The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness inspires women to live heart-healthy lives

On Saturday, Feb. 18, Goodman Community Center in Madison was a vibrant scene of smiling women in red as about 175 women gathered in person and virtually for the 12th annual Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness (FFBWW) Wear Red Day. The free event was a special time for women to gather together and learn how to identify, prevent, live with and survive heart disease.  

“For Black women, cardiovascular ailments represent the number one threat to a healthy life,” said Founder, President and CEO Lisa M. Peyton. “Through Wear Red Day, we aim to help women get more informed, more empowered and more inspired to refuse to let heart disease make a deep impact on our lives.” 

The Foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, growing from a one-woman grassroots organization to a staff of 16 serving more than 7,000 Black women in Dane County each year and leading statewide advocacy efforts.  

“The Foundation exists to promote health and well-being,” said Peyton. “Living a healthy life starts with making good decisions in our personal lives. It also requires us to make social changes to remove the stressors and inequities that surround us as Black women.” 

FFBWW addresses the systematic issues causing stress in Black women’s lives, and in its decade-long history has brought visibility and accountability to Black women’s health across Wisconsin.  

In the keynote address, Dr. Eva Vivian from the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy and president of the African American Health Network of Dane County focused on stress and its mind-body connection. 

“Black women face so many stressors as caregivers and breadwinners, and they experience ongoing racism on a regular basis,” said Vivian. “Many have adapted with unhealthy coping mechanisms.” 

Vivian discussed barriers to a healthy lifestyle and ways to overcome those barriers, emphasizing there’s so much women can do to support each other. She also stressed the importance of healthy eating. 

“We need to replace unhealthy habits with healthy habits,” she said. “If you’re upset, rather than eating potato chips, go for a walk or meditate.” 

Vivian appreciates the opportunities FFBWW provides for women to socialize and support each other, to share and learn from one another.  

Event participants also enjoyed impactful presentations by heart health advocate Diamond Wimbley, Well Black Woman® Institute Fellow, who shared ideas on how to make a difference through one’s voice and actions, and Alia Stevenson, FFBWW Chief Development & Partnerships Officer, who shared her story of surviving postpartum cardiomyopathy.  

Christine Russell, FFBWW Director of Health & Wellness Programs, explained FFBWW is here to help women heal after traumatic experiences.  

“It’s important to manage our stress and to regain control so we can improve our lives,” she said. “We have the power to be healthy by exercising, eating healthy, reducing stress and building community with other women.” 

Wear Red Day was just the beginning of big plans for 2023. FFBWW has several programs, including walking collectives, Project Live Well, which includes quarterly wellness challenges, and Morning Coffee, featuring speakers from around the country. The Foundation hosts a Lupus Support Group and a Cancer Thrivers Circle, both which help women thrive through their journeys by providing education, support and resources. In addition, FFBWW is partnering with Vivian on a new program — the Hope Project, a diabetes screening and prevention program for Black grandmothers.  

According to Russell, these programs are steppingstones along the journey of a Black woman’s life and provide wrap-around service and support, like the FFBWW community wraps its arms around Black women.  

“Wear Red Day was an incredible day and reminded us of all that we deserve to take care of ourselves,” she said. 

Peyton agrees, and she hopes women left with life-saving information they can use immediately and feel empowered to take action to make positive changes in their life. She believes Wear Red Day was successful in joining women together, dressed in their red best, to create and sustain a communal sisterhood where Black women can live healthy, happy and thriving lives.