Our Story

"Magic!" That's how Byllye Y. Avery, our founder, described that first conference at Spelman College in 1983 in Atlanta, Ga., which birthed the National Black Women's Health Project (The Project). The lasting legacy of that conference and the organization that sprung from it is due to the empowerment of countless Black women.


The Project is now called the Black Women's Health Imperative (Imperative), reinforcing the fact that it is imperative that we move beyond documenting the enormous health disparities that exist for Black women, and focus our efforts on actionable steps to eliminate them.

To ensure that happens, the Imperative works at the national and local levels, where we bring the perspectives and often missing voices of African American women to the ongoing health policy debates. We also join in partnerships with health coalitions and organizations to develop community-based strategies to reach out and affect change individually, locally, regionally and nationally.

Since inception, the organization has been in the forefront of women's health issues, promoting responsible and healthy sexual behavior through comprehensive public education initiatives that promote overall wellness of Black women. In 1990, we opened a public education and policy office in Washington, D.C., the seat of policy and advocacy for reproductive rights. But, it was not until 1995 that the board realized the opportunity to become better positioned to address the massive challenges of racial and gender-based health disparities affecting Black women. A decision was made to establish a national presence in the nation's capital and relocate our national headquarters to Washington, D.C.

With a broadened structure of national and local affiliated organizations and a change in name to the Black Women's Health Imperative in 2002, the Imperative instituted aggressive national programs in health policy, education, research, knowledge and leadership development and communications to save and extend the lives of Black women.

Presently, the organization continues to be dedicated to promoting physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being for the nation's 19.5 million African American women and girls.

Historical Chronology

1981

Established as a program of the National Women's Health Network.

Opened first office in Atlanta, Ga.
1983

Convened the First National Conference on Black Women's Health Issues at Spelman College, marking the official birth of the Black Women's Health Project as an independent organization.

Developed the signature self-help methodology through "SisterCircle" sessions, empowering Black women to attain healthy living and overall physical, mental and spiritual wellness.

Published first issue of Vital Signs as a health news magazine.

1984
Incorporated and renamed the Black Women's Health Project to the National Black Women's Health Project.
Purchased national headquarters in Atlanta. It became known as "Phoebe House."
Initiated quarterly Task Force Meetings, as a mechanism, to gather information on Black women's health experiences for shaping our perspectives and agenda on health.
1985
Headed a delegation of 25 women to Kenya for the UN Decade for Women to share our self-help methodology and to network with women worldwide.
Produced a video titled "It's Up to Us" to rally a grassroots health empowerment movement.
1986
Conducted a conference with the Women and Development Unit of the University of the West Indies (WAND) in Barbados titled "Dialogue Across the Diaspora," on physical, mental and spiritual aspects of women's health and self-help. The conference was attended by a diverse group of women from the United States, the Caribbean Islands, South America and Africa, focusing on health issues of women from several Caribbean countries, including Barbados, Jamaica and Belize.
1987
Produced "On Becoming a Woman: Mothers and Daughters Talking Together," a video designed to stimulate honest and open family dialogue about menstruation and reproductive health.
Partnered with the Belizean Rural Women's association to provide training and technical assistance in Belize for the organization to launch and sustain health education programs on gynecological health and self-help trainings.
1988
Established the Center for Black Women's Wellness in the Mechanicsville Public Housing community in Atlanta as a model for community-based health education and service provision.
1989
Initiated SisteReach, an international program to share self-help methodology and reproductive health organizing with women in Nigeria, Cameroon and Brazil.
Produced "Becoming a Cameroonian Woman," a sequel to the organization's film "On Becoming a Woman."
1990
Opened public education and policy office in Washington, D.C.
1991
Launched Walking for Wellness as a fitness Program with Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph leading the organization's inaugural event at Disney World.
Produced "It's OK to Peek," a gynecological, self-examination video.
1993

Participated in an exchange program with South African women to address issues of domestic violence, sexual and child abuse, HIV/AIDS, personal self-help and community empowerment.

1994
Celebrated our 10th anniversary with a conference that featured Dr. Jocelyn Elders, Angela Davis, Johnnetta B. Cole and Renita Weems.
Opened The Well, California Black Women's Health Project, as a state field office in Los Angeles.
Participated in the International Conference on Population and Development.

Published "Body & Soul: The Black Women's Guide to Physical Health and Emotional Well-Being," by Linda Villarosa.

1995
Relocated the national headquarters to Washington, D.C.
Mobilized other women of color organizations to develop and present a "women of color" health agenda at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.
1997
Implemented substance abuse prevention programs on eight Historically Black College and University (HBCU) campuses.
Published the first issue of the Sister Ink newsletter.
Established and presented the first Women Who Dare Award to Alice Walker.
1998
Published "Our Bodies, Our Voices, Our Choices: A Black Woman's Primer on Reproductive Health and Rights."
1999
Participated in the Fifth General Assembly of the Association of African Women for Research and Development.
Celebrated The Healing Vision of Toni Morrison upon the publication of the book "Paradise" with a reception in Washington, D.C.
2000
Launched REACH 2010: At the Heart of New Orleans, a five-year, community, participatory-research project as a coalition of community groups, city and state health departments, the local public library, a historically Black university and 40 churches. It was funded to address health risk factors for heart disease among Black women in metropolitan New Orleans.
Conducted a nationwide consumer health survey in collaboration with the University of Memphis Center for Community Health to assess psychosocial factors that impact health and utilization of health services among Black women.
2001
Opened a field office in New Orleans.
Produced a video for mothers and teen daughters, titled "Let Me Know. What's Going On? My Body, My Self, My Life."
Sponsored the Black Women's Wellness Study, a research and weight-management program on physical activity, eating patterns and social support for Black women in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania,
Participated with representatives from 20 countries led by the Women's Health Project of South Africa to publish case studies on reproductive health and rights from a global perspective.
2002
Changed our name to the Black Women's Health Imperative, and launched www.BlackWomensHealth.ORG as the most comprehensive, interactive online health resource designed specifically for Black women and their families.
Initiated "Because I am a Queen," a national television campaign and online smoking cessation program to encourage Black women smokers to quit and non-smokers to not start.
2003
Convened a National Colloquium on Black women's health in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust and the U.S. Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus to generate a national sense of urgency to address the unequal burden of health issues borne by Black women.
Published "Lasting Legacy," an oral history of the National Black Women's Health Project, which was published in commemoration of the organization's 20th anniversary.
Collaborated with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine to evaluate minimal contact interventions as approaches to facilitate and sustain regular physical activity among Black women.
2004
Co-sponsored The March for Women's Lives with six other leading women's rights and reproductive health and rights organizations. More than 1 million people marched in the streets of Washington, D.C., to sound the alarm that access to abortion and women's reproductive rights were in danger.
Presented Congresswoman Maxine Waters with the Imperative's "Women Who Dare" Award.
2005-2007
Began publishing "Black Papers" on important health issues for Black women.
Re-issued Vital Signs as an e-newsletter for members.
Closed REACH 2010: At the Heart of New Orleans Coalition after seven years of implementing a faith-based initiative to reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors among Black women in New Orleans, La.
2008
Celebrated 25 years of leadership and service for Black women's health and well-being this June 19-21, 2008, at our 25th Anniversary Celebration in Washington, D.C.!

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