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Straight Talk on a Sensitive Topic From a Man Who Knows

October 16, 1999|JOHN L. MITCHELL

The choice is clear between a checkup and a grave, Wright says. "You can have a man [give you a digital exam] or you can have another man put dirt on your face," he said.

Dr. Fred Parrott, a gynecologist and prostate cancer survivor, confirmed that Wright does not mince words about the disease.

"He doesn't make the discussion too serious," said Parrott, a spokesman for Real Men Cook Foundation, an organization that seeks to promote prostate cancer awareness among blacks. "He breaks it down and makes men relax, and as a result they ask more questions."

This year, Wright headed the foundation's annual prostate cancer awareness event at Los Angeles International Airport in April, at which hundreds of men were screened for the disease.

Parrott said Wright has encouraged the organization to expand to seek more active roles for the wives and children of victims of the disease. Wright, who is not married, is the father of two daughters.

"Even though women are not attacked by prostate cancer specifically, they are emotionally devastated by it," Parrott said. "He said we should get them on the team."

But reaching different audiences is not easy. Back at Verbum Dei, Wright was forced to admit that many students were too busy fooling around to get the message. Afterward, administrators required all the students to write a three-page essay on behavior.

But the seeming indifference did not bother Wright much. Instead, he focused on one student whom he was able to convince that prostate cancer is not contagious.

"You won't get it if you touch me," Wright assured the scared boy.

Later, the assemblyman recalled: "It seemed like that was a 15-year-old boy talking, but it wasn't. He didn't arrive at that conclusion on his own. Someone told him that, maybe his dad or mom, but someone said cancer was contagious. Just being able to look him in the eyes and tell him it's not was moving.

"That kid and I made progress."

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