DC Health held a series of four community engagement sessions with a total of some 135 Black women beginning in fall 2019. These “Sister Circle” events were safe spaces for Black women to come together over dinner or brunch and have honest discussions about their lives, facilitated by DC Health staff members who are also Black women.
The major themes of these groups were managing stress, balancing life and work responsibilities, coping with inter-generational trauma, being resilient after difficult life experiences, and healing from trauma. Participants discussed the challenges of and routinely incorporating self-care. The participants coined the term “Super Woman Syndrome” (SWS) to describe Black women’s ability and sense of duty to push through the challenges of life, regardless of the mental and emotional repercussions. SWS was acknowledged as both a strength and detriment for Black women. Despite their resilience and perseverance, the costs of SWS are high and include: poor health and mental health, poor coping skills, and a lack of self-care. On sex, dating, and relationships, participants expressed their frustrations with finding a suitable partner that matched them financially, emotionally, and intellectually. Participants shared their experiences with domestic violence, staying in unhealthy relationships for too long, and intergenerational patterns of unhealthy behaviors when dating.
Strengths identified by participants as being common among Black women were:
Future programming for Black women should take a holistic approach rather than focusing on HIV. The “Sister Circle” model is an effective approach to community engagement and should be used moving forward. These events can be used to support existing strengths of this population while promoting self-care, providing social support, and connecting women to information and resources. Black women also want to see themselves reflected in the social marketing materials that are directed at them.