Black Women’s Health Imperative

Posted on


Health Wise Woman Diabetes Self-Management Project

Location: Washington, D.C.

This 31-year old national organization adapted one of its signature programs, the Health Wise Woman, to include diabetes self-management components and enrolled Black women over the age of 40 living in the Washington, D.C. area in the project. Peer health educators (Health Wise Women) taught self-management behaviors along with basic diabetes information in group sessions. The organization also integrated its trademarked Self-Help Sister Circle™, an emotional support network model, into the diabetes intervention. The initiative resulted in the participation of 127 women, 27 women trained as Health Wise Woman educators and new partnerships with five faith-based and community organizations.


The Black Women’s Health Imperative (Imperative) is a national organization based in Washington DC and dedicated to advancing the health and wellness of the nation’s Black women and girls.  Uncontrolled diabetes is particularly high among African Americans living in DC, ranking 13th in the nation in 2007 with 7.5% of adults having been diagnosed with diabetes. In 2009, Black women in DC had a diabetes mortality rate more than 5 times higher than White women.  Further complicating the issue, Black women often live in resource poor neighborhoods without adequate access to health services. This project sought to empower Black women living in five low-income neighborhoods of Washington DC to improve their diabetes self-management through health education, social and emotional support (i.e., self-help), and referrals to community and clinical resources.


To support the adoption of lifestyle change as a strategy for improving diabetes health outcomes, the Imperative delivered group-level health education sessions using a practice-based curriculum developed by the Imperative—Health Wise Woman. The Health Wise Woman curriculum was adapted for diabetes self-management and delivered to self-management support groups by trained, culturally appropriate peer health leaders (Health Wise Women). To improve individual self-efficacy and awareness among Black women and their families taking part in the program, the Imperative also delivered interactive health improvement and life skills development activities including its signature Self-Help Sister Circles™, coordinated physical activity opportunities and facilitated community referrals, along with ongoing social, emotional and community supports.


  • The Imperative’s knowledge of and experience with the realities of Black women’s lives and its Self Help Sister Circles ™ framework helped women in the program open up about the challenges of living with diabetes and provide each other support for improving their diabetes self-management.
  • The integration of this initiative into existing social service and health programming of key community partners helped improve participation. For example, the program was integrated into the resident peer training program of N Street Village, an organization that provides skill development to women in the process of transitioning from homelessness to self-sufficiency.
  • Black women and their families felt connected to services within their communities; it is key for services to be offered in familiar environments where the women are already connected (e.g., clinics, churches).