Ninth Annual Black Women’s Wellness Day
Shifting the Health Paradigm
|Above left: The Black Women’s Wellness Day Planning Team: Erin
McCollough (l-r), Janetta Pegues, Marilyn Peebles-Ruffin, Christine
LaShore, Mary Wells, Brenda Brown, Patricia White, Lisa Peyton-
Caire, Afi Lake, Felicia Clark, Nia Enemuoh-Trammell,
Carola Gaines and Theola Carter
Above: Brenda Brown (l-r), Corinda Rainey-Moore, Carola Gaines, Lisa
Peyton-Caire, the founder of Black Women’s Wellness Day, Theola
Carter, Debbie Jones, Janetta Pegues and Mary Wells
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Sometimes there is a silver lining in an otherwise ominous cloud.
When Lisa Peyton-Caire’s mother died at an early age about 10 years
ago, Peyton-Caire established the Black Women’s Wellness Day to
honor her mother and to promote the overall health of Black women,
too many of whom were dying at a young age. When she moved back
to Madison with husband Kaleem and her children three years later, Peyton-Caire brought with her Black Women’s Wellness Day and the day
and the movement have been having a positive impact on Black women’s health in the Madison area and beyond ever since.
“We’ve had health fairs and we’ve had teen health initiatives when STDs were on a rampage in our community,” said Carola Gaines, one of
seven Black Women’s Wellness Day Planning Team members interviewed after a recent planning meeting. “We’ve had many different things
like the African American Health Network and all of those health fairs and those health initiatives. But what Black Women’s Wellness has done
is bring in a huge audience of many women to hear news and information on a larger scale. We’ve always had pockets of information because
women have always tried to raise awareness. I wasn’t raised in Madison, but I’ve been here for 40 years and have been involved in the
community, especially in the health piece for the last 30 some years. We’ve had pockets of those types of informational things, but nothing this
large, this large of a group of women for a day or weekend that has brought in that much knowledge and expertise and wisdom and caring and
empowerment and movement and a paradigm shift.”
Indeed while those health fairs and initiatives reached small pockets of women — and men — at neighborhood centers and other small venues,
they weren’t big enough to bring a critical mass of Black women together — feeling, hearing and learning the same thing at the same time — to
change the norms and reinforce the values of the community of Black women in the Madison area.
To sit with these women as they discuss Black Women’s Wellness Day (BWWD) is to once again experience the excitement and spiritual force of
that day in the women’s lives for BWWD is almost like a tent revival when it is held at the Alliant Energy Center as approximately 500 women
come together has a healing community to unload their health burdens and to make a commitment, empowered with the knowledge, to live
Historically, Black women have been the bedrock of the African American community due to the lasting impact of slavery and beyond. As such,
there was almost an expectation that they would put the well-being and needs of everyone else first before they met their own needs. And it was
causing their premature deaths overall. BWWD has emphasized to the women that they need to take care of themselves first so that they can
adequately take care of others. Brenda Brown likened it to a trip on an airplane.
“It’s just like when you are on an airplane,” Brown said. “And the airline flight attendant says that when the oxygen masks come down, you
should put it on yourself first before you put it on the child next to you because if you don’t first take care of yourself, you and the child will end
up dying on that plane.”
Dr, Debbie Jones supported Brown’s analogy.
“Black Women’s Wellness is a paradigm shift,” Jones said, echoing what other committee members had said. “Black Women’s Wellness is a
paradigm shift in that we are taking care of ourselves first so that we can be around to take care of our families and thereby take care of our
community and be a positive force in our community, in our cities, in our state and in our country. We do have a positive contribution to make.”
And while traditional health fairs would focus on the physical, Janetta Pegues emphasized that BWWD promotes the health of the whole woman.
“Black Women’s Wellness, to me, means everything holistic, whether it be physical, financial, mental or spiritual,” Pegues said. “It’s the entire
full-spectrum of who we are. And it is information. I am a librarian. So I am always concerned with how we connect the information. It’s more
than just coming and hearing a bunch of talk. If we just take one thing that we learn, how do we begin to put that in action so that we change our
lives? And then we need to share that with others in the community, not necessarily just women, but also men, children and whomever. It’s all
about lifting up as an entire community in a holistic way on a continuous basis.”
And Corinda Rainey-Moore emphasized that the holistic manner includes mental health.
“People are openly admitting and acknowledging that mental illness does exist and we have made it a part of this educational experience for
women to feel comfortable in doing that,” Rainey-Moore said. “For me, that’s huge where you have people openly talking about, ‘Well I have
been struggling with depression and I have been struggling with some self-doubt and suicide.’ Now people are much more open to talking about
Theola Carter talked about the synergy that BWWD forges and it is evident as the women in the interview build off of each other’s comments to
create a lasting image of what BWWD is all about.
“I’m seeing more of an excitement for health than we’ve had in the past because we didn’t really think about it before,” Carter said. “And I’m
also seeing that, like she said, we’re ready for it. Some of us aren’t ready for it, but I liken it to when I think about faith. Faith comes by hearing,
hearing comes by the Word of God. I might not be there, but there are seeds that are being planted. You keep saying to yourself, ‘I’m going to get
there. I’m going to get there.’ And you put it there long enough and all of a sudden, it just starts to burgeon and grow. Even if you just sort of slip
off like I did because I hurt my knee — stuff is going to happen — you still have your sisters who said, ‘Get your tail right back on up there.’ I
constantly get emails from my friends who said, ‘We at the gym. Where you at? Your hair cute, but you ain’t riding that 30-mile ride like you used
to.’ You see the community come together a little bit more and then fusing a little more of that caringness.’”
Due to BWWD, there is a community of health awareness that is forming around empowered Black women who want to make a positive impact
on the health of the African American community as a whole.
“I want to talk about the networking that happens within an immediate family,” said Mary Wells. “I now consider myself like a health advocate
for my family members. My sister Christine has come from zero to one hundred over these past couple of years, being a part of this group. And I
am so blessed and thankful for each woman on this committee and who are a part of this group because we all network together. We inspire
and uplift each other on different levels. I know I can call anyone of these women and have called sisters about different issues that I have
questions about for my family members, my neighbors, my cousins and whomever. This force is strong. It’s happening in the moment. Our boots
are on the ground and we are doing it. I am just happy to be a part of this.”
And like other committee members were saying, Gaines said that it is this community effort and awareness that is a paradigm shift from the past
when the women approached health as a primarily individual issue.
“I view it as women supporting each other in terms of changing their lifestyle,” Gaines said. “We see it exhibited on Facebook where women
are talking about the exercise that they are doing and encouraging other women to join in. And people are supporting each other in that. And for
me, it’s a change in lifestyle including how I eat and what I put in my body. I’m making sure that I am reading labels, so that I know exactly what
is going into my body and what I shouldn’t be putting into my body. To me, it’s the whole aspect of changing my life and how I go about my
everyday activities as well.”
Brown has noticed the difference in the community over the last half-decade or so that BWWD has been observed in Madison.
“I can see changes in people’s lives,” Brown said. “There have been people who have improved their health tremendously from one year to the
next. People have lost 100-200 pounds. People have become more active in the community, more healthy in their personal engagement.”
Gaines has seen a shift in attitude among Black women whom she knows and serves as a nurse. While women might not be in a place where
they can effect change in their lives today, BWWD keeps them in the loop to make that change tomorrow.
“Just hearing it and taking it in might not lead to that change,” Gaines said. “I’m speaking of myself. We come every year, but everyone might
not be at that place to make that behavior shift, that paradigm shift, that change. Yes we come every year. Yes we hear the message. Yes we
get empowered. Yes, we get inspired. But am I ready to really make that move and that change? Or do we go back into our regular, mundane
approach where, ‘I have to heal the world. I have to take care of everyone. I have to make sure I’m the one doing it all.’ That’s me. This yearly
piece helps remind me that we, as women, have to think of ourselves first so that we can take care of others because we will go back into that
mode of ‘I have to take care of everyone else before I can take care of me.’ Coming together and seeing other women help you do that in the
community as you’re walking down the street or you are on social media. That’s the shift and change that I see.”
There has also been a shift in the health care establishment.
“The health establishment has always wondered how can they get Black people engaged and how can they get themselves in front of folks of
color and educate them about their health,” Jones said. “Well, they never could pull together a forum like we’ve pulled together here. And we
know that this is extremely unique and therefore we know that we are guardians of that trust that these women are giving to us. So we are
highly conscious about bringing true and valuable content to these women. And so, we’re not going to bring any mess to them. It has to be
evidence-based. It has to be authentic and real and from the heart. So what has changes is that we do have that forum that many health
physicians have wondered how they could get in front of a group of folks. Well we have that group of folks. But we are the guardian of it too. And
therefore when content experts come to us, we are expecting the best to be distilled down to this group of women because we are the
guardians and we know that.”
Next issue: Commitment to health