Black Women's Health Imperative CEO Linda Goler Blount on health equity and reproductive justice

You may never have heard of President and CEO of the Black Women's Health Imperative (BWHI) Linda Goler Blount, but for over 25 years, she's been doing the arduous and yet vital work of assuring that Black women achieve health equity and reproductive justice.

Sometimes working behind the scenes securing funding, and other times in front of the cameras or on Capitol Hill fighting what can feel like a Sisyphean feat to move her organization forward in its mission. Blount is resolute in her battle against two of the greatest risk factors to the health of Black women are racism and gender discrimination.

UP: What are some of the biggest challenges facing Black women today -- vaccine hesitancy, preventative health, maternal mortality, diet, stress… etc?

LB: Stress is the number one health issue for Black women. Obesity-related syndromes such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease have their roots in stress -- and microaggressions trigger stress. We know there's a causal relationship between stress and weight. Black women have about 15% more cortisol in their bloodstream than white women. It changes their metabolism. If you give Black women and white women the same low-fat diet, Black women will lose weight more slowly and if both groups eat a high-fat diet, Black women will gain weight more quickly. We can see this in the DNA level. So, we focus our programs on asking women how they feel about being a Black woman in this environment at this moment. Because if we don't understand that and more importantly, if providers, policymakers, and corporate leaders don't understand that, then we're not going to make the kind of progress we need to improve health outcomes for Black women. And equity is a long way off.



UP: Talk about the connection between racism and the health of Black women.

LB: In 1992, Arline Geronimus published an article on "weathering" where she discussed that Black women are literally aging faster than white women. Between two women, one Black and one White, both age 65, although they may look the same, Black women can be five to seven years older biologically because of the effect of racism and gender oppression. Fleda Mask Jackson found a causal relationship between experiences of racial and gender discrimination and low birth weight and premature deliveries and maternal deaths. We understand the biological response and what that does to the body, but not the psychological impacts. And I'm really interested in the everyday experiences of Black women and what that does [to the body]. When you have to have that talk with your 16-year-old son about driving and when the police stop him. When you see people not getting promoted or things said at work that are just out and out racist. When you go to a store and you're followed around because you're Black and they assume you're going to steal something. We don't have a full understanding of what that does to us.

UP: What are some of the changes in the health of Black women from when the organization started versus today?

LB: Our roots are in self-care. BWHI started 38 years ago with groups and sister-circles talking about health. Then over time with reproductive health, in particular, the organization needed to deal with policy and structural barriers that prevented us from practice to self-care. The changes have been on evidence-based strategies and calling it out when Black women are not included when drugs, therapeutics, and devices developed without the involvement of Black women as both as participants and as researchers.

More recently, we began working to change the narrative around how we talk about data, gender, and race, and how we tell the story. If we don't start changing the way we use language, then we're never going to understand Black women's health. People will say, 'Black women die 42% more from breast cancer than white women.' But, that doesn't tell the whole story and what a reader is left believing is that this data is the way it is because these women are Black or Latina. It's not biological or genetic, it's the lived experience.

UP: What can Black women do today to change their health outcomes?

LB: We talk a lot about meditation or prayer, and breathing. Breathing is critical. The 5-7-9, where you breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and breathe out for 9 seconds. This can literally reduce cortisol in your bloodstream. We've got to take time for ourselves. Be intentional about separating yourself from stuff that isn't good for you. For me and my team, we try to make it a point to take breaks. This work can be overwhelming. When you're talking about dealing with hundreds of years of oppression and people who want to keep things exactly as they've always been, but who say things that are very different. I try to keep perspective. But it's hard because there's exactly one organization to do this work and if we weren't here to do it, I don't know what would happen.

UP: Can you give a couple of anecdotes where the health outcome of a Black woman was impacted by one of the BWHI programs?

LB: I would say around screening and mammography. In 2015, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) had this brilliant idea to raise the age of mammography for women from 40 to 50 years old. So, in 2016 we worked with several members of Congress on the PALS Act aka Protecting Access to Lifesaving Screening to get a moratorium on recommendations for women to begin screenings at 40 years old. Because if this became policy then insurers would stop paying for mammograms under 50. I attended at least 30 meetings, testified in front of Congress, I met with HHS, and other than the one Black person who's on the USPSTF, I was the only Black person in the room. It was disheartening, but not surprising. But, these recommendations are based on science. So, here I am face-to-face with my former colleagues at the American Cancer Society who want to raise the age. So, I told them, 'I know the data.' These studies were done in Sweden and Canada and there's not a Black woman in them. Black women get breast cancer 5 to 10 years younger than white women. This highlighted a Black woman's organization and science and that we know the data just as well as you. While you may interpret it one way, let's look at the complete story. You're talking about applying a body of evidence to a group of people who had nothing to do with its creation in the first place.

UP: Do you feel a sense of pressure because, at this moment, the door of interest is open concerning the health and wellness of Black Americans?

LB: It's an exponentially greater level of stress. We talk all the time about having this open window and being afraid it's going to slam shut. Like, white people are going to be over this. 'Okay, you've had your moment. We invested millions of dollars and you all need to be happy. So, let's get back to the way things were. Just shut up and dribble.' But, while feeling that pressure, there's not a whole lot that can be done in the six months, nine months or even in a year, so we have to keep the conversation going. Right now, we're creating a corporate index so that people can look at corporations and say, 'Well, here's your statement from last year. Now, what are you really doing?' If we don't keep pressure on these folks they get to ignore and pretend they never said what they said.

UP: Are there celebrities or well-known figures you would love to partner with BWHI? Any specific initiatives?

LB: Having Serena [Williams] talk about maternal health would be amazing. We need women across the lifespan. We need Oprah and Alfre Woodard. All these women for whom health is critical and understand the significance of the health of Black women. If we are successful, I think we also need to get Black men involved in this work.

UP: What can people who're reading this do to move the needle forward on the health of Black women in their lives and/or communities?

LB: They can learn about BWHI and the issues as they really are not what they read, but understand the context in which Black women live and what that means for their health. So, they don't fall into the trap of blaming the obese Black woman or blaming the woman with hypertension and being mindful of the language they use when they're talking about race, gender, and health. It takes understanding to get to a level of compassion. And for those who have resources, they can contribute.

UP: Who are some of the women you look to for inspiration?

LB: I'd say Civil Rights activist Gloria Richardson. She's always been the symbol of what can be done by a Black woman. I want to be the Gloria Richardson of epidemiology and I can say to these scientists, 'Talk to the hand,' in the same way she did holding off a national guardsman with a bayonet in his hand and [a fierce side eye].

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.

I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Dan Fischer takes people's lost loved ones out surfing for "one last wave."

Dan Fischer understands grief. He also has some idea of how to cope with it—and how to help others through it as well.

Fischer has experienced tremendous loss in the past few years, losing both his father and his best friend. As a surfer, he's a believer in what he calls "the transformative power of the ocean." Originally from Montreal, Canada, Fischer has found healing riding the waves off Newport, Rhode Island, where he's lived for the past seven years.

Now he wants to share that healing power of the waves with others.

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The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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