Floyd Dryden Middle School teacher James White has long been a driving force behind raising the local profile of Movember. But this year, the facial hair-themed movement that raises awareness of men’s health issues carries extra weight for White.
“My stepdad was diagnosed with prostate cancer this summer and in the next couple of months he’s going to be going under the knife for surgery,” White said. “So, this is really kind of the perfect year to bring Movember back to schools and the community and also raise awareness and support for him.”
Since 2003, the month of November has been recognized as Movember, an annual event that, among other things, involves growing mustaches to raise awareness of men’s health issues. According to senior manager of community development Greg Oliva, the movement all started when two friends were enjoying a beer together in Australia and discussing that the mustache had largely fallen out of fashion. Oliva said that from that conversation, the two friends decided they would grow a “mo” and grow a movement.
“They created a campaign about men’s health with prostate cancer and designed the rules of Movember, which are still in place today, and found 30 friends to take up the challenge,” Oliva said. “Nearly 20 years later and many millions of mustaches later, Movember now is the leading charity dedicated to men’s health with a presence in more than 20 countries.”
Oliva said the organization focuses on raising funds to deliver breakthrough research and support programs that enable men to live happier, healthier and longer lives. Movember also aims to tackle key health issues faced by men while working toward encouraging men to stay healthy in all areas of their life, with focus on staying socially connected and becoming more open to discussing their health and significant moments in their lives.
“We fund research and support the implementation of projects either directly or through partners across mental health and suicide prevention prostate cancer and testicular cancer,” Oliva said. “Since 2003 we’ve funded over 1,250 initiatives globally. We’ve made significant progress but we know there’s still a lot left to be done.”
According to White, this is the second year that Floyd Dryden has participated in Movember and the first year back since the pandemic. This is, however, White’s 14th year personally participating, which he first started while working as a teacher in New Zealand. White was born in Anchorage, but raised in Juneau and since returning from teaching overseas in 2010, Movember has been a personal project he’s worked hard to bring to the forefront and encouraged the community and school district’s involvement.
“I started doing it at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School when I was teaching there, too, but through COVID we weren’t really able to do these kinds of things, so it was really nice to kind of get back to it and have kids raise awareness while having some fun,” White said. “I think mental health is something that a lot of men aren’t willing to talk about and be vulnerable to, cancers, especially prostate and testicular cancers are very preventable if men are informed and go to the doctor.”
Throughout the month of November, White offers trivia questions for students to answer during their lunch breaks with questions such as what percentage of men shave every day or how many times does a man touch his mustache in 24 hours? (90% and 760 times on average.) Lunch trivia is then followed by games the students can choose to participate in for prizes. Additionally, White helps raise money for Movember by selling mustaches, bracelets, pens and pencils. White said the kids are encouraged to wear the mustaches because it’s not just about raising money, but also raising awareness.
“The games are played a couple times a week, usually towards the end of the week, it kind of gives us some time just to share facts and there are posters around the school. Really it is just about raising awareness and that’s what the mustache does, it’s a conversation starter,” White said. “There are a lot of other ways beyond just mustaches, there’s movement, challenging yourself to move every day, specifically moving two miles a day or 60 miles throughout the month, the number 60 represents the number of men that died of suicide every hour, it’s actually 67 men die of suicide every hour worldwide.”
White said there are several ways of supporting Movember and men’s health and hopes to encourage community involvement through the Juneau team website rather than keeping it within the schools.
“It’s not just a school or teacher thing, we really welcome any family member, community members to participate and I’m hoping that it grows and becomes a bigger community event because it is so important,” White said. “November itself is kind of a difficult time, it’s starting to get darker, people are a little more recluse, so this is a really good time to try to challenge that and get people out and step out of their shell a little bit.”