On a chilly afternoon at Howard University, spoken word artist Mike Ellison warmed up a crowd of expectant students by testifying about his love for black women. “You are queens who should have your heads high and be proud to wear the crown,” he reminded the young women filling up an auditorium in the university’s Blackburn Center.
Singer Monica Blaire raised spirits higher, putting her soulful spin on hits from artists like Bob Marley and Lauryn Hill.
The pair set the stage for the perfect kickoff for My Sister’s Keeper (MSK), a new initiative created by the Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) to build a supportive network for young women at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The new advocacy and leadership-building program is designed to uplift women and serve as a vessel to bring them together.
“We had to come here,” explains Linda Goler Blount, MPH, president of the BWHI. “We’re based right here in D.C., so we had to come to the Mecca. There are so many leaders that come from Howard, especially women leaders. What better place to start than right here?”
The Challenges Facing Young Sisters
Collegiate black women often face unfortunate circumstances that derail them as they attempt to complete college or graduate school. BWHI sites unplanned pregnancy and encounters with sexual violence as just two issues that keep black women from finishing their degree programs. To help young black women fight these issues and others, Blount and BWHI launched the MSK program at two historically black institutions: Spelman College and Howard University.
Program resources are designed to raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health and intimate partner violence. MSK workshops and training sessions will teach young women how to advocate for policies that will protect them and encourage healthy relationships.
Howard University is also an ideal place for the launch because nearly 70 percent of its 6,500 undergraduates are women.
“We need a program like this on campus,” said Howard sophomore Bre Ann Jackson. “So many people walk into college not knowing what to expect, [with] no one to talk to, and no idea of who or what to avoid.”
“Another thing I noticed is that in our generation, you always see girls hating on other girls. I’m glad that somebody pointed out that we should be helping each other become successful,” Jackson added. “I mean, really. Howard is famous for breeding successful women.”
The goal is to have a My Sister’s Keeper initiative at each HBCU across the country. BWHI’s hopes MSK will provide a national network to raise awareness about young black women’s health and well-being.
If you’d like to bring MSK to your campus, please contact BWHI at (202) 548-4000 or email Imperative@bwhi.org.