The Alliant Energy Center was the place to be Sept. 21 for networking, exhibits, and speakers around women’s health issues
The Alliant Energy Center was the place to be this past Saturday for networking, exhibits, and speakers on wellness for Black women. About 300 attended Black Women’s Wellness Day, which focused on the theme, “Embrace Your Life.”
The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness (FFBWW) and the Urban League of Greater Madison hosted the daylong event, which included many vendors and exhibitors. The program began with a song by Denise Jackson, a prayer given by Reverend Jacqueline Colbert, and a special spoken tribute by Sabrina “Heymiss Progress” Madison.
Betty Banks, who gave the welcome and introductory comments, said, “Today, we will be entertained, educated, and filled with hope.” She talked about the sadness of losing loved ones, female family and friends, referring to them as “casualties of preventable diseases.”
Lisa Peyton-Caire shared how the seed for the foundation and the event was the premature loss of her precious mother. Her mom’s untimely death spurred her on to want to do something meaningful and help other Black women live longer, healthier lives than her mom did. The spark ignited as she realized how many other Black women she knew growing up who had died young, and one thing led to another.
Creating a legacy of longevity
What started as a singular idea and vision of one determined woman, five years later, has grown into an event in which nearly 300 women gathered to talk about health issues.
The day really centered on the theme of breaking the cycle of premature death, and replacing it with a legacy of longevity. “This is not a story we’re going to accept,” Peyton-Caire said, stressing the need to honor and remember those that came before. “We are going to rewrite it.” The new vision and story, she indicated, will be “characterized by strong bodies, stable spirits, and dreams realized.”
Talking about the need to create a movement, not just a one-day focus, “to be the changers and builders of Black women’s health,” she commended the many supporters for their commitment to this cause. “I believe we’re speaking a truth that the community understands,” she said, “and I’m so proud of our community for stepping up…”
Status of Black women’s health
Gale D. Johnson, who is the director of the Wisconsin Well Woman Program which provides breast and cervical cancer screenings throughout all 72 counties and 11 American Indian tribes in Wisconsin, moderated the first keynote address. “I always say, ‘I want women to love long, strong, healthy, and productive lives,” said Johnson. Her own mother is in her early 80s now, she said, while her aunt will soon be 99 years old and her great-aunt, 102.
“The fact that all of us are here today-plus the large number of (event) sponsors-says that we all believe that we should, and we will, live long, strong, healthy, and productive lives,” she said.
Dr. Debbie Jones, M.D., a hospital physician for more than 15 years who’s now with Dean-St. Mary’s Hospital, began by sharing that she is an 11-year breast cancer survivor. “The days of sacrificing ourselves at every altar that walked in the door has got to end…,” she implored.
Dr. Jones spoke about the current challenges for Black women when it comes to health and wellness; overall quality of care is not what is desirable, and timeliness is an issue as well. “Even the ability to gain access to care can be an issue,” she said, something she has seen in her own family.
Jones referred to provider bias, walking in the doctor’s office and sometimes “not being heard, or not being taken seriously.” She emphasized the need for health care providers of color. “We have our own language, and we don’t have to interpret” when the provider has the same racial-ethnic background, she stated.
The current reality is that Black women die of lung cancer at a much higher rate than whites. “We don’t tend to get chemo for our breast cancer as often as white women do,” she pointed out. “We don’t tend to have equal access to specialists.”
When it comes to diabetes, even though Black women are at higher risk for it, sometimes “no one even checks our glucose” when going in to see the doctor for a check up/physical exam. Also, despite the fact that many Black women do not have health insurance and therefore, are eligible for care at clinics, “we tend to have trouble gaining access to community health clinics,” said Jones.
Next, she honed in more specifically on what’s been happening in the state. “Wisconsin has been at the forefront in the nation (for health care). Wonder how we’re doing here?”
Researcher Donna Friedsam at UW has said, “Wisconsin health care quality: among the best…and among the worst.” By that, Jones said, she means overall care of infants, children, working adults, and older adults gets a B+ grade, while health care for minorities scores C’s and D’s.
Even controlling for socioeconomic difference, income, and insurance, Jones said, Blacks are less likely to get the same quality of health care as their white counterparts in Wisconsin.
New insurance options
She also discussed upcoming health care changes, emphasizing that some free health maintenance will be included, such as yearly mammograms and PAP smears, which have not automatically been covered by insurances in the past.
Jones encouraged folks to go to the market place starting October 1 when it opens up to find out about the four different levels of insurance. (Healthcare.gov, 1-800-318-2596). “It’s our responsibility,” she stressed, to find out what these plans involve and to sign up for insurance. “It’s not going to come and get you out of the house…”
In concluding her comments, Jones said, “I want you to make a commitment, and I want to make a commitment, too. Embrace your life. Put your own (emergency) mask on first. We need to put ourselves on our own lists…” Families really struggle when mothers die prematurely, she explained.
“I’m proud to see you here today,” Dr. Jones said. “You remind me what’s good about us.”
After Dr. Jones’ presentation, Eva Vivian, Ph.D. at UW-Madison School of Pharmacy, spoke. Dr. Vivian is a pharmacist who does research on diabetes, an illness for which prevention is preferable to treatment.
As a certified diabetes educator, she had at first just been studying women, but she soon found that the women would come into the clinic accompanied by their children, who also had risks for diabetes. “If a kid is diagnosed with Type II diabetes at age 12, they’re at risk for their first heart attack at age 35,” she said.
Whether we realize it or not, Vivian said, our children, grandchildren, and other loved ones observe what we do. She challenged all the women in the room to be a good role model and lead by example, stating, “The most effective way to influence your child is by your own healthy example” as far as food choices and activity level/exercise.
“I know you’re tired when you get home from work,” she said, which can sometimes serve as an obstacle to getting out and walking, etc. What she finds is that for many women, over time, walking after work gives them more energy, and they eventually find that they’re not as tired as before.
Vivian implored participants to take care of themselves, for themselves and also for their children, grandchildren, and others they care deeply about in their lives.
Five different workshops were offered in the afternoon, so it was a “pick two” type of set up for registrants. Topics for the workshops included rethinking food to save lives and preserve beauty, conquering stress and depression with mind-body-spirit awareness, financial fitness for the savvy woman, and sexual and reproductive health and healing, and for the young women/girls ages 13 and up, an empowerment session with Jasmine Timmons, Revolution Girl.
“Girl, Get Your Money Right!”
That was the subtitle and focus of the fitness workshop, presented by Amy Crowe with Summit Credit Union and moderated by Toni Kirkendoll-Hardy, Madison Black Chamber of Commerce and Modern Woodmen Group.
Crowe, who’s been with Summit Credit Union for 17 years, is co-producer of Project Money, a reality challenge/financial makeover of sorts for four families. She shared several tips and tools, which have proven successful in working with the Project Money families and others she has worked with over the years.
The consumeristic society in which we live sends myriad messages to get us to spend, spend, spend money, she said, rarely disseminating the suggestion to save money.
Crowe explained how emotions can come into play when it comes to spending and saving, with it being human nature to be attracted to what we see as a good deal. “Don’t give in to the bargain,” she advised, suggesting to shop around and find an inexpensive alternative if possible, such as borrowing an item, or finding it used on Craig’s List or eBay.
A daily expense sheet is a tool that shows you honestly where your money is going, she detailed, and it’s something she recommends using for about two or three weeks. Then you can ask yourself if how you’re spending your money fits with your value system. “Are you comfortable with how much you’re spending at the gas station?” she inquired, pointing out that the snacks you pick up while there may be adding up to more than you realize. Likewise, you may decide you’d like to save money by buying a six-pack of soda at the store and bringing one a day, rather than getting soda from the vending machine at work.
Crowe shared a number of nuggets of wisdom when it comes to day-to-day activities. Challenge yourself to save money for something you are really passionate about, she said. Thinking long-term helps in this process, as will tucking a photo of what you’d like to do or have in your wallet, wrapping it around your credit card or debit card so you have a visual reminder each time you’re about to make a purchase.
Give pause, and ask yourself, as you’re about to go through the checkout line at the store, whether the things in your cart are things you really intended to buy, or “did they hop in your cart?” If you’re vacillating about a particular pending purchase, write down the price and details, take a photo of the item if you can, and think about it for a few days before buying.
Create a system where you’re saving for things that might cause disruptions, expenses that don’t come up all the time but will eventually and may throw your budget and peace of mind off. Like a vet mini-account for when the dog needs to have shots etc., she advises. You can do the same with a mini-clothing budget, a shoe budget, a pampering budget for when you’re getting your hair done, and the like, putting a certain amount aside each month. Crowe said when she implemented this system in her own life; it really revolutionized her personal money management. “You’re going to feel really good when you see that (account) building up,” she said.
Crowe believes that every purchase a person makes is going to affect his or her future somehow; in accordance with this, she encouraged everyone to be mindful of where the money is going. “I want you to dream again,” she said; discussing tools to be able to dream, set priorities and goals.
Kirkendoll-Hardy, who is an accountant and financial advisor, raised the question, “What does financial success or financial security mean to you? It’s different for each person,” she declared, describing how it’s essentially about having “enough for what we want to do.”
Pointing out that “we all have a similar story” in having loved ones that passed away too soon, Kirkendoll-Hardy went on to bring up the issue of final expenses. Having “the conversation” can be hard to do, she acknowledges, but planning ahead is important. “Look at it as a love letter to the family,” she stated.
For those that say, “I don’t have anything!” she said she counters, “You have a pair of socks…Do you really want the state to decide who gets them, and your stuff?”
Next week: We’ll share highlights from the sex and reproductive health workshop, and from the riveting closing speaker, Hitaji Aziz. Starting in November, Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness will hold monthly wellness workshops, so stay tuned for more information.