When Drs. Marilyn Gaston and Gayle Porter started Prime Time Sister Circles in the Washington, D.C. area, their goal was to create a revolution in health for black women. An extension of their 2001 book, Prime Time: The African American Woman’s Complete Guide to Midlife Health and Wellness, they initiated a series of these three-month programs to encourage healthy eating and stress management in this demographic.
A free service funded through foundation grants, Prime Time Sister Circles unite black women seeking emotional support as they gain important health information during weekly meetings. The groups have helped thousands of African-American women improve their lives.
“The first circles were held at a pair of Washington churches in 2003 — 10 women at St. Thomas Moore and 10 at People’s Congregational. Since then, the meetings have been held around the region,” The Washington Post reports. “Nearly 3,000 women in four states and seven cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore, have participated.”
Gaston, 73, and Porter, 66 — a former assistant surgeon general and a clinical psychologist respectively — started these venues for African-American women in midlife, because many are hit with serious health diagnoses at this time while serving as pivotal hubs in their communities.
At middle age, “their blood pressure’s starting to go up and their blood sugar’s going up and weight’s going up and they want to know what to do about it,” Gaston noted to the Post. “If you can change just one midlife woman’s health behavior, you have a ripple effect. She’s going to change her whole family. She’s going to change her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren. She’s going to change the church she’s going to every Sunday, her workplace, her community.”
One participant, Theresa McAlpine, saw a blood pressure reduction of 20 points after completing the program. But more important were the changes in eating and more often seeking support from her family that led to greater well-being. She, like many Prime Time Sister Circle alumna, credits the group with giving her the foundation necessary to take proper care of herself.
“I really looked forward to going every week,” McAlpine said. “You can kind of let your hair down and be who you are. It wasn’t a judgmental type of environment, which was very important to me.”
The net result is that Prime Time Sister Circles are helping ladies like McAlpine address the health care disparities that disproportionately affect African-American women, in part by providing the emotional support that helps relieve stress.
“The women who go through our program tell us that this program saved their lives,” Porter elaborated.
The organization’s success has inspired the founders to create even more programs. While currently Prime Time Sister Circles are for African-American women aged 40-75, Gaston and Porter will be expanding their outreach to support younger women, mothers of children with special needs, and women of all races.
“Our goal is to do everything we can to start a health movement that will allow all of us to be healthier and to live not just longer,” Gaston said about the initiative’s goals, “but [also] improve the quality of our lives.”
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.