It’s true that African Americans have the largest differences in health risks when compared to other racial or ethnic groups. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Lisa Peyton-Caire, and when it comes to health and well-being, she wants to equip African American women with the information they need to empower themselves and their families.
“Information, inspiration, and empowerment for life — those are the goals for the 4th annual Black Women’s Wellness Day,” Peyton-Caire tells The Madison Times about the annual event that she organizes. “Prevention is powerful. Women can do so much for their health if they just change their habits a little bit.”
The 4th annual Black Women's Wellness Day will be held on Saturday, Sept. 22 at the Urban League of Greater Madison on Madison’s south side. It is an annual health summit that aims to inform, inspire, and empower women and girls of African descent to build healthy, thriving, wellness-centered lives. This work is critically important in a time where statistics continue to indicate alarming disparities and dire health outcomes impacting African American women and girls here in Madison and across the United States.
This year's theme, “From Surviving to Thriving,” acknowledges the well-documented and disproportionate challenges confronting Black women's health as a group nationally and locally, while underscoring the collective necessity and commitment to creating healthy, joyful, and satisfying lives.
“It’s chalk full of information and speakers from many different fields including the wellness community, fitness community, [and] health community,” Peyton-Caire says. “One of the big things that we do is talk about the health risks. We inform the women that attend [the conference] about those critical issues they must know. As you know, black women are at the greatest risk for some of the most life-threatening diseases — heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity. So, we really get in depth around those topics.”
There are a variety of reasons why these health disparities exist. Generations of racism and poverty play a part. So do lack of trust in the medical system, cultural differences, problems accessing care, and a lack of knowledge about the importance of tests to screen for major health problems. For some diseases, genetics also may contribute to risk.
“I want to see the room packed with women,” Peyton-Caire says. “I want to give them the tools to leave the room feeling empowered and to go home and say, ‘This is what I can do to improve my health today and I know how important that is.’ I want them to leave understanding that they are their first best advocate for their own health.”
Peyton-Caire has offered the event for the past three years to a growing audience of women, health advocates, and wellness practitioners in the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area. She has seen the difference that a little bit of knowledge and prevention can make in a community.
“I’ve been to enough funerals already in my life,” she says. “Every woman I meet has a story of somebody that they lost too soon. It’s become far too common. And it doesn’t have to be because most of these issues are preventable.”
Peyton-Caire is driven by her late mother's decades-long struggle and untimely death from heart disease in 2006. “My mother died of heart disease at the age of 64 but her first heart attack was at age 48,” Peyton-Caire remembers. “We knew after the fact that she was having sensations for a long time and she just felt it was indigestion and she’d just keep working. She’d take some BC Powder and lie down. A doctor said, ‘All those things that you describe are the symptoms that women usually experience when they are having some type of episode with their heart. But you were mistaking it for something else.’ He told her, ‘Don’t ever do that again. Don’t wait.’”
Women suffer from many of the same things across the board when it comes to issues of health and wellness, it’s just that the disparities are so much greater when it comes to African American women and girls. Guest speakers and facilitated conversations will provide a balanced dose of prevention information, fitness and food demonstrations, and opportunities for active dialogue around physical, mental, spiritual, and sexual health and healing.
Peyton-Caire notes that a lot of health conditions women face when they are older stem from choices made in adolescence, so it’s important that young women attend this event, too. “If you can do the behavior change through informational awareness at an earlier age, it can make all the difference in the world,” she says.
One of the challenges of the event is that there will be so much information to be given out in such a relatively short period of time.
“We want people to know that this is real and deadly serious,” Peyton-Caire says. “We want them to know that there are real threats to their health out there. We have the real stories to tell about the women in our families and in our communities. We can’t dance or tip-toe around these issues any more.”
The event will feature healthy eating demonstrations, yoga and fitness demonstrations, and strategies for healing and overcoming trauma. There will be giveaways and prizes and catered food. Peyton-Caire says that they have numerous guest speakers lined up. [See sidebar above.]
“We will have a closing ‘From Survivors Panel’ that will really speak to our theme ‘From Surviving to Thriving,’” Peyton-Caire says. “We want women to leave knowing that they might be in a stage right now where they are coping and trying to figure out how to pull this whole mind/body/spirit balance together in [their] life. It’s difficult and challenging. But to hear stories of women who have really, truly survived some of the most scary diseases and challenges ... that can be inspiring.”
By empowering the individual women to be healthier, the conference will be also empowering the community.
“If you empower a woman — who’s a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, [and] in many cases a wife or a significant other — than you have the power and the capacity to change an entire family and everyone in it. Eventually, you will transform the community,” Peyton-Caire says. “I also want to spur women to really go out and engage other women in this work. I want them to become advocates not only in their house but in their neighborhoods to really change the culture of how we behave as black women around our health.”
In that way, Peyton-Caire wants to make sure that this is much more than one day.
“Our desire is to stay in touch,” she says. “We want to host monthly wellness workshops. We’re already working to develop relationships with different communities and different neighborhoods. We want to partner and keep this conversation going. I’m so fortunate to have the support of 23 local women who helped pull this all together. Those women know women and they know women. This group started with five women and kept growing. It’s all spreading organically. Women see an alarming condition in the community and they want to be a part of changing it.”
Traditionally, lack of information and lack of access to health care play a large part in many of the health problems that will be attacked at the summit. Too often, African-American women are less likely to receive health care. When they do get care, they are more likely to get it late.
"Our goal is to get women and girls listening, learning, talking, thinking and behaving in new ways that promote mind-body-spirit healing and balance, and to recognize that the ultimate power and responsibility for our overall health begins with us," Peyton-Caire says.
The 4th Annual Black Women's Wellness Day will be held Saturday, Sept. 22, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 S. Park Street. Find out about lifestyle changes that will increase your vitality, extend your life, empower you, and pump up your joy.