MANATEE -- Harry Belafonte and Parkinson's disease would seem to have little in common.
But when one considers all the physical and mental activity and feel good music Belafonte has poured into his years, he could be called a Parkinson's role model even though he doesn't have the disorder. Doctors say varied physical and mental activity and positive attitude is good for Parkinson's patients.
"Positive energy is important for Parkinson's patients," says Bradenton's Lynn B. Schramek.
Schramek may have really hit the bull's-eye when she lined up a Harry Belafonte tribute for her Parkinson Café, which she founded in Bradenton in 2015 to help Parkinson's patients have a fun, mentally stimulating time and get positive vibes.
Schramek created the first Parkinson's Cafe in upstate New York in 2006 to help her husband, Brad, who has Parkinson's, which is a central nervous system disorder that can cause tremors and lack of movement in many parts of the body.
New medicines have helped patients return to being active, but doctors believe mental attitude can also help with the peaks and valleys of the disorder, Schramek said.
"The mission of the Parkinson's Cafe is to provide social, cultural and intellectual interactions for people with Parkinson's and their care partners, Schramek said by phone last week.
Equity actor Michael Mendez, a member of Sarasota's Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, will perform his one-man show, "Harry Belafonte: King of Calypso," at 1 p.m. on Thursday at the cafe, whose official name is "First Thursday Neuro Challenge Parkinson Café."
The cafe is at River Club Caddyshak, 6600 River Club Blvd., Bradenton. A $10 donation for Westcoast will be taken at the door.
"We'd like to invite anyone with Parkinson's and their partners to Michael's performance and to check out the cafe," Schramek said.
Parkinson's families may attend the full April 7 session from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. by paying $15 to the Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson's, Schramek said.
The cafe regularly meets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first Thursday of every month from October through April.
Schramek brings in a morning and evening speakers and has had performers and creative arts therapists do interactive workshops.
Last month, for example, Lisa Richardson, an art therapist, was the guest and brought in paint for everyone to use.
"We've had improv, role playing, many things," Schramek said. "We want people to bring positive energy and leave recharged."
As for Mendez, he said a few days ago that he plans on giving the Parkinson's patients who attend his show a huge dose of positive energy.
"It took me a while to catch on to Mr. Belafonte's music because I grew up on '70s soul music but when I did I loved it," said Mendez, who is from the Dominican Republic and regards Belafonte as a fellow "Island boy."
Belafonte's been a singer, songwriter, actor and social activist and he is still extremely active at 89.
"His songs define the struggle of the island man, really the struggle of the world," said Mendez who has performed the one-man show
about seven times. "His music is love we can give to each other. His strength in music and entertainment allowed him to change the world for the better."
In his 45-minute concert, Mendez will perform "Coconut Woman" and "Matilda." Mendez will also talk about Belafonte's passions, including the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and '60s. Belafonte was in Martin Luther King, Jr's inner circle and is still involved in political issues all over the globe, Mendez said.
All of this is important to people with Parkinson's because people who stay active and feel strong lead a better life with the disease, said Sarasota's John Baumann, 55, who has had Parkinson's for 14 years. Baumann is a advocate of the Parkinson's Cafe because people don't just air their gripes and complaints, but enjoy theater, music, art and stimulating dialogue.
"I look forward to it," Baumann said.
Formerly a high-powered corporate attorney, Baumann was bitter at first when he contracted the disease and found that it basically began to age him prematurely. He had to quit his law practice. But he hasn't given up the fight.
Baumann wrote a book titled, "Decide Success: You Ain't Dead Yet" and has gone on to become an inspirational speaker.
"I would never have become an inspirational speaker if I hadn't got Parkinson's," Baumann said last week.
Over the past five years, Baumann has lost 45 pounds. He works out hard every day, doing hot yoga or boxing. He eats a lot of greens and drinks no regular or diet soda or fried food or fast food.
"It's all about motivation," Baumann said.
When his alarm goes off at 5 a.m., Baumann doesn't lay in bed. He doesn't think about it. He just gets up. He wants to be in the best shape possible to confront his Parkinson's and live on his terms.
These are ideas he shares at the Parkinson's Cafe.
"If you look at me now and knew me five years ago you wouldn't recognize me," Baumann said. "I am healthier than I have ever been in my life. And I have Parkinson's."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.