Friends and later colleagues for 38 years, two Black female doctors had a vision to help America’s most forgotten and at-risk demographic.
Black women ages 40 to 75 now top the list for having the highest risk of death due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes as compared to any of their female counterparts. The statistics prompted Drs. Gayle Porter and Marilyn Gaston to create Prime Time Sister Circles (PTSC) as a source of support.
“Many years ago we did a special about Black women’s health on BET with Pam Grier and former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt,” said Porter, a licensed clinical psychologist. “Afterwards we got great feedback — women wanted to know more. We looked everywhere and there weren’t many health and wellness books for Black women.”
In 2001, still unable to locate literature specifically aimed at Black women, the duo decided to write their own book which they titled “Prime Time: The African-American Woman’s Complete Guide to Midlife Health & Wellness.”
The book remains a novelty in the health category focused on African-American women in the midlife age group, spelling out strategies for Black women to utilize to gain better control over their physical and mental health.
In 2003, the two physicians launched their second collaboration, the Sister Circles, throughout the greater Washington area. Several years later they expanded the initiative to Orlando, Chicago, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
“This is a program that will help you stay healthy in terms of your weight, stress and activity level while also providing opportunities [for Black women] to talk and bond with other women,” said Gaston, a retired assistant surgeon general.
PTSC consists of a 12-week session designed to be a culture-, gender- and age-specific program facilitated as an interactive support group. At each meeting the participants receive a free meal.
“We meet for two hours a week and on Saturday mornings in community-based settings like churches, libraries, community and health centers and the lobbies of apartment buildings,” Porter said.
Porter added that when necessary the Sister Circles will go to the buildings in which the women live.
“Every two weeks throughout the program we bring in dieticians, weight management coaches and specialists in mental health who engage the women and share their expertise,” she said.
The doctors assert that the free program has maintained its funding for the past 14 years through donations provided by foundations and government entities.
“I think we have been successful because we understand the cultural component,” Gaston said. “It’s not really about race but culture — having a keen understanding of the community with which we are dealing.”
PTSC officers sessions twice annually during the spring and fall with goals that include motivating women to improve their health outcomes, reduce obesity and better understand the challenges they face due to their specific chronic illnesses.
“We want to help make our community the healthiest it can be,” Porter said. “We know that keeping Black women healthy keeps our entire community healthy.”
This year’s spring session of the Prime Time Sister Circles kicked off in March.
For more information call 202-403-6266 or visit www.gastonandporter.org.