Black women’s health is in a state of duress, says Lisa Peyton-Caire. Black women are over-represented in all major categories of disease and illness, including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, obesity, and reproductive disorders. They are more likely to be obese or overweight and to be diagnosed with HIV.
Peyton-Caire is the president of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, a non-profit organization committed to empowering black women and girls to build and sustain healthy and thriving wellness-centered lives. They will host their signature event, Black Women’s Wellness Day, on Saturday, Sept. 19, to inform, inspire, and empower women and girls of African descent to build and sustain healthy, wellness-centered lives.
“We are asking what the action is that we as black women can personally take as an individual and collectively to create a new dialog and a new reality around ourselves,” Peyton Caire says to Madison365. “We know that in Madison and Dane County that [African Americans] are the focus of every disparity study. We’re tired of that story and we know that there are steps we can take and solutions we can work towards. It all starts with self-empowerment and self-education.”
The theme of the 7th annual Black Women’s Wellness Day event is “A New Vision” and it will be an energetic and inspiring day of learning, networking, and fun as black women learn healthier ways of living.
The keynote speaker for the event will be human and women’s rights activist Loretta Ross who co-founded and served as National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, a network that organizes women of color in the reproductive justice movement.
“We are so lucky to have Loretta at the event … she is going to be great,” Peyton-Caire says. “She’s personally overcome so many challenges in her life as a young woman and I’m sure she will share that story.
Ross is one of the creators of the term “Reproductive Justice,” which envelops human rights and social justice into one movement. In 2004, Ross served as National Co-Director of the March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C. It became the largest protest march in U.S. history with more than one million participants.
Black Women’s Wellness Day has grown significantly from its first year in a small public library space with about 40-50 women where it was first observed in Bowie, Maryland on Friday, May 22, 2009 in honor of Peyton-Caire’s mother. It has been celebrated in Madison every year since.
“Each year the attendance at our events consistently grows,” Peyton-Caire says. “This year, we’re expecting 500 women or more. We’ll have women driving up from Milwaukee and Chicago and flying in from New York and California. We are really excited about all of the people that want to be part of this.”
The event has had a tremendous impact on the local community. “Women who have attended past events e-mail us and tell us how well they are doing now,” Peyton-Caire says. “I will cross pass with women in the grocery market, the gas station or the park and they will run over to me and say, ‘Lisa, let me tell you how Black Women’s Wellness Day made a difference in my life. I’ve lost 30 pounds. My diabetes is under control. I stopped drinking and have been sober for a year.’ I just love to hear the success stories.”
“Along with losing my mom, I’ve lost other family members way too early and I’ve found out how common it is to lose women and men too early to illnesses that could have been prevented with quality medical care and information readily available. Luckily from the beauty of my mother’s life, Black Women’s Wellness Day came forward and has turned a painful experience into something incredibly beautiful. We are equipping people with information for them to really change the way they live their lives. We know that we are saving lives just by talking about all of these health issues.”
The day will begin with registration and the Black Women’s Wellness Day Fair where there will be a wealth of information from exhibitors and vendors in a wide variety of fields. “We will have all of our major health partners there including Meriter, Group Health Cooperative, Dean Health, UW Health. All of the local agencies are really growing with their commitment to connect with communities of color and African American women, particularly,” Peyton-Caire says.
There will be a special workshop for senior women and there will be special sessions for tween and teen girls. “Last year, we really saw an uptick in the number of women who were bringing their daughters and the number of schools and community groups who were present, so we really want to keep these young women engaged early in their health,” Peyton-Caire says. “That will be a powerful session and really aimed at girls ages 13-18.”
The luncheon will feature the keynote speaker and Legacy Awards will be presented to women who have done amazing things locally.
In the afternoon, there will be fitness and food demonstrations and workshops on nutrition, health, and key issues around food and exercise. “We’ll hear from medical practitioners and medical professionals as well as laypeople who will talk about how wellness is really a mindset that we want to entrench that,” Peyton-Caire says. “We no longer want black to be associated with disparities, premature illness, premature death, lack of access. We really want to talk about the behaviors and the resources and the steps that we can practically take now today to really create a new healthy legacy for ourselves and our community as African Americans.”
The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness and Black Women’s Wellness Day grew out of a painful personal experience — the loss of her mother, Roberta Peyton, to heart disease at just 64 years old. Peyton-Caire’s mother died at a time when she should have been able to retire and to enjoy the life she build from a lifetime of hard work.
“We had plans. I never thought I would lose her and that she wouldn’t see my children grow up and go to graduations and weddings … she would be able to retire and enjoy the last part of her life because she put in a lot of hard work and sacrifice, ” Peyton-Caire says. “To have that snatched away because of illness that was largely preventable … that just left an incredible mark on me.
One day, Roberta Peyton was in her car getting ready for a long day of work when she felt funny. She would soon have to have triple-bypass open-heart surgery a day after having a silent, painless heart attack at the age of 48. Peyton-Caire’s mother would continue to deal with health issues before succumbing to heart disease at the age of 64.
“Along with losing my mom, I’ve lost other family members way too early and I’ve found out how common it is to lose women and men too early to illnesses that could have been prevented with quality medical care and information readily available,” Peyton-Caire says. “Luckily from the beauty of my mother’s life, Black Women’s Wellness Day came forward and has turned a painful experience into something incredibly beautiful. We are equipping people with information for them to really change the way they live their lives. We know that we are saving lives just by talking about all of these health issues.”
“We always have a lot of work to do because the need is so incredibly great,” Peyton Caire says. “It will take time to change these statistics. We’re in this for the long haul because we’re determined to make my mother’s story the exception and not the rule.”
The 7th annual Black Women’s Wellness Day will close out with a panel and audience participation brainstorm session to figure out where black women can go from here. “What does this new vision really look like and we want to hear from women in the audience about everything we learned and we heard and how we can take all of this information and use it for ourselves and for our community,” Peyton-Caire says. “Our aim is to have women leave with some concrete ideas about how they can put all of these themes into action.
“Right now, we really need collective effort and collective action to confront what’s happening in our communities,” she adds. “We know that if we equip women with this mindset and these tools that they will go on out into the community and they will be the sources of change in their families and in their neighborhoods so that in 10-20 years we have changed the rhetoric and we have changed the story.”
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Visit our official web site often too for event updates at www.blackwomenswellnessday.org .