“Diabetes” has always been a scary word for me. Growing up, the phrase “diabetes runs in our family” was drilled into my head over and over again, whilst watching my aunt inject herself with insulin on a strict scheduled basis.

As I got older—and being a stan for carbs and sweets—I always tried my best to keep an eye on it, knowing fully well just how more difficult my life would become, should I inherit this medical condition.  

That’s why I was thrilled to chat with Rev Run and Justine Simmons, who are partnering up with Novo Nordisk for the Ask.Screen.Know campaign, on a mission to raise awareness about the risks of Type 2 diabetes and the importance of early screening. According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 30 million Americans are living with diabetes and one in four don’t know it. African Americans are almost twice as likely to develop diabetes as Caucasian Americans.  

In addition to discussing how to reduce the risk, we talked about ways to manage once you are diagnosed. Because Rev Run and Justine are all about family, we got to get a virtual peek into Run’s House and how their family is about that healthy lifestyle.

Blavity: We’re very excited to talk to you about the Ask.Screen.Know campaign because it’s a very important topic. What is your personal connection with diabetes?

Rev Run: My dad had diabetes and my wife, Justine’s dad, had diabetes, and two other family members. My manager’s father had diabetes. We don’t have diabetes, but many people close to us that are surrounding us either had, do or have suffered complications from it.

Justine: Yes, my dad passed this year from complications.

B: I’m very sorry to hear that. It’s why I’m glad you two are joining us to inform everyone about this medical condition. What types of activity or nutrition tips do you have for families who have members with diabetes?

RR: Well, the first thing I did—because, you know, I’m doubly at risk, being African-American—is that I took all of the sweet drinks out of my diet. If I’m going to have a drink, it’ll be a diet drink without sugar. I walk every morning; if you can get that into your regimen, that would be good. We cook differently.

J: We incorporate more fruit and veggies. Before, we didn’t have fruit on the counter, and now that we do, everybody is looking for fruit. And it’s easier when Miley—our daughter—asks for a snack. I can say, “Get an apple or berries or watermelon” and she’s fine with it; she’s ok with it now. She’s used to it.

RR: It’s all about changing the habits. We also don’t fry food. We bake a lot of things. There’s this “unfried chicken” that we make that Diggy [Simmons] put us up on, and we featured it on our cooking show, Rev Run’s Sunday Suppers. And [Justine] makes brussels sprouts. It doesn’t sound really good, but the way she makes them is crazy!

J: We do this thing where we put chicken wingettes in the oven, and set the oven on “broil.”

RR: And we’ve named it “It Might As Well Be Fried Chicken!” Eating and walking is helpful, but also you need to get checked every year. You want to make sure that you tell your doctor that you want to be screened for diabetes, because they don’t necessarily screen you [by default]. I have a couple friends who tell me they went to the doctor and “got the works” and when I press them, they realize, “wow, I didn’t get screened for diabetes.” Many people in my life are taking it more seriously now that I’ve been working with Novo Nordisk. They see that I’ve been talking about it; it’s all over my Twitter, and it’s been very helpful.

J: And they say more than 30 million Americans are living with diabetes, and one in four do not even know about it. So, we’re insisting…please, please just go and get that testing done.

RR: Yes, go to AskScreenKnow.com and that’s the place where you can go and find out what your risks are.

J: And then from there, you can just go to your doctor. And if you catch it early you can control it…

RR: …to where you don’t have those complications.

B: I’m so glad you put out the information on where people can easily find out their risks, because so many people are so intimidated by the pending results, that they avoid it. Do you have any advice for people who are afraid and don’t even know where to start?

RR: Yes, we always start with directing them to AskScreenKnow.com and then from there, to go to your doctor.

J: And my husband always says, “Just do it afraid.” He was afraid and you know, a lot of men don’t like to go to the doctor anyway.

RR: Carry "afraid" with you and walk with it.

J: If not for yourself, then do it for your family!

Rev Run & Justine Simmons

RR: That helps! It changes the game when I tell people to do it for their family, children or their wife, and vice versa, so that they don’t have to go through those issues with you.

B: So, Rev, I heard you bring up Novo Nordisk! What drew you both to work with them, in particular?

RR: It was my manager whose father had diabetes and we saw the Ask.Screen.Know campaign and he hit up the folks over at Novo Nordisk. I told [my manager], “Wow, your father had diabetes and so did mine!”, which gave us an instant connection. So, we all met up with Novo Nordisk, and I thought I could use my celebrity to guide people to the website. I’ve been with them for almost six years now. It has been widely successful. I’ve had people approach me telling me that if I hadn’t been tweeting and Facebook-ing, they wouldn’t know and they wouldn’t be successful in their health journey. I’m very grateful for that and it’s helped me, also. I thought, hey, if my father had it, then there’s a chance I could be affected by it as well. And yes, it’s true, family history is very important. Family history can tell you where you’re going.

J: Yes, because I feel if my father, his sisters and his mother had knew what we know now, they may not have had diabetes.

RR: And you can manage it, when you do have it! You’re not doomed when you find out you have diabetes, and you can still live a happy, healthy life. But, you need to know so you can, therefore, take action.

J: And in this case, what you don’t know will hurt you.

B: I want to touch a little bit more on black families, given our unique relationship with diabetes. Additionally, Justine, I note you mentioned your daughter Miley and incorporating a healthier lifestyle. Often, younger people have an “invincibility” mentality and don’t think about this kind of stuff. What advice do you have for black families and the younger generations?

RR: I want African Americans to know that we’re doubly at risk. And you know, a lot of African Americans know about me through my group Run DMC and follow my TV shows, so I’m constantly speaking to people who have followed me throughout my career and my wife’s career. What we really try to do is guide people toward the professionals. It’s so much information at AskScreenKnow.com, such as recipes, what to eat, health information, the complications that come with [diabetes].

J: Right, and if you tell them to find out early and not to find out later. “Later” can be too late! Tell these kids at an early age so that they get it. We notice with Daniel (aka Diggy), he is so into maintaining a healthy lifestyle and is so into Ask.Screen.Know and what we’re doing! He gets it. He knows that my father passed and he knows that his uncles and aunts have diabetes.

RR: He’s super healthy! He keeps us in check. You’re supposed to keep your kids in check, but sometimes he keeps us in check.

J: Yeah, and sometimes he takes it too far and tries to take away my food and I have to give him that “mommy look,” but he helps us.

B: Yes! I’m so glad you two are incorporating social media to really get the word out there. What can we expect in the future with the Ask.Screen.Know campaign? What kinds of things do you have in the works?

RR: In October, we’re going to be joining the food festival in New York. There, you can actually see us and you can get tested. There are more media days that I’ll be doing with Novo Nordisk. I have been doing this for six years now and it’s become such a huge part of our lives, and it keeps me in check. I post videos of myself walking every morning on my Instagram stories and people know where I’m coming from because it is a part of my story.

B: Thank you so much Rev and Justine! We truly appreciate you taking the time to showcase this knowledge because as they say, “Knowledge is power.”

RR: Yes! Go to AskScreenKnow.com! Tell a friend to tell a friend to tell a friend!

For more information on diabetes screening, please head over to AskScreenKnow.com, where you can take a quick Diabetes Risk Factor Assessment and contact a doctor.

This interview has been edited and condensed.