MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Janette Robinson-Flint was one of six enthusiastic and determined women who co-founded Black Women for Wellness because they were concerned about the health and well-being of Black babies.
That was back in the 1990s when the original focus was to team up with the Birthing Project to implement the Shangazi Program, which matched pregnant women to mentors who coached parents from pregnancy until the child was at least a year old.
It wasn’t long before Black Women for Wellness became a nonprofit in 1997 and expanded its efforts in healthcare access, reducing the toxic hair care chemicals in the black community and building political advocacy in California.
Today, Black Women for Wellness is still committed to the health and well-being of Black women and girls through health education, empowerment, and advocacy, and Flint, a co-founder, and the CEO for the last 22 years is just as passionate now as she was then about making sure the health of Black women is a priority.
“When we started out, it was about the health of Black women,” said Robinson-Flint. “It was about, how do we help ourselves? We know how to figure out solutions that work best for us. We can figure out stuff if we have space and resources to do it. Because of who we are, most of the time we’re trying to help other people.”
Robinson-Flint said the most important thing a Black woman needs to know is that she is the master of her health.
“No one knows your body better than you,” she said. “Pay attention to you. Your body gives you signals and clues and helps to make sure you are healthy and well.”
Robinson-Flint said Black Women for Wellness recognizes that no one, including Black women, can be in total control of their health. There are some outside influences that can make it arduous.
“We live in a society where there is so much that influences our health and well being,” said Robinson-Flint, a mother of one. “Since COVID-19, the air has cleaned up considerably because there is not as much bus or car traffic. We have had the chance to breathe a little bit. The air influences our health and well-being.
“Black women are concerned about water. Sometimes it’s brown water, it’s smelly water, it’s water with stuff in it. We have got to learn how to control the system that controls our water and air. We live in neighborhoods where water is not good, and where good, healthy food is inaccessible and the air is bad.”
A huge problem, Robinson-Flint said, is that there are not enough stores with good, fresh fruit, produce, and overall healthy food.
“Martin Luther King Boulevard is a major street in our community,” she said. “I can drive a long stretch of that street and never pass a single grocery store. Not a Ralph’s, not a Vons, not a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s. If we don’t have access to good food — it doesn’t matter if we’re looking out for our health. It’s more than us taking responsibility for our health, it’s about changing a system that is oppressive like the police system that criminalizes us. Don’t blame the victim of the crime. The deck has been set against us.”
Black Women for Wellness has a number of programs in place to assist women on their journey.
One of them is Sisters@Eight, a community forum, which brings hot topics and major health and wellness issues to the forefront of public conversation.
Another is Reproductive Justice, which sponsors and/or supports bills that affect the reproductive health choices of women and girls. The reproductive justice team also partners on coalitions with other organizations in California and throughout the nation.
Get Smart B4U Get Sexy is a comprehensive sex education program that provides prevention and intervention resources for youth and young adults (ages 12–30) particularly those who are African American and/or Black, female, in foster care systems and/or at high risk for sexually transmitted infections.
Other programs include Voting Rules Everything Around Me, Daughters & Sons of Technology, Environmental Justice, Diabetes Prevention Program, and Kitchen Divas.
The organization has had to pivot its programming, which is now virtual.
“We’ve had to switch up our operations a bit,” said Robinson-Flint, a Chicago native. “We’ve changed in a number of ways. The first is that the organization used to be very hands-on. We were very touchy-feely with the folks we worked with.
“One of our programs, Kitchen Diva, used to be held at YMCAs and at some churches. Our goal is to teach women how to prepare and cook good food. Now it can’t happen for the moment. So, we decided to film the classes. We filmed three cooking classes. Now they can watch online.”
The organization’s Wellness Wednesday program has also been moved online. Wellness Wednesday, offered at noon, features a variety of speakers, yoga instructors, herbalists, physical trainers, a lifestyle coach, and chefs. The one-hour sessions are for people looking for different modes of care.
Every Thursday, Black Women for Wellness hosts a food distribution program. It gives away a bag of produce and a hot meal prepared by black vegan and vegetarian caterers.
“We didn’t do it before COVID,” said Robinson-Flint. “But we recognized there was a need. We know people need food. We also noticed that stores are price-gouging on food. That’s another reason why we decided to start the giveaway. We feed between 65-80 families every week.”
On occasion, Black Women for Wellness throws its hat into the political fray. An advocate for change, the organization was instrumental in supporting SB 464, the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act, which will help reduce the effects of implicit bias in pregnancy, childbirth, and postnatal care so that health care providers treat all pregnant women, regardless of race and ethnicity with dignity and respect.
“That was our policy,” said Robinson-Flint. “We were concerned about and questioned why Black women are dying after giving birth and why Black babies are dying. Our bill required health care professionals to be trained in implied bias. This bill passed.”
Black Women for Wellness believes in the strength and wisdom of the community and allies. They believe that they have the solutions resources and responsibility to create the shifts and changes needed to impact their health status.
On its website, it says, “Each of us must develop our personal power, hold accountable and support acknowledged leadership, and most importantly, contribute to our survival and growth as a community.”
“I appreciate our beauty, our resilience, creativity and our resolve,” said Robinson-Flint. “That’s what I love about Black women. We are the moral compass of this country and the world. We are continuing to evolve and figure it out. Take us to that bold new world. Let Black women figure it out so it will be a better world.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Darlene Donloe