Tony Award winning actor, dancer, and singer, Ben Vereen called for increased awareness of diabetes at two events in New Jersey on Saturday, December 3.
Vereen, 70, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes nearly a decade ago, began the morning at the Mary McLeod Bethune Life Center of Jersey City and went on to the YMCA of Newark where he ended the long day at 5 o’clock after telling his story to attentive audiences in both places. They were excited to meet the star and even more so to receive the encouragement he provided about living with diabetes.
Congressman Donald Payne Jr’s office, in collaboration with the Mayor’s office of Jersey City, YMCA of Newark, Newark Department of Health and Horizon BCBSNJ hosted the events featuring Ben Vereen sponsored by Novo Nordisk. Novo Nordisk is leading the way in diabetes care with a comprehensive diabetes treatment portfolio.
The Tony-winning star recalled a conversation he had with Patti LaBelle after his diagnosis.”She said, ‘Look, honey, I have diabetes. Diabetes does not have me. We can live with this thing,'” said Vereen.
Vereen, who wore a baseball cap that read “Spiritual Enforcer,” urged anyone in the crowd with diabetes to see their doctor, exercise, eat healthy and think positively. He also urged them not to keep their illness to themselves.
U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr., D-N.J. 10th District, joined Vereen at both events to tell his own diabetes battle. “We should not be ashamed that we live with diabetes,” he said. The events also included community groups and businesses such as the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the Diabetes Foundation, ShopRite, Walgreens, Sanofi and Eli Lilly providing information on the disease, how to shop and eat healthier, exercise tips and more.
Payne, 57, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 20 years ago. The congressman told the crowd he used to consider himself a “non-compliant diabetic,” and said his cavalier attitude about the disease led to medical problems later in life.He said he recently began to lose his sight, forcing him to suffer through 12 eye injections.
“It’s not the most pleasant thing, but you want to keep your eyesight,” Payne said. “So I can see you all.” He added: “If you don’t heed what Mr. Vereen is saying, then you’ll have a story like this to tell.”
Vereen rose to fame on Broadway, appearing in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Pippin,” for which he won a Tony Award. He also appeared on the television mini-series “Roots.”