In memory of Hakeem Duke: A remarkable man, a symbol of disparity


At a recent MOCHA (Men of Color Health Awareness) convening at the Springfield YMCA, there was a new face. The man, who introduced himself as Hakeem, explained how inspiring it was to see so many men of color gathered for such an important purpose. He said he hadn’t seen a movement like this since he participated in the Million Man March in 1995. He also made a special point of saying that he felt he was meant to be there….

A few minutes later, Hakeem collapsed and lost consciousness. Despite the heroic attempts of his peers to revive him, and the rapid 911 response time, he never regained consciousness. A massive heart attack was the cause of death.

I have since learned a little bit about Hakeem’s (aka Edward Douglas Duke) life, and it is remarkable: a wife, 3 brothers, 2 sisters, 32 grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren, and many, many friends. Karate master (his childhood friends called him “Joe Jitsu” based on the Dick Tracy cartoon character), Nation of Islam devotee (he saw Muhammad Ali and Elijah Muhammad when they visited Springfield).

Life expectancy at birth (2005), Source: CDC

Hakeem was 61. Nationally, life expectancy is 70 for African-American men, 76 for White men, 77 for African American women, and 81 for White women (2005). In Massachusetts, life expectancy for African-American men is 73. The fact that Hakeem died even before his peers in other parts of the state and country may be partly explained by trends in his hometown. Among the 30 largest communities in Massachusetts, Springfield has the highest rates of premature death per capita (Source: MADPH).

Hakeem lived a very full life, and left many loved ones behind. His life and death are powerful reminders of MOCHA’s critical and urgent charge.


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