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black woman heal

In 2015, Lilada Gee helped create the University of Wisconsin-Madison student organization Black Woman Heal to promote well-being among black women and help them overcome barriers that would prevent college success. 

Thanks to grants from the Wisconsin Partnership Program, four Madison organizations will kick-start initiatives to improve the wellbeing of people of color in the city.

The $50,000 Community Catalyst grants from the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health are meant to “improve health equity.” The funds help new ideas off the ground, rather than sustain existing programs.

In December, the program announced 15 grants, seven of which are based in Madison. Three of those are statewide initiatives, and the remaining four focus on the Madison area.

Lussier Community Education Center received $50,000 to create an alumni network for its existing program, the Neighborhood Organizing Institute. The institute, a year-long training program for grassroots leaders of color, was created several years ago with help from city of Madison funding. Throughout the year, cohorts observe City Council, attend regular trainings, learn how to work with city staff and are empowered to solve problems.

The alumni network would help former participants continue to build skills and support each other, said executive director Paul Terranova.

“In the past, folks came out of the training and then there’s sort of nothing there for them other than the relationships they’ve already built through the year,” he said.

Based on initial feedback from former participants, the network could include a yearly summit, a yearly retreat and regular meetings.

“We’re really excited about the fact that both the city of Madison and the Partnership Program are starting to fund programming that support community members of leaders addressing issues in their own communities,” Terranova said. “There’s a whole lot of talent and knowledge and wisdom in communities that are bearing the brunt of injustice in our community that is often left on the table.”

For Anesis Therapy, a mental health agency in Madison, the catalyst grant will allow staff to undergo extensive trauma training to better serve clients. The money will pay for about 11 staff and three interns to complete a 12-month Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy training and 18-month Child-Parent Psychotherapy training.

“We serve primarily really underserved, marginalized populations and … most of our clients do have trauma, whether it’s intergenerational trauma or have a specific trauma they’re coming in with,” McNair said.

These are expensive trainings that the agency would otherwise be unable to afford for the full staff, said Myra McNair, executive director of Anesis.

The CPP model targets kids 0-6 and the TF-CBT model helps kids up to age 18. By helping kids work through their trauma, Anesis can help prevent trauma manifesting as future mental illness or intergenerational trauma, McNair said. Both models work with parents as well, “helping parents understanding their own story … and understanding their children's trauma and understanding how to parent them through that.”

The agency has primarily been African-American based, McNair said, but has grown its clients and staff to include other people of color. By awarding Anesis the money to undergo these trainings, there will be Spanish and Hmong-speaking staff better equipped to handle trauma, she said.

A grant will enable partners from Second Baptist Church, the YWCA Madison, Urban League of Greater Madison and Dr. Earlise Ward, from the UW-Madison School of Nursing, to start a “faith-based depression management program for African-Americans.”

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The program is geared toward “reducing symptoms of depression and stress and increasing access to knowledge regarding depression and healthy coping behaviors in a trusted community setting,” the description from the Partnership Program says.

Finally, a catalyst grant will allow Lilada Gee to expand her work with young girls to an online format. Gee has worked with African-American women and girls in the area for 30 years, and her “healing and inspirational” program Black Girl Live  addresses sexual trauma and suicide prevention. Black Girl Live served about 200 girls in local schools and throughout the community last year.

Working in the schools, Gee has seen how social media is often a catalyst for bullying, fights and conflict. According to the CDC, bullying is “is one of several important risk factors that appears to increase the risk of suicide among youth.”

“We’re wanting to give some positive messages that is going to hopefully turn some of that around,” Gee said. “We wanted to find a way to get resources and information to Black girls where they are.”

The grant will help start an online safe space for Black Girl Live. Girls will create much of the content, which will be curated by Gee’s organization. There will be videos, writing, art, and a podcast, as well as resources and talking points for moms to engage with their daughters. Anyone who knows a Black girl who would make for an interesting podcast guest should email blackwomenheal@gmail.com, Gee said.

Gee said that although social media can be a tool for bullying, girls have the power to create words, images and messaging to lift each other up, and "that's what Black Girl Live is all about."

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