Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolve Now to Make to Make Wellness a Goal for a New Year and Beyond

Knowing the Facts Can Bring in a Healthy New Year and a Healthier Generation

The New Year is almost upon us and we continue into a succession of holidays where food is the centerpiece of the gatherings we have with our families. Yet, before you sit down to the dinner table with thoughts of second and third servings of your favorite macaroni and cheese, now is the time to take a moment to contemplate the impact to your overall health and lives.

Today, many Americans are suffering from diseases and conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, which can be aggravated due to poor food choices. To make these gatherings nourishing to your spirit as well as your body, it is time to face the facts about our food and beverage consumption in a new light for a new year and beyond.

In the United States, more than 72 million Americans are obese, a 1 percent increase and an additional 2.4 million people, over the last two years.1 Other recent studies reveal 17 million Americans have diabetes.2 Nearly four million African Americans that are 20 years or older suffer from this disease. Unfortunately, African Americans bear the burden of diabetes and others conditions at higher rates of incidence than any other ethnic population.3

Based on the statistics above, it is essential for African Americans to understand these diseases, its causes, but more importantly how to take preventative measures. The holidays are a good time to start. This season, temptations will come at holiday office parties, Christmas dinners, Kwanzaa celebrations and New Year's Eve festivities. If you go in with a plan, you can maintain control and adhere to your nutrition objectives. At social gatherings or as you sit down to your table daily:

> Choose small portions and limit your favorite carbohydrates such as pasta, breads and dessert.
> Enjoy more vegetables and high protein meats.
> Try baking foods instead of frying and use spices liberally to deepen the flavor.
> Enjoy mini-sized cans of your favorite drinks to manage your calorie intake. You can also choose zero calorie beverages to enjoy with your meals.

Despite all of our busy lives, it's time to stop making excuses and make exercise a priority. It is critical to maintain a healthy weight and incorporate physical activity into your everyday routine. Weight maintenance is about burning the calories we put into our bodies. I recommend:

> Adults and children get in 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This can be broken down into 15-minute increments throughout the day.
> Bike riding, dancing, working in the yard, cleaning the house with music and playing interactive video games such as the Wii are all forms of physical activity that can be fun and help us burn calories.

The holidays are wonderful times to gather with friends and family; making smart choices allows us to share in the true spirit of the holidays and still enjoy the foods and beverages we love. When making your new year's resolutions, resolve to: communicate more regularly with your doctor; choose healthy foods and beverages that fit your lifestyle; and stay active so that you can enjoy many more events with your loved ones.

Rani Whitfield, MD aka "Tha Hip Hop Doc"

Live Positively Ambassador and Consultant to the Food and Beverage Industry

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC Vital Signs, Adult Obesity.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Agenda for Public Health Action: A National Public Health Initiative on Diabetes and Women's Health.
3. American Diabetes Association, Living with Diabetes, African Americans & Complications,

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

World AIDS Day

Maybe if its ominous presence didn’t live in my own back yard infecting my neighbors, I would be oblivious to its existence. And maybe, just maybe, since no one in my family has been recently diagnosed with this disease, it would just go away and I’ll be asked to only write articles around World AIDS Day each year as if it were just a distant memory. Maybe not! The rates of HIV/AIDS in Louisiana, my back yard, are astounding and disheartening. According to the latest data from the Centers of Disease Control, the state of Louisiana ranks fourth highest in number of AIDS cases. Baton Rouge, the capitol city, ranks second and New Orleans ranks third in AIDS cases among the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. This disease, however, is global and estimates from the UNAIDS 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update state that approximately 31.3 million adults and 2.1 million children were living with HIV at the end of 2008. In a 2009 study published in The Lancet, about half of the people who acquire HIV become infected before they turn 25 years of age. This same study reiterates how far reaching its presence has become; as world wide, AIDS is the second most common cause of death among 20-24 year olds. The most frustrating thing about this disease is that it is preventable. Knowing your status by getting tested, practicing safe sex, being educated, and accessing care for those who are infected are of the utmost importance in slowing the spread of this illness.

The World AIDS Day theme for 2010 is “Universal Access and Human Rights”. HIV/AIDS does not discriminate as it affects men, women, and children of all races, creeds, colors, and sexual preferences. An unfortunate commentary about this disease is that once diagnosed, your options for treatment and thus your life span are also dependent upon where you live. In developing countries, the numbers are staggering. Consider that an estimated 5.6 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa in 2009, more than any other country in the world. In 2009 alone, an estimated 310,000 South Africans died of AIDS, many of which were children. This high number of death due to AIDS occurs despite efforts to increase awareness and raise monies to provide care and medicines to those infected. The reality is that we (the human family) have fallen short and many suffer and die each day because of lack of access to care. In developing countries, the impact of death reaches beyond the sad news of loss of life, but that children are raising children with a significant loss of financial support to purchase food or medicines to sustain their lives.

When World AIDS Day was founded in December of 1988, its main purpose was to increase awareness, raise funds, educate those who knew little of the disease, and to fight the prejudices and stigma placed
upon the disease. In 2010, the medical world has developed some significant changes that impact the quality of life one may experience when diagnosed with HIV/AIDS; but in countries where there is a severe lack of economic support, access to preventative measures, conflict between family values and medical best practices, HIV testing, and education the theme must be more than words, it must become action.

Action begins with each of us. I encourage those who have risk factors for HIV/AIDS to get tested. Wear your red ribbon not only on World AIDS Day, but whenever you feel the need to raise awareness. Remember that everyday there are deaths from HIV/AIDS that can be prevented by simply having a larger, louder voice in making sure that our brothers and sisters that share this world with us are getting the access and care to continue to live another day.

You may also visit me on Facebook or on my website at:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Free Health Clinic Provides Much Needed Care

The Washington Convention Center in downtown DC was turned into a massive doctor's office providing care for the uninsured.

Watch Video:

From Boys to Men: Talks to Have with Young Brothers

Date: Monday, August 02, 2010, 5:41 am
By: Rani G. Whitfield, M.D., Special to

Monday mornings are rough for me. No matter how relaxing the weekend was, I’m up very early, and after hospital rounds, I head to the parish prison to provide health care to inmates. East Baton Rouge Parish Prison houses 1,500 men and women. Unfortunately, approximately 90 percent of the male population looks like me - African American men ranging from ages 16 to 80-plus.

Seeds become plants when nurtured; boys become men in the same way. But in today’s world, the chips seem to be stacked against young African-American boys, and the transition to manhood can be turbulent. High dropout rates, teen pregnancy, towering incarceration rates, low wages with scant economic opportunities, single parent households and high rates of HIV, among other health issues, seem to be plaguing young brothers. This is the plight of many African-American men, and it is a situation that is all too familiar to those who work in this country’s education, public health and criminal justice systems.

Shockingly, African-American children are nearly nine times more likely to have at least one parent incarcerated at some point in their life than their Caucasian counterparts. Today, poorly educated black men are becoming ever more detached from the mainstream of society. This is a problem we can no longer ignore. But where does the education of our youth begin: In the home, schools, churches or prisons?

Today, 63 percent of African-American households are headed by a single parent, with an overwhelming majority of them being single mothers. One out of every four of these women who are employed hold managerial or professional jobs, and almost half of these women have attended college. Despite the strong family values and support these hard working and successful mothers give, many feel that without a strong male figure in the lives of these young men, success can still be somewhat evasive.

Whether sensitive conversations should happen between fathers and sons or single mothers and sons rather than an older role model depends on the child’s situation. Family values, the environment, closeness between mother and/or father and son, etc, all play a role.
Generally, most of the psychological literature supports the notion that mature men are best equipped to help boys become men, so fathers should prepare themselves to discuss sensitive issues such as sex, interacting with ladies generally, avoiding drugs and alcohol and so forth. In cases where the father is not available, mothers would do well to have positive men, such as brothers, uncles, grandfathers, or godfathers provide consistent guidance to their sons.

Consistency is important in the delivery of developmental guidance. Also, good fathers from stable families, who are friends, are viable stand-ins for guiding young brothers, so there are many creative ways to address young brothers’ healthy development through positive male guidance with or without fathers in the home.

Since it’s “back-to-school" time, fathers or men who are providing guidance to young brothers are advised to be knowledgeable about boys’ stages of development so that the guidance provided is effective. In that vein, regardless of age, honesty, reciprocity, and respect should be instilled in young brothers from infancy to high school graduation and beyond.

- Honesty: Telling the truth goes toward establishing trustworthiness or dependability.

- Reciprocity: Working to help the family and other people and in return receiving earned rewards and benefits.

- Respect: Behaving courteously with peers, as well as acting obediently when interacting with adults generally and other important people, such as teachers, religious and civic officials.

These core values should be taught based upon the child’s ability to understand or in psychological terms – the child’s stage of development. For example, a two-year-old is only concerned with the consequences of his actions and has not developed intellectually to the point of reason, so instilling honesty may come through “time-outs,” whereby the child is isolated or is not allowed to participate with others as a consequence of lying.

The point is establishing these core values early because they have far-reaching implications for children in terms of health, well-being, and effective social functioning. If they are reinforced at each stage of development, from primary grades to high school graduation and beyond, children generally - and young brothers specifically - are more likely to succeed against the challenges of growing up in a world where, among other things, HIV-AIDS, drugs, sexual pressures, violence and fast foods predominate.

The beginning of the school year is just around the corner, and it is time to have these sensitive conversations - conversations with a purpose that can steer these young boys and men in the right direction. The start of the school year can be overwhelming and also fun, but it all begins at home. Although some discussions will be sensitive in nature, it is best to come from the parent/guardian rather than the bully at the school yard or an older peer with misinformation. These discussions will change depending on the age of the student, but some will never change, like the importance of proper hygiene, nutrition and rest; limiting the amount of time spent watching television and talking/texting on the phone; reading more and spending less idle computer surfing without parental supervision.

The transition from elementary school to middle school is a pivotal time for young men. New friends, teachers, a different bus route and a new environment can be very intimidating. These eager-to-learn sixth graders are no longer the “big kids on the block” and are taking a back seat to the slightly more mature seventh and eighth graders. Not only will they be introduced to a tougher curriculum, but they will also face challenges with their developing bodies.

Puberty for young men starts between the ages of nine to 14, as compared to young women, who start slightly earlier at ages eight to 13. Questions about sex and the body are sometimes uncomfortable between a growing boy and his mother; therefore, single mothers should seek input from their male pediatrician/family doctor. If the health care provider is not male, they should find a male role model, such as an uncle, dad or grandfather that they trust to deliver healthy messages about the body and sexuality.

Single mothers also play a vital role in teaching young men respect for other women. It is always important to remind them that as a woman, certain things such as profanity, rude behavior and name-calling is inacceptable, as they would not appreciate these gestures said or done to them. The same respect mothers demand is required for the young ladies their sons share the classroom with. These messages are reinforced by the male role model who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

Middle school is also a great time to lay down household rules. Chores and homework must be completed in a timely fashion or privileges should be suspended. This creates structure and gives each young man a sense of responsibility.

Limiting time watching television and supervised Internet browsing is also very important during these developmental years. In January of 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a study about the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media. It was estimated that eight to 18 year olds devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day (More than 53 hours a week). Because they have the ability to “media multitask” (watch TV, browse on the Internet, talk on cell phones and listen to MP3 players), they can actually pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those seven hours and 38 minutes. African-American and Hispanic children spent far more time with media than Caucasian children. Setting boundaries on usage, getting involved in online projects and knowing what Internet sites these young men visit are of the utmost importance. Creating healthy habits early will carry over into high school.

An emphasis on good nutrition is also essential at this time as these young men are still growing. Studies show that breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day for these youngsters, providing them with nutrients to help them get started. Students who eat a healthy breakfast, especially those low in processed sugar (i.e., high fructose corn syrup) perform better in school, pay more attention and score higher on tests. I often recommend a multivitamin to students to supplement what they may be missing from their meals and school lunch programs. In general, avoiding soda machines, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and getting regular exercise is a must for these growing bodies.

Testosterone levels are running high, and the young ladies are calling. Questions about driving privileges, dating, curfews and spending money are commonplace during this evolution.
The transition to high school is a critical juncture for these young men and can be a trying time for single parents as they try to juggle the adolescent’s social life with their own day-to-day responsibilities. If you factor in sports and after school activities, it is very easy to see how a single parent can become stressed out. This stage of life for both the student and the parent requires patience, understanding and the realization that every single request by the maturing young man cannot be met.

Statistically, ninth graders run the greatest risk of failing and not being promoted to the 10th grade. Increased autonomy, decreased parental involvement and increased peer influence at this stage all play a part. This is also the age where exposure to risk taking and illegal activities becomes more prevalent, and the potential for drug use is of major concern. Students with weak academic preparation and low self esteem are in jeopardy of succumbing to these negative behaviors and not advancing to the higher grades. Once this happens, the likelihood of them graduating from high school significantly decreases.

If single moms are without male role models and are unable to steer their sons in the right direction, mentoring programs (such as Big Buddy or 100 Black Men of America), local fraternal organizations and sports programs (boxing, basketball, football or track clubs) are great resources. Researching these programs and the individuals who run them is important, but they can be very effective if you find the right combination.

One of the most pressing issues in the African-American community is the leading causes of death among young African-American men. For all men ages 15-29 in the United States, regardless of race or ethnicity, the top three leading causes of death are unintentional injury, suicide and homicide. For African-American men of this same age group, homicide is the leading cause of death. It's three times the rate for Hispanic men, the population with the next highest homicide death rate in the country.
It is so important for young African-American men to have not only self respect, but also respect for others. Homicide and suicide are permanent answers to temporary problems. Even with all the technology in the world, once a life is gone, it can never be brought back. Young men must understand the consequences of their actions, and hearing these messages from parents or individuals who have turned their lives from crime can be life changing. Some mothers in my practice have requested tours of the prison for their sons who have gotten off track in hopes that it may deter them from future mishaps.

It is our duty and responsibility as parents/guardians to provide our children with the best possible opportunity to succeed. Seeking out mentors in the community will provide them with guidance and structure and give them the tools to be successful. Urban Prep Academies in Chicago and Capitol Prep in Connecticut have found that with longer school days, uniforms, discipline, integrity, structure and role models, students can excel academically.

Mohandas Gandhi once said, “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.” We expect and should teach our young men at all stages to behave and work well, be respectful and polite, listen and act sensibly, and to have pride in themselves. Surrounding them with positive role models can influence their thinking and help shape their futures. The high rates of incarceration, death, unemployment and low graduation rates impact our communities and our economy. Solutions and assistance from the government are important and needed, but we must assist single mothers as mentors, step-fathers, big brothers, and community leaders to ensure the success of these blossoming and flowering young men.

It takes a village to raise a child. I’m willing! Are you?


Dr. Rani Whitfield is a Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based family medical practitioner. Popularly known as "Tha Hip Hop Doc" for his youth-friendly, healthy messages, Dr. Whitfield is a graduate of Sothern University and the Meharry Medical College.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hartford Teens Participate in Second Annual SADD Conference

"I tell 'em life ain't forever, but they say--"
"I tell 'em put down the drugs, but they say--"
"I tell 'em get an education, but they say--"
"Whatever! W-W-Whatever, W-W-Whatever!" echoed through Hartford's Lyceum during Connecticut's second annual Students Against Destructive Decisions (
SADD) youth leadership conference, on Monday.

Dr. Rani Whitfield "Tha Hip Hop Doc" or "
H2D" uses hip hop culture to further his message on health while bringing positivity to the hip hop genre by promoting healthy lifestyles.

Callie_Hagemeister.jpg[Caption: "He was funny and at first it seemed contradicting. You wouldn't think a doctor would rap, but he did," said 10th grader Callie Hagemeister (center) from Westbrook's SADD chapter. Photo by Colleen Kopp.]

Tha Hip Hop Doc's talk was part of an all-day line-up starting with a talk by Lieutenant Anthony Cuozzo on the importance of leadership. Projects designing 'inner heroes' followed and a lesson in understanding alcohol marketing tactics. The teenagers also participated in a discussion about conflict resolution and understanding cultural differences. They were also given a talk about how the brain develops, along with other break-out groups and workshops.

The workshop on stereotypes and cultural differences had an impact on Lisa DeCrescente, an 11th grader from Hamden High School. She said the students sat in two rows facing each other and were encouraged to ask deep questions and break past first impressions.

"It made us dig deeper and get to know people instead of just how they look," De Crescente said. "It was eye-opening as we were able to get past the appearance and the surface."

For Sarah Boiano, an 8th grader from FOCUS, a group of teenagers from Ashford, Mansfield and Willington, the alcohol marketing talk and what she learned about malt beverages had a large impact on her.

"We learned that those kind of drinks should be considered 'distilled spirits' and we hope to get them out of grocery stores," Boiano said.

Boiano's adviser Jen O'Neill said FOCUS, which is under a tri-town coalition against underage drinking, is a small group with big ideas. She plans to help FOCUS raise more awareness about what kind of alcohol is sold in grocery stores.

Ninety-three teenagers from 22 SADD chapters and youth groups in Connecticut attended the conference.

Governor's Prevention Partnership supports SADD in its mission 'to keep Connecticut's youth safe, successful and drug-free.' Each chapter holds their own fundraisers and events as well.

Projects.jpg[Caption: Conference projects included designing ideal leaders - with a "Nose to sniff out trouble." "Brain and strong mind to think independently about the decisions we make." "Hands to help those in need." Photo by Colleen Kopp.]

Catherine LeVasseur, program manager for the Governor's Prevention Partnership and SADD State Coordinator, has been involved with SADD since she was 13.

"I've been doing this for half my life," LeVasseur said, "helping promote healthy decisions, and hoping to change the climate in these kids' schools. I'm 36 26 now, and it still feels amazing."

After his varied talk on health with free-style rapping and a hip hop love song mixed throughout, Tha Hip Hop Doc said, "If the kids take home one thing, I want them to know that health is their most important possession. If I wake up in the morning and all I have is my health, I know I'm okay."

As Deborah Stewart, director of Youth Development Training and Resource Center in New Haven, walked to her car after the conference, she said: "Parents are ignoring or dismissing underage drinking, thinking it's a teenager's rite of passage. Now as we learn that the brain is still developing into the mid-to-late 20's and the allure of drinking is magnified by technology, we face new challenges as parents. And we cannot just say 'whatever.'"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Articles, Books, Documentaries Recommended by Tha Hip Hop Doc

    1. School Lunch/Junk Food/Snacks
    1. Obesity/Nutrition
    1. Exercise
    1. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and other Sweetners
    3. A site that supports the use of HFCS

Interesting Books Related to Food/The Food Industry

    1. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
    2. Chew on This by Eric Schlosser
    3. Lunch Lesson: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children by Ann Cooper and Lisa M Holmes
    4. The End of Overeating by David A Kessler, M. D.
    5. In The Green Kitchen by Alice Waters
    6. The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
    7. Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfield

Recommended Movies/Documentaries/Television Shows Related to Food/The Food Industry

    1. Supersize Me
    2. Food Inc
    3. King Corn
    4. The Future of Food
    5. Killer At Large
    6. Food Matters
    7. Bad Seed: The Truth About Our Food
    8. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC

Deadly Practice of Doctor Shopping Goes Mainstream

The practice of going from doctor to doctor to fraudulently obtain prescription drugs is not just a habit of the rich and famous. Most recently, the alarming practice was thrust into the spotlight when former child star Corey Haim was reportedly found to have as many as "553 prescriptions for dangerous drugs in the last year of his life," and it was the result of doctor shopping," according to

He was not alone. Doctor shopping reared its head in a number of recent celebrity deaths, including Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith, according to some news reports.

But people from all walks of life doctor shop. Just ask Dr. Rani G. Whitfield, who said patients come to his practice in Baton Rouge, La., seeking prescriptions for addictive painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, also known as Lortab. The telltale signs of drug-seeking behavior are that patients need a certain drug because they are allergic to this drug or that drug, he said. It's not just crackheads, he said. It's lawyers, athletes and doctors, too.

"A patient doesn't dictate to me how I run my practice," said Whitfield, also known as the "Hip-Hop Doc" because he combines the culture with important health messages for young people. "A patient who comes in with X-rays and allergies to everything but Oxycontin is trying to run a game on you. That is drug-seeking behavior. They want what they want and will jump through hoops to get it."

The solution, Whitfield said is for doctors to develop a strong relationship with their patients so that they can suggest counseling the minute they suspect drug-seeking behavior.

"Doctors also should develop good relationships with other doctors so they can call each other to determine whether a patient who displays drug-seeking behavior has been to other offices to request the same prescriptions so they can nip the problem in the bud," he said. "But this doesn't begin to address mail-order prescriptions, which also are a big part of the problem."

In his private practice, Whitfield concentrates on family medicine, according to his Web site. Daily, he diagnoses and treats hypertension, diabetes, and cholesterol problems. He performs more than 200 pre-participation physicals each year and coordinates care for athletes (insured or uninsured). Additionally, Whitfield is the medical director of both Cenikor Foundation, a long-term inpatient substance abuse treatment center, and Set Free Indeed, an outpatient faith-based substance abuse treatment center. Whitfield also is one of two physicians responsible for the health care of the inmates at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, the site says.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hip Hop Doc takes health messages to young people

The Hip Hop Doc has a message for young people.

"Know your doctor."

"Know your numbers."

"Know your family history."

"Eat healthy."


That's not a rap lyric, although Rani G. Whitfield - a.k.a. "The Hip Hop Doc" - is an old-school rap fan who uses contemporary music to connect with young African-Americans and other minorities who need to hear his message.

In just a few years, Whitfield - who has a private practice in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. - has made a national reputation traveling the country and appearing on cable television networks like CNN and BET, syndicated programs like the Chuck D radio show and Internet sites like AOL Black Voices, offering commentary and advice about personal health.

Whitfield was in Milwaukee over the weekend to speak at a training session for staff members of Milwaukee Health Services Inc., a community health clinic that operates from two main sites, the MLK Heritage Health Clinic and the Isaac Coggs Heritage Health Clinic. Milwaukee Health Services also operates a convenient care clinic at 4061 N. 54th St.

Whitfield, 41, is a graduate of Nashville's Meharry Medical College who has been spotlighted by his numerous media appearances and his advocacy work in his hometown. The "Hip Hop Doc" moniker came after he started finding success working with young people during his stint as a physical trainer for high school sports teams. Many players were hip-hop music fans, and Whitfield attained a measure of street cred by his familiarity with rappers from another era.

"The kids were really excited when I was able to drop some old-school Kurtis Blow on them," he said during an interview. "That led to a lot of young people getting interested in the message I was bringing."

That message dealt with general advice about maintaining good health, always a difficult thing for young people to connect with, seeing how it's hard for teens and 20-somethings to think about their own mortality.

Staying current

Whitfield said he has been able to send a positive message about things such as HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse and the need to maintain a healthy diet by connecting with young people in a contemporary way. He has created a comic book series about a group of superheroes called "The Legion of Health" who introduce healthy messages as they protect society from a group of villains called "The Dungeon of Disease."

He also has worked on a CD music project - hip-hop, of course - and contributing essays to several books while working on a book of his own.

With so many health-related issues in the news, Whitfield has been in demand by cable TV and radio shows that want to spotlight his hip approach. He thinks the reason he's popular is because he remains a working physician and not just a media talking head.

"I see patients every day when I'm in Baton Rouge," he said.

He considers the Hip Hop Doc as a kind of alter ego that helps him educate others.

"The problem with some doctors is we don't always get outside the box," he noted.

His views on the recent health care bill passage are tied to current situations in his hometown. Baton Rouge is located in one of the poorest states in the nation. The state also has some of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS along with other negative health factors for low-income people.

In his mind, the health care bill wasn't really health reform. "It was actually health insurance reform," said Whitfield, who was disappointed when the single-payer option was discarded by Democrats in Congress.

Although Whitfield thinks the bill was watered down, he was still in favor of it.

"In my state, as a direct result of the health care bill, more than 406,000 people will get health insurance," he said. "That's a good thing."

As an African-American physician, Whitfield sounds the usual danger signals for blacks in terms of personal health.

Heart attacks, cancer and strokes, he said, can be attributed to the same ills: "It's poor diet and lack of exercise. Black men don't see the doctor enough, and some black women are so nurturing, they worry about everyone else's health but their own."

Whitfield's message is important to everyone, not just African-Americans and not just members of the hip-hop generation. By using his interest in music to connect with young people, he's building a name for himself as a new voice advocating better health for everyone.

Whether it's comic books, hip-hop music, cable television or radio appearances, as long as the message gets through, the Hip Hop Doc seems to be hitting all the right notes.

By: Dr. Rani Whitfield
Article in JSOnline

Friday, April 2, 2010

theGrio Q & A with RZA: Wu-Tang co-founder wears many hats

Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, also known as RZA or Bobby Digital, is not just another rapper. The actor, director, author, screenwriter, Grammy winning music producer, chess player, martial artist and co-founder of the Wu-Tang Clan wears many hats. He recently took time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about his new movie, new book, and his health. The interview that I did with him had to be one of the easiest that I have ever done. RZA gave selflessly of himself and was so honest and open that it seemed as if we could have talked forever.

Hip Hop Doc: Peace RZA. I know you are busy, so let's jump right into it. Tell me about the new movie Repo Menand your role in the film?

RZA: Peace to you Doc. So yeah, if you like sci-fi, Doc, you're gonna like Repo Men. Like I said it's a sci-fi action film and I play the role of T-Bone (laughs). This movie is set in the "near future", maybe like in the year 2100. T-Bone is a music producer at the end of his career and like other characters, he has purchased a heart. The movie's setting is during the recession, times are hard, T-Bone is going broke, and is unable to make payments on his heart. He's living in a mansion with nothing left. He thinks the IRS is coming to repossess more of his personal affects, but it's actually Remi (played by Jude Law) who's coming to repossess T-Bone's heart!

Hip Hop Doc: So what happens?

RZA: Let's just say, T-Bone totally changes the outcome of the movie's suspenseful ending. It's a cool film and I enjoyed working with Forest Whitaker and Jude Law.

Hip Hop Doc: Now this is not your first time on the big screen or even working with Whitaker is it?

RZA: Nahhh, I've been doing some other things. I love Kung-Fu flicks and got a small role in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai; Whitaker was the lead in that. Ghost Dog came out in 1999 I think. Man, I got a lot going on.

Hip Hop Doc: More than a lot! So, you mentioned Kung-Fu, what's up with your own Kung-Fu flick, The Man with the Iron Fist? Rumor has it that you have the green light and funding to make this project happen.

RZA: Definitely! I'm scouting now for art directors, locations, things like that. I'm going to Hong Kong the second week of April. It's all about finding proper locations that can sustain the budget and the ideas that I want to bring to the screen. That's a five month process in itself.

Hip Hop Doc: I read that (Quentin) Tarantino told you to stay under $10 million on this project?

RZA: Yeah he did, and it was some wise advice, but it does limit me.

Hip Hop Doc: What do you mean? Ten million is a lot of money!

RZA: Well, with the recession that we are in, coming out of, the American dollar not being as strong as it used to be, as well as script that's a bit more elaborate than I thought - to bring it all to life I already had to cut out ten pages just to meet the budget requirements. Not an easy job, but I'm cutting where I can and trying to keep it in that $10 million dollar range.

Hip Hop Doc: Cutting pages, but I hope not the concept?

RZA: Exactly!

Hip Hop Doc: Is this your directoriall debut?

RZA: Yeah, on a major studio level. But I've directed videos for Wu-Tang and myself, of course, and also unbeknownst to some people, I've directed a few independent films such as Bobby Digital and one I'm revisiting and reinvesting in called Wu-Tang vs. Golden Phoenix. I hired actors from Hong Kong to come in; the fight choreographer from my favorite Kung-Fu film The Five Deadly Venoms, and even flew this guy in from Taiwan who helped me put together some fight sequences. I'm thinking about releasing that on DVD

Hip Hop Doc: I just read your second book, The Tao of Wu, and several years ago, I read The Wu-Tang Manual. Not what I expected. I read The Tao of Wu on a plane in one sitting. Incredible book!

RZA: Man, much respect Doc! It was good for me to write. So what was a point that stood out to you?

Hip Hop Doc: So many, but probably the story about the drug dealer in your neighborhood, Chili Wop, or the story about going to Africa to visit Ghostface while he was being treated for diabetes by the bushman, or the whole seven pillar concept.

RZA: (Laughing out loud) Doc I believe you read it homie! Yeah that was deep about Chili Wop. Pretty sure Chili Wop is not with us- you live and die by the sword in the hood, know what I mean. It was hard times growing up in the hood. As far as my trip to Africa- wow. The people who had worldly possessions had their hand out to me and wanted more. They saw me with gear on and thought I was somebody important you know- rich. [Ghostface Killa] was dressed down, his beard had grown out and they thought he was a nobody. When we got to the village, it was all love. The poorest people in the world offered me whatever they had- water, food, shelter. It was amazing!

Hip Hop Doc: Yeah, that was a moving part of the book. I also learned while reading that your mother had a stroke. I work with the American Heart Association and the Power to End Stroke campaign. Unfortunately African Americans are twice as likely to have a stroke as any other ethnic groups.

RZA: I had no idea about those numbers. Well, yes she did. She died from a stroke. That was a major turning point in my life.

Hip Hop Doc: From a health stand point?

RZA: Mental, spiritual, and a health stand point. I'm a vegetarian and I exercise at least three times a week- weight training or kicking bags. My weight has not changed in over fifteen years. My whole family is affected by high blood pressure. You know how it is in the hood (he laughs again). My grandfather died in his fifties, frying fat-back at least 3 or 4 times a week (laughing out loud).

Hip Hop Doc: Wow! Man, fat-back can be a weakness for some (we both laugh). We have to change our diets. I'm big on that and I try to influence the young people I speak with on a daily basis to eat better and love themselves. Before we go, I have to ask who your favorite rappers are.

RZA: Biggie, Pac, Jay-Z, Gza, and Ghostface. GZA and Ghostface did some crazy stuff on the mic. You can't forget about Nas. Nas is like a Kung-Fu master who achieved his goals at a much younger age than the average rapper.

Hip Hop Doc: I'm still a big fan of Rakim, but have to agree with you on Biggie, Pac, and J. Nas is tight, but I don't like him on live performances.

RZA: Respect. I understand but you can't deny his lyricism.

Hip Hop Doc: Definitely. I hate to end this interview, but I know you are busy. RZA, it's been an honor and a blessing. Thanks for your time. Peace.

RZA: Much respect Doc. Peace.