Black Women’s Health Imperative
Black Women's Health Imperative, previously the National Black Women's Health Project, was formed in 1984 in Atlanta, Georgia out of a need to address the health and reproductive rights of African American women. NBWHP was principally founded by Byllye Avery. Avery was involved in reproductive healthcare work in Gainesville, Florida in the 1970s and was particularly influenced by the impact that policy had on women of color and poor women. Additionally Avery was also concerned with healthcare choices and wanted "to provide an environment where women could feel comfortable and take control of their own health" (Silliman et al., 66).
Lillie Allen, a healthcare educator, (who is not formally listed on the organization's website but is cited in other sources) was primarily concerned with birthing choices of African Americans as well as internalized racism within the community. Both women worked with the National Women's Health Network and started the project within the organization.
Eventually they extracted "The Project" from the NWHN because of concern regarding the lack of focus on the issues facing black women and poor women which played out through the events that occurred during and the National Conference on Black Women's Health Issues at Spelman College in 1983 (Silliman et al., 69). Because of the two main focuses on self-help and the medical establishment as an institution, the NBWHP ebb and flows between a grassroots operation that focuses on the community of women and one that focused on policy. By 1987, the National Black Women's Health Project were headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia and housed offices in Brooklyn, New York and the Bay Area of California. The New York City office was directed by Gwen Braxton. The National Black Women's Health Project later opened an office in Washington, DC to address policy issues and moved their headquarters to Washington, DC. NBWHP has changed their name to the Black Women's Health Imperative.
The project's five Health Imperatives for Black Women are:
- Make black women's health an imperative for federal and state governments and communities.
- Work to eliminate the health disparities that exist for black women.
- Ensure that black women have access to reproductive health options, are empowered to make real choices and are assured of privacy in reproductive decision-making.
- Reduce the high death rates among black women from preventable causes.
- Increase access to health insurance coverage for black women and their families.
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National Black Women's Health Project initiated projects that were geared towards the totality of women's health in addition to reproductive healthcare. The projects included "Walking for Wellness [that featured]…Wilma Rudolph, to encourage African American women to improve their health through exercise" (Silliman et al., 77). Additional programs included education about birth control options as well as a video to encourage women to look at their vaginas through self-exam. On their website there are resources regarding healthcare issues as well choices. The NBWHP publish the book, Body and Soul: A Black Women's Guide to Health and Well-Being by Linda Villarosa and Our Bodies, Our Voice, Our Choices which serves as "a black women's primer on reproductive health and rights" (Silliman et al., 78).
During the 1992 March for Women's Lives, there was conflict in the planning of the march between NOW and smaller feminist groups of color. The protest was headed by Byllye Avery because of the continuation of issues concerning race and representation. While organizations eventually were asked to speak many stood in solidarity with Avery because "she was the first woman of color to come forward publicly and nationally for reproductive rights" (Suh 89).
- Avery, Byllye (Fall 1991). "Empowerment through wellness". Yale Journal of Law and Feminism. Yale Law School. 4 (1): 147–154. Pdf.
- Silliman, Jael, Fried, Marlene Gerber, Ross, Loretta, and Gutierrez, Elena R. Undivided rights: women of color organize for reproductive justice. Massachusetts: South End Press, 2004.
- Suh, Mary. "Who's sorry NOW? Women of color protest pro-choice march" MS July 1992: 88-89
- Train, Judy. "Touch of Genius" MS October 1989: 71-72
- Black Women's Health Imperative. 2009. 1 November 2009. <http://www.blackwomenshealth.org/>