes!!
MARTIN: So how is it going now without the Fit Club team to keep you on track?
Ms. STONE: I think I am about 40 pounds smaller, I'm healthier, and I am in a good space.
MARTIN: What would you recommend for folks who aren't going to get on "Celebrity Fit Club"? I mean, was part of it just the idea that you told people about your intentions? Look, this is what I am trying to do. Get the support.
Ms. STONE: Part of it was facing my problem, knowing that the problem could kill me one day and take me away from my children. That was what motivated me.
MARTIN: Singer Angie Stone, a spokeswoman for F.A.C.E., Fearless African-Americans Connected and Empowered. It is a campaign to battle diabetes, and she was kind enough to join us in our New York studio. Thank you and good luck to you.
Ms. STONE: Thank you, Michel. Take care now.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: Coming up, we have talked about how to save at the grocery store, about how to fight diabetes and now I am running out of here to meet the Mocha Moms at my house where celebrity chef George Stella is going to tell us how we can create healthy meals for the kids. That's next.
(Soundbite of music)
I am Michel Martin. The conversation continues from Tell Me More on NPR news.
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