The Business Forum Luncheon hosts the Foundation for Black Women's Wellness
A. David Dahmer
“I saw my mother release life at a time when she should have been able to retire and to enjoy the life she built from the hard, arduous work that she had committed herself to. From the time she was a teenager, she was always ready and willing to support her family,” said Lisa Peyton-Caire. “She should have been able to see her children and grandchildren and enjoy the home that she had gone out of her way to purchase.
“We had these big dreams of how life would unfold after we could finally pull her out of this hairdresser job and make her sit down and stop feeling responsible for everyone and everything,” Peyton-Caire added. “But it was not to be. She released that last breath in that hospital room and in that moment it changed my life.”
Peyton-Caire, the founder of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, was the keynote speaker at The Business Forum Luncheon at the Madison Club on April 3 where she discussed how the early death of her mother led her to build a non-profit organization committed to empowering black women and girls to build and sustain healthy and thriving wellness-centered lives.
The Business Forum is a professional organization for women who want to expand their network of meaningful business connections and to make a difference in other's lives. In 1987, Anne Ross and Roz Anderson of Foley & Lardner saw a need for a supportive network for women working in the business, government, education and non-profit sectors. Each contacted seven other women who shared their vision. Together, these 16 women made up the Steering Committee that set The Business Forum (TBF) in motion.
Peyton-Caire's Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness is a project that grew out of a painful personal experience — the loss of her mother to heart disease at just 64 years old. Peyton Caire is also founder of Black Women's Wellness Day, an annual health summit that aims to inform, inspire, and empower women and girls of African descent to build and sustain healthy, wellness-centered lives.
Black Women's Wellness Day was first observed in Bowie, Maryland on Friday, May 22, 2009 in honor of Peyton-Caire's mother and has been celebrated in Madison every year since.
Roberta Peyton, Peyton-Caire told the luncheon crowd, was a single mother who worked 12 to 14 hours every day at a hair salon and had a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit.
“With hard work, not only did she hold our family together but she played this central role in really supporting an entire extended family,” Peyton-Caire remembered.
One day, Roberta Peyton was in her car getting ready for a long day of work when she felt funny. She would soon have to have triple-bypass open-heart surgery a day after having a silent, painless heart attack at the age of 48. “She was not a smoker; not a drinker. She did have a great deal of stress,” Peyton-Caire remembered. “She would go on to recover from that but I would say that she was never the same.”
Roberta Peyton would continue to deal with health issues before succumbing to heart disease at the age of 64. In 2008, Peyton-Caire founded the annual Black Women’s Wellness Day to empower women to improve their health through personal choice, education and behavior change.
“Our vision is that we will create a world where Black women and girls and their families will live long, healthy, happy, thriving lives unhampered by preventable illnesses and characterized by strong bodies, stable minds, fulfilled spirits, and dreams realized,” Peyton-Caire said.
Black women, Peyton-Caire said, are more likely than their white peers to die from heart disease, cancer, and stroke; to be obese or overweight, or to be diagnosed with HIV. She added that we need not look far within our families or to read local, state, and national reports to conclude that the health of African American women is in a state of duress.
“Today, African American women account for roughly 7 percent of the U.S. population and 14 percent percent of the total population of women, yet are over-represented in all major categories of disease and illness, including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, obesity, and reproductive disorders,” Peyton-Caire told the crowd.
“We can heal a community and we can heal a nation. But it starts with the women and we're seeing that to be true as we continue this work,” she added. “Our goal is to ultimately empower and equip [women] to facilitate their capacity to solve these challenges on their own.
“Why should this matter to all of us?” Peyton-Caire asked. “It takes all of us as women — across boundaries and borders — to really get involved in the concerns of our community whether they directly impact us or not. We couldn't do this work without the support of a whole lot of people and we know that we can't grow this work without the support of a whole lot of people.”
Peyton-Caire closed her speech quoting Ella Baker who once said, “Shine your light and people will find their way.”
“Through our work in the [Black Women's Wellness] Foundation and through The Business Forum's work, if we focus on shining the light and illuminating those things that are most critical for ourselves as women, people will find their way and the world will be better because of it.”