WHO WE ARE
Community Conversations: Sister to Sister, a women’s health initiative, is an open forum to explore health issues of relevance to Black women and their families.
Startling disparities in morbidity, mortality, and access to high quality healthcare for U.S. Black women are well-documented. To combat these disparities, we host monthly meetings in a local hair salon that bring together Black women with a rotating multidisciplinary team of Black women health professionals for informal and candid conversation. Having regular opportunities to meet with other Black women to discuss health and practice health-related conversations can improve our participants' health and wellness experience. Through our efforts, we:
Build a sense of community.
Address the legacy of mistrust between the Black and medical communities to foster greater access to healthcare resources.
Consider the root causes of socioeconomic ills and provide solutions.
Prioritize women’s health and promote self-care as an essential part of a woman’s role within the family.
Community Conversations aims to:
• Remove barriers to improved health outcomes in the Black community by providing a forum for open and honest dialogue between key stakeholders.
• Empower community participants as they navigate the medical system in search for the highest quality care for themselves and their families.
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.
EXPANDED AND ADAPTED THE RECOGNIZED BARBERSHOP/SALON MODEL
A NEW "HEALTH CARE TEAM" OF CONSUMERS AND FACULTY
PROMOTE HEALTH AND WELLBEING
HEALTH LITERACY SKILLS
WOMEN AS STEWARDS OF FAMILY HEALTH
Profound conversations occur daily at hair salons in the black community. We expand and adapt a well-recognized Barbershop/Salon model long employed in public health. While the Barbershop format supports single-session, information-driven lectures, the unidirectional flow of content from health providers to consumers does not develop an interconnected community who share information and strategies. Designed to address the broader health needs of Cambridge’s Black women and families, our implementation brings together Black women consumers with Black women providers on common ground and in ongoing conversation. We aim to form a new “health care team” of consumers and faculty and to encourage all team members to value different forms of expertise. Knowledge can be trained and lived, quantitative and qualitative, population-wide and family-specific.
Our approach, while covering disease processes, focuses on promoting health and wellbeing. The agenda includes practical care issues, prevention strategies, associated risks and comorbidities, disparities in access to health resources and care, and heritability. Health challenges are placed in context, allowing our consumers to develop a more holistic picture of how to work toward health and wellbeing. While up-to-date health information is exchanged at each conversation, we also provide each participant with tools to create an individualized health scaffolding. Developing health literacy skills to evaluate the validity and applicability of health information requires becoming familiar with health related language and concepts. Our participants critically assess health information gleaned from our sessions, the media, and medical journal articles (provided at each session), and shared by their personal health care practitioners. This emphasis on a shared role as the “keepers” of important health information and medical decision-making has the potential to reduce some barriers to improved access to and uptake of health care resources.
Our community participants often share that they don’t have time and space to consider their own health needs—that they rank low on their own priority lists and there are too many other people that they need to care for first. Recognizing that women often serve as the stewards of family health, the benefits of our efforts have been felt much more broadly. Exploring the stresses of balancing the needs and demands placed on women’s shoulders, Community Conversations helps women internalize that in order to fulfill their role of "Chief of Family Health," they too must preserve their own health.
Lastly, we evaluate and assess our impact with an evidence-based approach through the collection of qualitatitve and quantitative data capturing our participants' experiences. By determining the drivers of and barriers to participation, we can improve our outreach efforts and provide targeted support to individuals in fulfilling their healthcare goals.
Our community includes women of color from varied educational, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds. Our incredibly diverse Black community includes women who are American-born, Carribean, and African, among other nationalities. Women from the Cambridge community and healthcare providers from medicine, science and public health gather together to learn from each other. Together, we aim to break down barriers between patient and providers, as well as the community and those who provde care to the community. Our circular forum approach equalizes all participants, providing a level playing field for dialogue.
Community Conversations: Sister to Sister greatly appreciates all contributions to our work and would like to recognize the following individuals, foundations, companies, and governments for their donations and grants. Together, we are committed to supporting women of color in Cambridge in fostering dialogue about health and healthcare.
CCF Bundled Fund (2016-2017, 2017-2018, 2018-2019)
Cambridge Agassiz Harvard Fund (2015-2016, 2016-2017)
Americo J. Francisco Charity Fund (2014-2015, 2015-2016)
CCF General Fund Grant (2014-2015, 2015-2016)
Sheila Gamble Fund (2014-2015, 2015-2016)
Healthy Aging R.O.C.S. (Reaching Out to Cambridge Seniors) Grant (2014-2015)
Adult Mental Health and Wellbeing Grant (2015-2016)
Capacity Building Grant (2014-2015)
Established in 1916 with the charter to serve the city of Cambridge, the Cambridge Community Foundation is a 501(c)3 public charity.
Our vision: A vibrant, thriving and inclusive Cambridge, with the culture of giving and opportunity for all.
Three overarching goals motivate our actions:
Create an inclusive vision and agenda for shared prosperity through grantmaking, civic leadership, and philanthropy
Build a permanent endowment to serve the city today and protect its future
Expand the capacity for civic leadership with a sustained focus on equity, justice and opportunity.
A foundation OF and FOR the community, the Cambridge Community Foundation is a connector, convener, catalyst for change and a collaborative partner to the entire community – Residents/Non-profits; Institutions, Government, Business Community.
Community Health Network Area 17 (CHNA 17) is one of 27 CHNAs in Massachusetts. Established in 1992 under the direction of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Office of Healthy Communities, the CHNAs are coalitions made up of representatives from public, non-profit and private sectors. CHNA 17’s mission is to promote healthier people and communities by fostering community engagement, elevating innovative and best practices, advancing racial equity, and supporting reciprocal learning opportunities to address the needs of the most marginalized members of our communities. CHNA 17 serves Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge, Somerville, Watertown and Waltham. The coalition’s work is funded primarily through a Determination of Need (DON) allocation from Mount Auburn Hospital, and McLean’s Hospital. The Cambridge Public Health Department/Cambridge Health Alliance also contributes to the CHNA’s community grants.
Momentum Fund Grant (2019)
Tufts Health Plan Foundation recently announced a $10,000 Momentum Fund grant to Community Conversations to support Community Conversations gatherings for women in the Black community with a focus on older people’s experiences with health care and leadership. Twenty-seven grants— totaling nearly $270,000—were awarded to community organizations from the new mini-grant program. The fund was established to foster new ideas and advance the movement to make cities and towns better places to grow up and grow old. The Momentum Fund is supporting 10 projects in Massachusetts, 10 in Rhode Island and 7 in New Hampshire. Each is community-led, addresses healthy aging and includes older people in the planning and implementation process.
In 2008, James Roosevelt Jr. created the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, fulfilling a long-held desire to use the assets of Tufts Health Plan in a way that brings demonstrable improvement to longstanding health care issues facing our communities. Tufts Health Plan Foundation’s mission is to improve the health and wellness of the diverse communities we serve. Our vision is that all communities are vibrant and healthy because they integrate older people, view them as a critical asset in the community, and embrace transformational policies that lead to integrated best practices and improve individual health and wellness. Through our community investments, the Foundation has given more than $31 million to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island nonprofits that improve healthy living with an emphasis on older people. The Foundation began funding in New Hampshire in 2016. The Foundation funds programs that move communities toward achieving age-friendly policies and practices that are relevant, focus on the most vulnerable, and include older people in the process.