Here at Short Stack, we know a thing or two about having an idea and running with it. We love seeing someone be passionate about an issue and then enacting real, tangible change. That's just what Lisa Peyton-Caire has done with The Foundation for Black Women's Wellness. What started as a personal crusade to bring attention to Black women’s health has grown into a county-wide effort with growing reach to eliminate the health disparities that Black women face in our community. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Lisa and learn more about the Foundation and why it is so important. 

Tell me about the history of your organization.

The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness (FFBWW) is a 501c3 non-profit organization that I founded along with a group of passionate women in 2012 here in Dane County. Our mission is to eliminate health disparities and other barriers impacting Black women and girls, and to empower them to live their healthiest, most well lives. We do this through year-round health promotion and education, support circles, advocacy, and connecting women to resources and opportunities to improve their lives. We directly engage and impact over 1,000 women and girls each year.

We also work with health systems and other partners to create better health outcomes for Black women, and we do a lot behind the scenes to influence how systems and institutions respond to Black women and their families--pressing for system-level change. This is so very important because here in Wisconsin, we lead the nation in health and quality of life disparities impacting Black women and their families.

We’ve elevated Black women’s health as an issue of public concern and mobilized Black women locally around the issue in a way that has never been done before. As one supporter said best “the Foundation has taken the issue of Black women’s health in Dane County from a whisper to a movement”. It’s an urgent issue.

What prompted you to launch this work?

A very personal experience led to this work. My mother, Roberta Peyton, died of heart disease at the age of 64 in 2006. Her death came too early and wasn’t expected. Sadly, what happened to her was the rule and not the exception for so many women in my family and community and across the country. After her death, my eyes were opened to just how serious and far reaching the disparities are that Black women face in our health outcomes—and how much younger we were living with and dying from largely preventable illnesses. The disparities go far beyond personal health choices and reflect the outcome of a lifetime of dealing with social inequities, systemic racism, and the very real pressures we face and feel as strong pillars of our families and communities.

In Wisconsin and Dane County and across the country – Black women are more likely to:

  • Live with and die from largely treatable and preventable illnesses.
  • Die of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke at higher rates and younger ages.
  • Be diagnosed with more aggressive breast cancers that are harder to treat and survive.
  • Die of breast cancer than our peers though less likely to be diagnosed with the disease.
  • Be uninsured or underinsured, curbing our access to preventative care and timely and appropriate treatment.
  • Though Black women and families have greater access to healthcare than in Wisconsin than in many other states, we still experience the worst overall health and mental health outcomes than any other group here.
  • Give birth prematurely to low-weight babies at greater risk of dying in the first year of life (regardless of our income or education level), resulting in higher infant mortality rates--2x’s higher than white women. Wisconsin has the highest infant mortality rate in the country.
  • Face social and economic barriers, a persistent wage gap, and higher levels of poverty that contribute to and compound poor physical and mental health outcomes.

The statistics are daunting and I’m only touching the surface. But there is always hope and solutions if we choose them. We have an opportunity right now to decide what kind of community, county, region and state we want to be for Black women, for families of color—and to change these outcomes once and for all. We can do it.

So I started Black Women’s Wellness Day (BWWDAY) in May 2009 as a way to address this issue as I understood it at that time first by bringing Black women together to start a new conversation about how we want to live, how we would work to save our own lives and create the conditions we need to move from surviving to thriving. I lived in Maryland at the time and it all started as a very small, impassioned effort to make change. When I moved back to Madison in 2011, I brought the work with me and saw the great need for it here.

BWWDAY was immediately received here in Madison, and has grown from a gathering of 100 to over 500 women and community partners each year, providing information, inspiration and empowerment to all who attend. And we’ve done it all up to now as a 100% volunteer-led effort. Women leave BWWDAY equipped with information, tools, new knowledge, and connections to resources that enable them to take their health into their own hands, and to make informed choices and actions toward optimal health. It’s a life-changing day and experience!

After our first BWWDAY in Madison at the Urban League in May 2012, it was clear that we needed more than just one day to make a real impact. Women wanted and needed more, and the disparities we face here in Dane County and across the State made it necessary to take the next step. So, The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness was born. Our initiatives focus broadly on health literacy and promotion, prevention, mental/spiritual, physical and financial well-being, along with our advocacy work and partnerships with health systems and other stakeholders to build an environment in this community that bolsters the well-being of Black women and families.

What challenges does your organization face and how do you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges we face is helping people see that Black women’s health is not just a Black community issue, but a community issue that everyone should care about and that everyone has a stake in improving. It’s everyone’s business. The persistent disparities we see weren’t created yesterday and have their roots in a long history of racial inequality and its lingering effects today. Eliminating the disparities is possible if we choose to, and will require everyone’s efforts. I’m encouraged by the folks who embrace this responsibility alongside us.

What is your favorite part about your organization?

Two things! First, we get to see women completely transform their lives and to discover their personal capacity to be resilient, to choose something more, to adopt new behaviors and create the solutions they need to live healthier, stronger, and to build a new legacy of wellness. They pass this transformation on to their families and their community and it’s powerful! They go on to become advocates, leaders, and creators of change in even bigger ways. We spark that change, and the ripple effect flows from there.

Second, we get to work with incredible partners like our four local health systems, companies, businesses and community based organizations who are more committed than ever to supporting our work, driving change in their  own institutions that positively impact Black women and families, and getting deeply engaged in creating long-term solutions. We make a greater impact working together.

Where do you see the organization in 10 years?

In 10 years we’d like to look back and see that we’ve been a major part of moving Wisconsin from the worst to the best for Black women’s health. We want Wisconsin to be the model and the leader in showing how you move from disparity to opportunity and real well-being for Black women and families. We will also have a greater presence across the State, and a national and even international presence. This issue is much bigger than Wisconsin, but if we change the outcomes here, we can change them anywhere.

 What is something that might surprise people?

Something that always surprises people and should deeply concern us all is that Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. where Black women’s life expectancy is stagnant or some would argue, declining. The gap has widened for us rather than closing. This is unacceptable and illustrates how absolutely imperative it is that this work is done and that everyone pitch in. We need you!  

What can people do to help?

  • You can give! We rely on the community’s support to make a difference.
    • Go to our website: www.ffbww.org, follow the “Give” link. This will take you to our GoFundMe page! Or you can mail a check to us at our address on the Contact page of our web site.
  • You can sponsor a woman or girl to attend Black Women’s Wellness Day.
    • Each year we get more requests from women who would hugely benefit from attending, but are not financially able. Your seat sponsorship would help many women that otherwise would not be able to attend our event coming up on Sat., September 22nd.
  • Go to www.blackwomenswellnessday.org and follow the registration link! Choose the General Donation ticket and donate in any amount that feels right to you.
    • You can volunteer!
  • We are a small but mighty force, and we rely on volunteers to get much of the work done. Any skill you have, we likely have a need for it. We have needs for fundraising, marketing, social media, community outreach, administrative support…the list goes on. Contact us if you are interested!
  • Follow our social channels to stay engaged with our work!
    • Facebook.com/blackwomenswellnessday
    • Instagram.com/bwwdayfounder

Finally, become advocates for Black women’s health. Find your voice on the issue, what strikes a chord with you, and use it to make a difference.

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