Short Stack is excited to announce that the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness is our September OTM! Lisa Peyton-Caire, Founder and President, answered some of our questions about the Foundation and how allies can help this movement.
- Tell me a little bit about the history and mission of your organization
The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness is not merely an organization, but a movement! We are committed to supporting and mobilizing Black women to improve their health and quality of life, while also advocating loudly by engaging the broader community as partners to prioritize Black women’s health as a social and policy imperative.
Our mission is to empower Black women and girls to live healthy, thriving, wellness-centered lives and to pass that healthy legacy on for generations to come.
Our focus in our local work is to eliminate health disparities and other barriers that impact the lives of Black women and girls here in Dane County. We are achieving that mission every day.
I launched The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness in 2012 with a small committed Board of Directors after recognizing the deep need for an organization here in Dane County that focused squarely on elevating the whole-life wellness of Black women–and that addressed the unacceptably poor health and quality of life outcomes we persistently face here as a collective. I had just moved back to Madison in 2011 bringing with me the work I had begun back east with the launch of Black Women’s Wellness Day (BWWDAY) in 2009, three years after my Mother’s death in 2006 which was the catalyst that led me to enter the space officially as a Black women’s health advocate. My Mom’s death embodied a sobering reality of Black women dying too soon from largely preventable illnesses in mid-life, and within a backdrop of a very disparate set of social and economic realities that place us at a great disadvantage in living long, healthy, stable lives.
When I arrived back in Madison in 2011, I realized that not much had changed in the way of racial equality from my earliest days of living and working here from 1993-2001, and that Wisconsin was truly the hotbed for racial health disparities affecting Black women. I knew immediately that there was work to be done. There was certainly important work being done at that time and many forerunners who were working in different facets to improve conditions for Black families–but not on the scale or level of visibility that I felt the needs of Black women here demanded. There were lots of reports documenting the many health, social and economic disparities, but not loud and vocal action nor a major effort that was mobilizing Black women to lead the change we needed. So I took action.
After hosting BWWDAY here in Madison for the first time in May 2012 and seeing how empowered women felt leaving that day, and yet how gaping the hole was of organized ACTION on our behalf, it was clear that we needed an organization that worked year-round to address the issues and provide solutions.
We filed our 501c3 papers soon after and have been in the trenches since then doing the work. Each year we impact the lives of nearly 2,000 women and girls directly through our education, outreach, wellness programming, and social supports; and thousands more through our advocacy, systems-level, and partnership work with decision makers to influence policy and practice changes that advance Black women’s health.
We are also very proud to share that this year, we will open Dane County’s first Black Women’s Health and Wellness Center this fall! Read more about it here and here!
- Why is Madison, WI relevant?
Our work and presence here in Madison and in Wisconsin is so very crucial, as Wisconsin leads the nation in health disparities and racial inequality for Black women and families. We have an incredible task and an even greater opportunity to do something transformational here to break the pattern of disparity that has colored Black life in our city and State for too long–and we MUST. I know we can. The urgency is NOW.
In Dane County and the State of WI, Black Women are more likely to:
- Live and die from largely treatable and preventable illnesses.
- Die of heart disease, cancer, stroke at higher rates and younger ages.
- Be diagnosed with more aggressive breast cancers that are harder to treat and
- Have limited access to quality healthcare services in their community and be
uninsured or underinsured.
- Give birth prematurely to low-weight babies at greater risk of dying in the first year
of life, resulting in alarming infant mortality rates.
- Face social and economic barriers that contribute to and compound poor health
- The average age of death of Black women in Dane County is 59 years old.
- Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. where the life expectancy gap between Black women and White women is widening instead of closing.
These and other statistics paint a clear picture of Wisconsin as worst in the nation for Black women’s health and well-being. This is an unacceptable designation for a City and State which is otherwise a hub of so much opportunity and innovation, home to a world class University and research system, and home to world-renowned healthcare. We need that opportunity and progressiveness to work for Black women and our families in the same ways it works for others–starting with keeping us alive and healthy and in a position to access, take part in, and contribute to the massive opportunity here. This is the focus of our work–to change this dynamic with Black women leading the charge and with the community beside us and behind us propelling us forward.
We are determined to move our city and State from worst to best for Black Women’s health, and to engage the entire community in being a part of the solution. We’re making great progress but there’s much more to do.
- Can you expand on the Saving Our Babies Report ?
The Foundation has been engaged since March 2018 with the Dane County Health Council on a major effort, Saving Our Babies, which the Council initiated to address and improve the birth outcomes of African American women and their babies. This is an unprecedented effort of health systems and the most impacted community, Black women and their families and community, working together to solve a serious public health problem.
As I mentioned above, Wisconsin leads the nation in Black infant mortality, and here in Dane County we face persistently poor birth outcomes for Black women. A Black baby in Dane County is 2-3 times more likely to be born too small or to die in the first year of life than a white baby born. In fact, Dane County and Milwaukee are virtually neck-in-neck in our outcomes despite our smaller population here. It’s an urgent problem that we’ve not solved as a state or a community despite working on the issue now for nearly 25 years.
Our organization and our partner EQT By Design, LLC led a nine-month engagement effort in 2018 with the Council, asking Black women, men and youth their insights on root causes and solutions. It was crucial to us that the work be centered on the voices of the Black women and community members. Their feedback–our community’s experiences–must guide solutions moving forward if efforts are to be relevant, effective and sustainable; and their feedback on the root causes of the low birthweight crisis is very clear. What we learned and subsequently proposed for recommendations and actions is summarized in the Saving Our Babies Report. We recently announced many of these next steps in a press conference on July 12th.
We encourage everyone to read the report to gain a broad understanding of the issue and how we are approaching solutions. This is a long term effort–not an overnight change, with big commitment from key partners. We feel great about what we will accomplish by working in real partnership with key stakeholders.
- What’s one facet of your work that might be surprising to others?
Despite the gravity and well-documented data around the health, social, and economic disparities impacting Black women and families in Dane County and Wisconsin, we still find ourselves having to convince many decision makers and others daily that the problem is real and systemic — not a product of personal failings or deficits in Black families. On the positive end, more people are listening, paying attention, making investments, getting involved in being a part of the solution, and systems — especially our local health systems, are investing heavily to drive long-term solutions. We need more sectors outside of healthcare, however, to take up the charge. And we need everyday people to be more informed and engaged in driving the change with us by deeply understanding and caring about the issues.
- What is most rewarding about your work?
Everyday I get to wake up and work on the issue that I am most passionate about — Black women’s health–and to see what started as a vision and an idea in my heart and mind evolve into an organization that is making a tremendous impact. We are reshaping the narrative, character, and the quality of Black women’s health here in Dane County, and have sparked and inspired many efforts across Greater Madison that have joined in the critical work to place Black women front and center on the agenda of this city.
I am also surrounded by a team of women, a few of them staff and many volunteers, who are the wings beneath our work who devote their time and energy to all we do. We are really and truly an organization led by Black women, for Black women–everyday women who are overcoming, transforming their health, changing their lives, and supporting others to do the same. The change starts with us, and we are leading the way!
- How do we get involved?
There are many ways!
We encourage folks to sign-up for our email newsletter to stay up to date with our work and to learn how to get involved! Click here to sign up or visit our web site to sign up from our homepage at: http://ffbww.org
GIVE at www.ffbww.org !
The easiest and least time consuming way to get involved is to GIVE! We are always in need of financial support for our year-round programming and support services to women and girls, and to support our new Center which will open this fall!
We need volunteer support throughout the year for various programs, events, planning, and initiatives! Sign up for our email list at http://ffbww.org or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about ways to help.
FOLLOW US! We have several social pages, some merging soon, but please connect now!
- What advice do you have for white allies in the madison community ?
Be vocal advocates for Black women! Get to know the issues impacting Black women and our families and use your position of influence and your networks to be a part of the solution. Educate, enlighten, and inform others, and bring them along as supporters of organizations like ours as donors, partners, advocates, volunteers. Find your voice in the movement to elevate Black women’s health and well-being, and do all you can to drive change that positions Black women and their families to succeed.
- Any updates on the Health and Wellness Center ?
With the community’s support, we recently exceeded our fundraising goal of $100,000 to open Dane County’s first Black Women’s Health and Wellness Center on the city’s west side! We are now in the process of designing the center and will share information about our grand opening soon! STAY TUNED! Though we’ve reached our initial goal, donations are still welcome! Give at www.ffbww.org !