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Thursday, February 13, 2020

By Abigail Becker

 

MADISON, Wis. (AP)—After using different spaces around the community for about eight years, Lisa Peyton-Caire, her Foundation for Black Women's Wellness and the women they serve in Madison and Dane County have a permanent place to call home.

Peyton-Caire and dozens of community members, partners and supporters filled the welcoming Black Women's Wellness Center at 6601 Grand Teton Plaza in Suite A2 on the city's west side. The foundation began in 2011 and aims to help women transform their own lives and disrupt health disparities facing Black women.

“Today we can say, ‘Come over to the center. We've got what you need,”' Peyton-Caire, founding CEO and president, said at the grand opening ceremony on Feb. 1, The Capital Times reported.

The center is a physical manifestation and a years-long evolution of Peyton-Caire's work that she began in 2011 after moving to Madison. At that time, she hosted the first Black Women's Wellness Day in Madison and created the foundation.

The space evokes a positive energy. An entryway marked by green curtains, a round mirror and painted orange walls encourage visitors to let out a sigh and feel held.

“In our space, in our house, we are family, and we embrace you as that,” Peyton-Caire said.

Through the entryway and to the right, there is an intimate lounge with seating. The largest room with mirrors on the orange walls makes the space useful for fitness classes. Artwork lining the walls prominently feature images of Black women, including photographs of foundation board members.

“I just get pure joy when I walk in the door every day,” Peyton-Caire said. “This is our space. It has our fingerprints all over it.”

The new center will allow the foundation to continue its work of serving Black women. The foundation offers programming for women such as fitness and nutrition classes, yoga and, ultimately, a support system.

“What we're all about is building community and building relationships and connections that spur women ahead in a common trajectory of living their healthiest lives,” Peyton-Caire said.

Founding board member and treasurer Corinda Rainey-Moore said the mission of the foundation is not only for Black women to improve their health outcomes but to take ownership of their health.

Rainey-Moore described the center as a place for encouragement and accountability.

“Oftentimes, we suffer in silence and this space will create that opportunity where folks can share, and they don't have to hide,” Rainey-Moore said. “They can get rid of the stigmas of what they're going through and have people to support them.”

 

‘Personal work'

Peyton-Caire's work to improve the health and wellness of Black women is personal.

Her mother died at 64 years old from congestive heart failure. Since then, Peyton-Caire has committed herself to support women in their health journey and to disrupt the disparities that affect the health outcomes of Black women.

UW Health's 2016 Health Needs Assessment reports racial disparities in health behaviors, clinical care, socioeconomic factors and the physical environment. These factors contribute to Dane County's health outcomes, which show racial disparities in infant mortality, death rate due to stroke and diabetes, low birthweight babies, asthma exacerbation and the prevalence of mental health conditions.

The foundation honors Peyton-Caire's mother with a framed portrait that will be displayed in the center.

“Her life, how powerful and meaningful it was, is recreated in this space,” Peyton-Caire said.

Tamara Washington, an ambassador for the foundation and a member of the planning team, said her mother also died young and she has lost several friends to preventable illnesses. She said the Black Women's Wellness Foundation gives her the “boost” she needs to continue her wellness journey.

Washington described the community created through the organization as a “lifeline” and a group of sisters. She recalled moving to Madison from Illinois and not having connections to a community.

“Being pulled into this gives me a place to come and be myself,” Washington said. “This is just a place where we can be strong—and be weak if we need too—and we have the support here.”

 

Partnerships ‘elevate' work

The center will also serve as a location to meet with the foundation's many partners, including Group Health Cooperative, SSM Health, UnithyPoint Health Meriter and UW Health through the Healthy Dane Funders.

Other anchor sponsors include the Wisconsin Partnership Program, Madison Gas and Electric, the Mary Burke Fund for Women & Girls and the Wisconsin Department of Health's Wisconsin Minority Health Program.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Peyton-Caire thanked numerous individual community members and groups, like Operation Fresh Start, who have supported the foundation and the opening of the new center.

Peyton-Caire emphasized that the health disparities facing Black women are not one community's problem.

“This place was made possible by everyone in our community,” Peyton-Caire said. “That's what it takes to empower Black women's health, that's what it takes to elevate Black women's health in our community.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi attended the event and both spoke to lifting up the work of Peyton-Caire. On the first day of Black History Month, Parisi remarked that the foundation was starting a “new chapter for Black women's history.”

“Our entire community will be better when every Black woman in Madison and Dane County is truly well,” Rhodes-Conway said.