Black Women's Wellness Day 2016

Dr. Jasmine Zapata, center, leads a session discussing teen health at the Black Women's Wellness Day in Madison in 2016.

Capital Times archives

After her mother died from heart disease at age 64, Lisa Peyton-Caire wrote down the names of other black women she knew who died from preventable illness in their 40s, 50s or 60s.

There were dozens.

“It really made me pause and ask, What is going on? And why is no one screaming about it from a mountain top?” she said.

Peyton-Caire organized Black Women’s Wellness Day to encourage black women to take ownership of their health and work on solutions to health disparities they face.

The ninth annual event, on Saturday at the Alliant Energy Center, will bring some 500 black women together to address the individual and communal challenges.

It’s no easy task, statistics suggest. In Wisconsin, blacks have higher rates of cancer, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity and smoking than whites, according to the state Department of Health Services.

They also have worse outcomes for chronic diseases such as stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol and asthma.

Life expectancy in the state is 82 years for white women, 87 years for Asian women and 89 for Hispanic women. For black women, it’s 76 years.

The problems stem from a variety of factors, including stress, poverty and lack of education, the health department says.

Peyton-Caire said her mother, who grew up poor in segregated Virginia and rarely saw a doctor, struggled to run a hair salon and care for her children after getting divorced.

She had a heart attack, leading to open-heart surgery, at 48. After another heart surgery at 64, she died.

“The stress of systemic racism and the social environment — social pressure that contributes to stress — piled up over a lifetime,” Peyton-Caire said.

As a college graduate, Peyton-Caire, 45, is economically better off than her mother was. She is assistant vice president of life, learning and events at Summit Credit Union. She and husband Kaleem Caire have five children, ages 10 to 24.

She’s trying to create a better life for her children, as her mother did, while maintaining her health in a way her mother didn’t.

“I’ve got to balance work, career, family and community — volunteerism and leadership, activism and advocacy — in a way where I can also live and breathe. That’s a challenge,” she said.

“Self-care is a critical piece. I did not witness a great deal of self-care among the women in my family. I witnessed women working, working, working and then working more, shouldering a lot of responsibility.”

Peyton-Caire’s Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, which runs the annual wellness day, also has smaller events throughout the year, including some targeting black teens and girls.

The keynote speaker for Saturday’s sold-out event is Susan Taylor, former chief editor of Essence magazine and founder of the National CARES Mentoring Movement.

Some sessions will explore societal challenges that influence health problems, such as boosting the minimum wage and reducing incarceration rates and increasing graduation rates among blacks.

“We will not solve health disparities and health gaps until we’ve solved economic and education gaps,” Peyton-Caire said.

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David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.