The city of Detroit had a celebration for the community in a big way at the Charles H.Wright Museums’ 39th Annual African World Festival, with a special performance and live experience of the mock funeral of Mike “Menthol” Wilson, presented by Making it Count Community Development Center’s “End Menthol” social movement.
The Black community came out by the thousands to enjoy and socialize at Detroit’s largest celebration of the African diaspora. One of the special features during the festival was MCCDC social movement of “End Menthol,” which showcased their community activation with music and entertainment.
The dramatization of a funeral for the character Mike “Menthol” Wilson captivated the crowd. Minou Jones, executive director of Making it Count Community Development Center, stated: “We decided to select the Charles H. Wright African World Festival in Detroit because it’s the largest Black festival in the city. We wanted to make sure we put the message out in a way that people would remember and understand how being targeted by the tobacco industry, for decades, has led to a culture that accepts cancer and other chronic illnesses caused by cigarettes as our fate. It doesn’t have to be. We have to fight back to save Black lives.”
When asked what the impact of menthol and tobacco on the Black community and her family is, Jones response was both staggering and sobering at the same time.
Her response is as follows: “Making it Count Community Development Center’s mission is to provide meaningful opportunities that count towards making a positive impact in the overall equity and equality of its community members. Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by tobacco use. A University of Michigan study found that between 1980-2018, Black people made up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but an astounding 41percent of the premature deaths were caused by menthol cigarettes. That’s 157,000 Black people dying early.
For me, it hits home. I grew up in a household where both of my parents smoked Newports. My sister has asthma, my mom has heart disease, and my dad is struggling with emphysema. I’ve seen how addictive these products are. It’s not uncommon to see people using oxygen tanks because they can’t breathe, [but still] smoking cigarettes. Some say it is a choice, but these products have been woven into our culture since slavery.”
The Mike “Menthol” Wilson Funeral Experience was a sight to see and really drove home the message to “end menthol.” The festival crowd gathered as the choir began to sing and the comedian assumed the role of the preacher. The comedian began to eulogize Mike and pointed out some ugly truths. By the end of the “funeral” you could visually see people in the crowd shaking their heads in disbelief and looking as if they were leaving more aware of the consequences of smoking than they were before they came in.
It is clear that Black America has a new vision of itself thanks to non-profits like Making it Count providing the Black community with new insights on changing social norms and health equity.