Community Conversations: Sister to Sister was officially founded in Cambridge, MA in 2009.
Over the past 20 years, CC co-founder Dita Obler often found herself engaged in rich, deep and not infrequently challenging and profound conversations that occur daily at her local Cambridge hair salon. Sometimes these conversations touched on medical questions or concerns. As a genetic counselor with experience in navigating the complex maze of medical systems in Metro Boston, she found herself informally sharing medical information, strategies, resources and guidance with other patrons at the salon. These conversations exposed a pressing community desire for more, better, and easily accessible information and resources.
As a long standing patron of the salon, and friend of the owner, Dita recognized a unique opportunity. The salon already had a well established culture of exploring challenging ideas as a community. Here was a natural chance to bring into a community setting some of the many local medical, scientific and public health resources available. Given the culture of conversation already active within the salon, why not provide information and resources, while examining the very real barriers to improved health and well being, in a place where folks already felt comfortable.
Reaching out to Erinn Pearson, the salon owner and main stylist, and their mutual friend Shelley Flaherty who also happened to be a childhood friend of Erinn’s and a long-term patron at the salon, Dita pitched the idea of a series hosted at the salon that brings Black women together -- health care providers and consumers of health services -- to explore health challenges, information and opportunities that affect Black women, families and communities.
That organic pilot grew to include a community of nearly 500 healthcare consumers, providers, and community partners. Today, we cover a wide variety of health topics that include physical, behavioral and mental health, cognitive well-being, family and community health, and social support and networks. Our topics are selected based on input from community members, a Community Steering Committee, and a recruited faculty of women providers drawn from medicine, public health, and science.
Dita Obler, MS, CGC
Since 2009, Dita has spearheaded Community Conversations, developing and facilitating all programming, community outreach, faculty and intern recruitment, and infrastructure building. This initiative operates under her consulting practice, Genetic Consulting & Counseling. She gained extensive experience as a genetic counselor in the Department of Cardiology at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, a Harvard Medical School-affiliated hospital. During eight years at BCH, she provided clinical care, advocacy, and bereavement and loss consultations; developed educational materials and innovative programming; and created access to research opportunities. Holding a Master's degree in Genetic Counseling, she is licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Board Certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. She has published in her field.
Shelley was born and raised in the Cambridgeport community before moving to Camp LeJuene, NC in 1992 to join her husband. The mother of 4 children, all currently attending area colleges, she met Dita after returning to the area in 1999 when their daughters became friends in their afterschool program. The mother of twins, she became interested in family health and health disparities while on bed rest for 7 months before their birth at 29 weeks. After moving back to the area, her twin’s health issues continued, so in 2008 when Dita approached her about starting a program that would bring black women in the area together with Black women providers to address the barriers to receiving good health care, she jumped at the opportunity. Coming from a typical African American family with the big three: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, she says, “The idea that I could help facilitate a way to better health outcomes in my community seemed too good to be true. If something as simple as having a conversation with people you feel comfortable with, in a non-threatening environment could provide myself and other women like me with the information and confidence to be advocates for ourselves and others I was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen.”
Erinn has spent the past 20+ years developing an expertise in the advanced care of healthy hair and scalp. As Owner and Head Stylist of Simply Erinn's, she specializes in hair of all textures. Erinn is committed to all aspects of women’s health including her important work with the “Cut it Out” project offering a front line defense against domestic violence. SEUHS hosts monthly Community Conversations for Women of Color called “Sister to Sister”, which is led by Professional Healthcare Practitioners who are Minorities as well. She was chosen in October of 2015 as one of Cambridge YWCA’s “Outstanding Women”. In the same month she was also nominated as one of “Thrives Finalists”, in which being a business owner who has completed the StreetWise ‘MBA’™/StreetWise Steps™ curriculum. Also, one who has exemplified Thrives mission by demonstrating an outstanding commitment to her community.Erinn resides in Cambridge, Mass. where you’ll find her in her Salon trying to give everyone who has stopped by to see her, a hug with one hand and a flat iron in the other.