A nonprofit founder envisions a new path

Lisa Peyton Caire in front of a sign

By Lisa Peyton-Caire

As I walk through the empty stillness of our recently opened Black Women’s Wellness Center, I am struck by just how deeply the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives overnight. As I check the mail and water the plants, I am keenly aware of the sound of my footsteps in a space that only a few weeks ago was filled with life, laughter and the celebratory zeal of a dream achieved and a new chapter.

Opening the doors of our center this past January was a highlight of our organization’s nine year history — a major milestone in our journey to secure a physical space to house our work and engage women and partners more deeply in the work of elevating black women’s health. Our grand opening celebration on Feb. 1 was a history-making moment, packed wall to wall with community members, donors and friends, all wrapped in a gleeful haze of pride in having helped achieve this milestone together.

As we gathered, there was no sense of an encroaching danger, no outcry by public officials of an imminent threat, no thought of social distancing. Only excitement about our plans to do more as we welcomed new staff, launched new programming, and witnessed the first signs of confirmation of just how needed our center is in a community where black women and their families are hardest hit by racial health disparities.

Over the past several weeks since closing our doors in mid-March, we’ve witnessed the devastating impact of COVID-19, not only on our community and nation at-large, but particularly on African American communities across the U.S. Right here in Wisconsin, we’ve seen the alarming impact of the pandemic on Milwaukee’s black community. Within our own organization and network, we now know someone who has been diagnosed, hospitalized or whose loved one is sick, deceased or thankfully, recovered. And though our public health numbers remain less alarming in Dane County, we know the economic impact of job losses, furloughs and financial instability is hitting black women and families the hardest.

Like many organizations, we’ve turned our attention not only to crisis response, but to fostering resilience and recovery among the women and families we serve. We’ve moved our programming and operations online, are uncovering new ways to engage our community beyond the walls of our building, and are envisioning new ways to do what we do as an organization committed to empowering a generation of well black women. It remains an exciting, albeit serious, time of opportunity to create new solutions and build new alliances and accountabilities that truly advance the well-being of our most vulnerable and under-served communities.

As COVID-19 illuminates the long-standing inequities and gaps inherent in all of our systems, it’s time to take unprecedented steps together as a community to disrupt disparities and build opportunity and prosperity for all.

What we do right now as we shift from crisis to recovery will be a defining moment for our community like none we’ve ever faced. I’m trusting that we will make it count.

Lisa Peyton-Caire is founder, CEO and president of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness.