The Foundation for Black Women's Wellness teamed up with the United Way of Dane County on Saturday, May 18th to host a special mini-summit, Black Women & Girls: Moving Our Way to Wellness at the Urban League of Greater Madison. The session aimed to gather challenges and solutions about how to get local African American women and girls more active and engaged in regular physical activity. Community and health organization representatives from the YMCA, Madison School Community Recreation, and Public Health Madison-Dane County were in attendance as part of the United Way's Physical Activity Delegation to listen and record the feedback from the 30 women and girls of all ages who attended. 

Click here to view pics from the session, and see more at our Black Women's Wellness Day Facebook page.

The session was hosted in response to concerns about the Black women and girls' physical health, and both national and local statistics that show this group to be the least physically active among their peers beginning in the teen years and continuing into adulthood. According to the 2012 Dane County Youth Assessment, girls of all backgrounds appear to experience a drop in their levels of physical activity as they leave middle school, but Black girls are more likely to be sedentary than others, consuming more hours of television and, others suspect, spending more time taking care of siblings or family needs. This trend continues into adulthood, resulting in statistics from the National Black Women's Health Imperative that contend that more than half of adult Black women are physically inactive (not regularly exercising), and that 80% of Black women are obese or overweight and shouldering the burden of alarming health disparities.

Many insights were shared about challenges, including lack of access to proper facilities, gyms, community centers, to safe or well-lit walking or bike paths in their neighborhoods, or to affordable fitness classes. Other challenges included changing hard-wired habits and routines that don't regularly include exercise because of work schedules and family obligations, and the unique struggles some Black women and girls face in maintaining their hair during and after exercise. 

"Hair can be a real hassle when you have to go to school or work, but just sweat your hair out running or working out at the gym", said one young participant. "There's a lot of pressure on Black girls and their hair, and some may choose not to work out or exercise to avoid having to do the extra work which can take a lot of time, money, and energy". 

Many women agreed that hair should not be a barrier or an excuse to avoid exercise given the stark health disparities facing Black women as a group. Several suggested natural hairstyles, special hair scarves, and a change in attitudes and perceptions about hair and beauty standards as solutions to beat this challenge. Others called for a complete overhaul of how many Black women approach exercise and minding their health. 

"So often as Black women we are raised and trained to work hard, to take care of family, community, and business--but not often enough to prioritize our health", said Lisa Peyton-Caire, founder of the Foundation and facilitator of the session. "We grow up seeing our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and other women in our extended community shouldering huge responsibilities, acting as heads of households, and working hard--sometimes two and three jobs--to make ends meet and to take care of everyone else. This is a part of our unique American experience, and although we're strong and deserve accolades for all we have and continue to do to sustain our communities, we have to change the way we operate in order to save our lives."

Marilyn Peebles-Ruffin, organizer of the Madison Tubman Walkers--a local walking and fitness collective launched in March in conjunction with the National GirlTrek organization--shared similar sentiments. "There is so much we can do right now, today, to get ourselves in better shape and to improve our health. Walking for just 30 minutes, five days a week is a good place to start, and we invite each of you to come out and join us for our monthly and weekly walks. If you can't, you can always walk alone--but by all means, get moving". 

Feedback and solutions from the session will be used to inform community-wide efforts to improve and expand physical activity opportunities and better health for all Dane County residents. --