Anthony Henry, President, The Walnut Foundation
1) What is your profession and what are the specific dimensions of your work?
I am a Financial Advisor by profession, and I think my 29 plus years of coaching individuals and families to create wealth and make effective use of financial instruments and tax rules has prepared me well for my other role – President of The Walnut Foundation – through which I engage black men and our community to be more responsible and more engaged in their own healthcare. I also believe the parents, the teachers and the relationships nurtured over the years positioned me well to assume this role. I come to this work as a prostate cancer survivor and one of 4 family members impacted by prostate cancer….. a perspective of lived patient experiences. I offer my personal perspectives in terms of my own experience, my family’s experience (my dad succumbed to prostate cancer at age 68) as well as give voice to the challenges and perspectives of other black men impacted by prostate cancer. I do this through our monthly support group meetings at The Walnut Foundation, through my role providing peer to peer support for the wider community via the True North Peer Navigator program run out of Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. We also enhance the community via symposiums, webinars, health fairs, and conferences hosted by The Walnut Foundation and our community partners.
2) How did you come to this type of career?
I came to this type of work because I was always interested in and involved in ways to break down injustices and build up community. I participated in marches to break down Apartheid in South Africa, in developing strategies to end streaming of black students in Toronto schools, in mentoring black students, and helping them to prepare for an unforgiving workplace. I recall many debates and discussions with community members on ways to build a more resilient black community, so it was natural to reflect on the feedback I received from community members when diagnosed with prostate cancer. What I discovered was that there were vast numbers of us impacted, but no one wanted to speak about it. Men who have become withdrawn from families and friends, had broken relationships, men going back home to pursue alternative treatments etc. etc. In most instances I found out about the impact on the men and their families only after I disclosed my situation. The Walnut Foundation and I were a natural fit because the organization is about creating solutions and my life and professional experience was about finding solutions to problems.
3) Tell us something about your process of study and formal and/or informal education and the nature of your degrees and/or training. When, where, and how did you become educated and qualified to do what you do?
My process professionally and in my community service activities can be summed up simply as: “Some will….Some won’t. Next” The trick is to always find willing participants who can help me to achieve my goals or participants to share a common objective to move community forward. It is always important to understand that individuals have different strengths and qualities and in the realm of volunteerism we want to utilize the strengths to the fullest. Make it easy for volunteers to say yes because they are providing valuable expertise and time at zero cost.
4) What were the greatest obstacles that you had to overcome to achieve the success that you now experience? What challenges have your experienced and how have you overcome them? What goals do you have left to accomplish?
Convincing men to share their experiences with prostate cancer can be a challenge given the treatment side effects (varying degrees of incontinence and erectile dysfunction which could be temporary or permanent). These side effects challenges one’s masculinity and mojo so to speak so why expose your vulnerability. Building trusting relationships and providing a venue to speak candidly and share experiences often takes some time, especially among the older demographic. Once trust is earned, confidence takes over and outcomes improve dramatically. In terms of fundraising success our community is not comfortable asking for money so it can be a challenge to get our members to fundraise especially where the fundraising is more effective when done electronically, as it is for our annual walkathon. We are overcoming that hurdle as men get more comfortable sharing their stories and asking for financial support for our initiatives. As a testament to our progress our walkathon raised $72,000 in 2023 vs. $37,000 in 2022. Perhaps of even more importance is that black community members, organizations, the medical establishment, and policy makers are more aware of the resources we bring to the table.
5) Did you have any role models or mentors either in your domains of entrepreneurship, work, research, and creation or outside of them? Who were they and how were they instrumental in shaping you as a person and as a professional?
My maternal grandmother and my parents were my first role models. Grandma was a baker, cook, and assumed the role of parents for many children whose parents left Jamaica for the UK in the 1950s and early 1960s to seek a better life. My parents uprooted a family of 5 children to move to Canada in the 1970s while they were in their early 40s. This was remarkable because they did not have to do any of that since they were comfortable. They had the vision and foresight to realize that the promise of a more egalitarian Jamaica was not happening fast enough to help their teenage brood. My community mentors would be Elder Eva Smith who worked tirelessly to ensure the public education system in Toronto worked for black kids. My other community mentor was Dr. Winston Isaac, Co-Founder of The Walnut Foundation, who allowed me to thrive in a Fundraising capacity as a Board member of the organization. It also helped that I had some great teachers who believed in me and encouraged me throughout my formative years.
6) What does your daily work routine look like? Where is your place of business/production and how do you stay focused and productive?
My daily routine involves getting up at 7:00am to walk and catch up on the markets and world events. My wife, Carol, often joins me on my walk. I am able, some days, to get a meeting related to my Walnut Foundation duties completed before 9:00am before heading off to my regular occupation. My daily work activities include managing investments portfolios, managing client expectations, keeping clients focused on the “Great Goals Of Life” and not being distracted by the noise and irrelevances of market prognosticators, newsmakers, and other detractors. My routine is often interspersed with calls from community members and family members checking in or seeking support or connection to resources or resource contacts.
7) What are your guiding principles? What informs how you do your work and how you engage with your co-workers, clients, customers, or consumers?
My guiding principle always is to make a difference or work with others to make a difference. I don’t have all the answers, so I am willing to link with those with the skill sets or the reach that I do not have to build community resilience. My organization has worked with the NDP and Canadian Cancer Society to lobby the Ontario government for free PSA blood testing in Ontario. The PSA blood test is one of the screening tools for prostate cancer and is not currently covered by OHIP. We have engaged with the federal, municipal, and provincial governments on other issues. We work with hospitals, university researchers, community health centres, churches, and community groups to educate and improve best practices and thus better health outcomes for our community. We cannot afford to sit back and watch black men being disproportionately (76% more likely to be diagnosed/2.2x more likely to die from prostate cancer) impacted by a treatable disease and do nothing about it.
8) What are you working on now and when and how will it be shared?
We recently partnered with TAIBU Community Health Centre to create 12 short videos aimed at educating the community about our work, about prostate cancer, and teaching people about how they can better advocate for themselves. The actors and the technical folks behind the camera are all young black entrepreneurs with the skill sets for the project and it was completed on time and on budget. These will be shared electronically via email, on our website and on social media. We are also working on 4 research projects in collaboration with research scientists at teaching hospitals in the Toronto area: 1) Optimizing Virtual care (Dr. Jackie Bender), 2) Health Equity in the Treatment of Prostate Cancer in Black Men (Dr. Aisha Lofters, Dr. Jackie Bender), 3) “Improving Prostate Cancer outcomes in Black Men through Genetics, Multidisciplinary Care and Listening to Communities” (Dr. Neil Fleshner), and 4) Inequity in Aging and Cancer care among Racialized Communities (Dr. Shabbir Alibhai). These reports will be shared via community meetings and electronically. The genetics research will entail following up with family members of deceased prostate cancer patients to get them screened for prostate and breast cancer.
9) What are you proudest of in your career?
We have been able to get black community groups from across Canada to work together on the prostate cancer file doing joint information sessions as well as participating in the research projects. Personally, I have been able to reach out to contacts from various stages of my life to support our efforts.
10) What are you proudest of in your life?
I am proudest of the support provided by my family and extended family. They have been with me 100% professionally and along this prostate cancer journey. Our community would be unbreakable if I could clone them.
11) What fiction or non-fiction book should be essential reading?
My essential book is Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952). Why ? It is critical to know who you are and be comfortable in your skin and in your relationships.
12) What TV show or film should be essential viewing?
James Bond, Live and Let Die (1973). It is good to escape from reality and just enjoy a film without and the troubles of the world.
13) How do you relax and take care of yourself?
I enjoy sampling a variety of cuisines from all over the world with my wife and hanging out with friends and family at a BBQ, fish fry or other such event.
14) What’s next?
Guiding The Walnut Foundation to a place where its processes are systematized, where there is a knowledge base in place to address various aspects of black men’s health, where the metrics are in place to better understand and inform best practices in our care and where sustainable core funding is in place to sustain the organization’s mandate.
Anthony Henry has been a Financial Advisor with Manulife Securities and predecessor companies for over 29 years. He provides realistic and effective guidance in retirement planning, tax assisted investing, education funding, insurance planning, and estate planning. Anthony prides himself on being empathetic with the client as well as being able to connect individuals to the appropriate products, resources, and expertise to achieve their goals. He earned his honours BA in Economics and Political Science at the University of Toronto and is fully licensed to provide investment and insurance solutions. He is currently a Managing Partner at his investment office at Manulife Securities in Markham, Ontario. He is married with 2 children and is a strong supporter of community development and self-help initiatives.
Anthony is currently President of The Walnut Foundation, a black men’s prostate cancer support and self-help group. He previously served as an advisor to the board from 2012 to 2019 and as First Vice-President from October 2019 to June 2023. Prostate cancer is prevalent in Anthony’s family. He is one of four family members with prostate cancer and so he is very passionate about the issue. Anthony, like a number of the men at The Walnut Foundation, have decided that the best way to improve health outcomes for black men is to be there as a support and to provide guidance to other men in our community who are significantly impacted before diagnosis, during treatment, and post treatment. He believes we owe this to our men until such time as research can catch up and help to improve the odds for black men on the prostate cancer incidences and mortality file. He further believes we need to remove the shroud of secrecy around prostate cancer and start dialoguing more to help each other. Anthony chairs the annual “Walk The Path” walkathon of the foundation which is its main fundraising source. He is a trained Peer Navigator with the True North Peer Navigator Program which operates out of Princess Margaret Hospital. He also volunteers with the annual Movember campaign which seeks to raise awareness and funds to support prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s mental health.