Looking Forward , Sarah Verbiest, founder of Every Woman Southeast, reflects on the new year and what it holds.
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It is a mix of snow and sleet paired with freezing temperatures…in the South. Our world is shut down. It is lovely. It is Saturday and we suddenly have a weekend without obligations.


15941483_10211605274597122_6061374549231734917_nAn excuse to stay in sweats, work on small projects, actually talk to family, stay up late watching movies, even bake something. That is even better than the wintry landscape outside my window. It’s a Mother Nature imposed sabbath.

Normally my reflection might stop there. And that would be ok – we as women and an overworked, technology enslaved, “busy” nation could use a random day off now and again. It is both a luxury and a necessity to be able to do nothing on occasion.

But it is 2017 and being awake to power and privilege is long overdue. As I was sitting on my comfortable couch, I reflected that we have central heat, plenty of food, internet access, and in a pinch we can walk down our hill to a 24-hour pharmacy.  I feel safe in my home – it is a refuge not a minefield. Not all women can say this. I am warm in my home. The walls are firm, the roof is solid and whenever our power goes out it is usually back in just a few hours. This is not true for many families. I’m not isolated and alone nor am I anxious about the situation or find the gloomy skies heavy.

If this were a week day, I could work from home and still get paid…and keep an eye on my teen while he was out of school. For many people, not working today (and likely tomorrow) means they don’t get paid. My daughter was supposed to pick up a weekend shift while home from college. That gig is definitely off and she is out of luck for earning much needed textbook money.

Too many people navigate life without what they need to calmly and warmly shelter from life’s storms. For some the snow doesn’t bring a needed respite. How can we hold a space to rest, to enjoy the life we have – laugh in the excitement of our puppy or toddler discovering snow for the first time – while remembering that we deserve this no more than anyone else? Maybe for today it is the naming and recognition that matters – it doesn’t change the world but it can foster compassion. And if compassion in its truest form were a national value there would be no blizzard we couldn’t overcome.



I’m a “resolutioner”. A reflector. A list maker. An organizer. All traits that pair well with the end of the year. As a girl I would make time on New Year’s Eve to write my goals for the next year on a small piece of paper. I’d then put them in a special box that held my thoughts from the years before. It was always interesting to look back at the girl I was and dream about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. The words on the paper didn’t change a whole lot over time – I wanted to pray more, to be a better friend, to lose weight, exercise more, to have a boyfriend…to change the world. Yep – every year my most ardent wish was to be an instrument for the greater good and to make a difference with the time I was given on earth. I was a geeky, preacher’s kid with social work DNA – what can I say? And so the years have rolled on.

While 2016 was a solid, unremarkable year for my family (just regular life – thank goodness), it was an upending year for us – all of us – collectively as we witnessed mass shootings, a difficult election, protests, HB2 (in North Carolina) and were forced to look directly at our country, naked – not pretty. I can’t deny my deep disappointment in seeing a glass ceiling unbroken, worrying about what is to come in 2017 and wondering how I can guide my white children in a society where our unearned privilege causes so much pain. Recent politics in my state have even made my optimism in democracy waver. Frankly, 2016 made me weary.

But as ritual demands, tis the season to think forward and lean into the work ahead. I still want to eat healthier, be a better friend, take better care of the guy I finally got and save the world. What I’ve learned over time, however, is that I am not powerful enough to save the whole world. If that is my benchmark I will fail. So this year I want to use my voice effectively, bravely and often. I will focus. I will not worry what people think about me. I will not hide behind my privilege, I will call myself on it time and time again. I will do a better job of refreshing my spirit. I will open my heart to exploring new ways of seeing and understanding. I may join a drum circle? I will speak truth to power.  I WILL NOT GIVE UP on my belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all beings and our shared right to happiness, safety and love.


Solstice by Kylie Verbies

To be of use


The people I love the best

jump into work head first

without dallying in the shallows

and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.

They seem to become natives of that element,

the black sleek heads of seals

bouncing like half-submerged balls.


I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.


I want to be with people who submerge

in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who are not parlor generals and field deserters

but move in a common rhythm

when the food must come in or the fire be put out.


The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

Green sprouts in the rain

Green sprouts in the rain

Green sprouts in the rain

It is time for white people to wake up from “the Dream,” recognize the pain our privilege causes, and begin to make amends.

There has been so much said on social media since the seven murders last week and now today. Some powerful words have been shared. Some people have remained silent because they don’t feel they have to comment while others have been silent because they just don’t know what to say. Each time I think I’m ready to put my thoughts out in the world there is a Huffington Post article or a blog that either encapsulates it all – much better than I could – or just shuts my mouth and forces me to think. As a human relations fellow and a social worker who has endeavored to learn about and discuss power and privilege, the readings I share below made me realize what a beginner I am in this essential work. Here is some of what I’ve been reflecting on recently.More Link

sarahphoto3Mother’s Day gives us the chance to reflect on our mother, the women who have been our mentors, and the mothers around us.  Motherhood is a messy, crazy, amazing, life-altering, life-long journey.  It is not for the faint hearted! Before my first child was born I couldn’t have imagined that within seconds of holding her in my arms I would willingly give my life to protect hers.

The decision to enter into this journey is certainly not one to be taken lightly. More Link

Blog Post by Caroline Brazeel from Louisiana

Every Woman Southeast is having an incredibly positive impact on my personal and professional life through its meaningful webinars and support from my colleagues in other states. It’s the fact that we are a regional organization of local people that makes us uniquely poised to impact change. Here’s one example of how EWSE pops into my life at random and opportune moments:

I spent some of the last moments of 2013 talking about Jamila Batts and Dr. Kimberlle Wyche-Etheridge’s October EWSE webinar. After a great NYE dinner, one of the guests, an architect, began describing his most recent work project – a redesign of some of New Orleans’ public schools. In an effort to design a building that met the needs of the students, parents, teachers and school board, he had immersed himself in the lives of the people that flowed into and out of the school. He found old pictures of the building’s façade from the early twentieth century and attended community meetings where neighbors voiced concerns and parents expressed their hopes for the new building. He took that information and thoughtfully proposed options to the school board for adapting the existing structure to meet the current and future needs of those who use it.

His process of reaching into archives for an explanation of how the school became what it is today evoked Dr. Wyche-Etheridge’s work on the Nashville CityMatCH Racial Healing project. When I told him about how they worked in Nashville to map the history of one neighborhood’s development, he couldn’t wait to get home and look it up on the EWSE site. To him, the Nashville project was a combination of his interest in urban planning, architecture, and social justice. To me, his work was a window into how the physical infrastructure for school health and wellness is shaped. At work, I don’t spend any time talking to architects, but our conversation made me realize I needed to reexamine my definition of non-traditional partners.

I’m not sure I would have seen the connection between architecture, education and public health as clearly had I not heard Dr. Wyche-Etheridge and Ms. Batts speak about their work in Tennessee. What I know for sure is we have to ask the right questions of the right people to know how to go about doing our work differently. In 2014, I’m hoping to work on the expansion of my definition of non-traditional partners, and I know my EWSE colleagues will help guide me in that pursuit.

Caroline works at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in the Office of Public Health. She is a member of the EWSE Leadership Team.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Jessica Hardy is a very active and engaged member of the EWSE leadership team. She is a registered nurse, with an advanced degree in public health from the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB). She has served more than nineteen years with the Alabama Department of Public Health in various capacities, including the Alabama Women’s Health Liaison for the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jessica was appointed to serve as the first Director for the Alabama Office of Women’s Health (OWH) in 2002 (a position she continues to hold), and was appointed as Acting Director of Alabama’s office of Minority Health from 2009 to 2012. In addition to her work and volunteering with EWSE, Jessica is currently a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Troy University, in Alabama. We asked Jessica about the health problem she cares the most about as well as about the favorite part of her work and her favorite book. Here are her responses!

Infant mortality is a concern not only for Alabama but for the nation as a whole. In Alabama the infant mortality rate is higher than the national average and is compounded with a very daunting disparate rate between the white and black infant mortality rate. It has been said that the infant mortality rate reflects the health of a community; in Alabama this is one of our top women’s health issues today. What I love most about my current responsibilities is the outreach into the community. My work allows me to advocate for health in general, and preventive health programs in particular. Communities are very receptive to shared health information. I enjoy serving as liaison between public health and the communities across our state. One of my favorite books is by Christine Northrop, Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom. I have found that women in the community can often relate to the information Dr. Northrop shares in her books, and it opens the door for me to introduce additional resources to the women in communities across Alabama.

Making Change Happen in Florida

  Leah Barber-Heinz is the CEO of Florida CHAIN

Lost in all of the political wrangling over the Affordable Care Act is the fact that Florida’s women, an astounding 1.4 million of whom are uninsured, will see a huge positive impact thanks to these reforms.
The new law creates significant cost savings by eliminating annual and lifetime limits on how much insurance companies cover if women get sick, as well as prohibiting insurers from dropping women from coverage when they fall ill. Moreover, plans in the new health exchanges place a cap on how much insurance companies can force women to pay in co-pays and deductibles. Starting in 2014 women who cannot afford quality health insurance will be provided tax credits, and the Act will completely close the donut hole for prescription drugs by 2020.
The law also provides more and better health care options and ensures coverage of basic health services including maternity benefits. Maternity benefits are often not provided in health plans offered through the individual insurance market.
Also of particular relevance to women is the fact that the new law already prohibits insurance companies from denying children coverage based on preexisting conditions. Moving forward, it will prohibit insurance companies from denying any woman coverage because of a pre-existing condition, excluding coverage of that condition, or charging more because of health status or gender. Right now, a healthy 22-year-old woman can be charged premiums 150 percent higher than a 22-year-old man.
The Affordable Care Act also aims to crack down on excessive insurance overhead by limiting how much insurance companies spend on nonmedical costs such as executive salaries and marketing. And insurance carriers must justify their premium increases in order to remain eligible for the health exchanges.  
The positive impact these reforms will have on Florida’s women and their families cannot be overstated. A recent report by Families USA found that more than 70 percent of consumers in the individual market will be eligible for financial assistance through the Marketplaces, because they either qualify for tax credits that will make their coverage more affordable or for Medicaid.
As a result of these and other important reforms included in the Affordable Care Act, fewer Florida women will delay needed care or be forced to give up basic necessities in order to get the health care they need.
Hello Blog World! My name is Callie Womble and I’m a Masters of Public Health student in the Health Behavior Department at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. My graduate program focuses on the social and behavioral sciences as a means of understanding and improving the health of populations. One of my academic passions is minority women’s health. I enjoy brainstorming innovative ways to improve wellness and reduce disparity. I first got involved with women’s health in undergrad when I co-founded the UNC Chapel Hill chapter of the Office of Minority Health’s Preconception Peer Educator program and interned at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. These experiences were invaluable to me because they introduced me to the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) field, and ignited my passion.


As a graduate student, I wanted to build on that foundation and gain more research experience. In May of this year I began my practicum at the UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health. My main responsibility has been to disseminate the Women’s Voices Survey, and analyze its results. Working on the Women’s Voices survey was a great because it directly addresses health disparities (an issue near and dear to my heart) and has given me a chance to sharpen my data collection, management and analysis skills.
At the end of August we closed the Women’s Voices survey with 1,950 responses from women of all nine EWSE states and our sample truly represented a life course perspective engaging women of all ages. (How awesome is that?!)  Analyzing the data has been incredibly fulfilling – the survey validates the stories of women in our region. The daily lived experiences of Southeastern women matter, and this survey both affirmed the women as individuals and provided a space for them to share how they see the world.  For me, the most thought-provoking aspect of the data analysis was coding the qualitative responses to questions asking women what they need in order to improve their health. Some of the quotes that really got my attention included:
·         I need an accountability partner.  I have the tendency to procrastinate and put other’s needs before my own.  I need a gently forceful person to make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.
·         More education and support on how to balance the many competing demands that women face today with work, family, friends, etc.
·          to have doctors treat me as a human and not just as a poor-Medicaid recipient.
·         A practitioner that listens.
·         A better job so I didn’t have to work so hard.  More time. I feel like a lot of my health issues stem from my lack of time to do things like prepare meals and exercise. I work a lot, so that doesn’t leave much time for me.
·         Access for the African American population, especially those in rural areas.  Transportation is an issue.  Fear is another issue.  Cost factors in.  Prescription costs prevent consistent medication being used.

These quotes remind me that women in our region often have many responsibilities. They are moms, daughters, friends, sisters, employees, students, church members, sorority members, girlfriends, wives and the proverbial list of “hats women wear” goes on and on. Subsequently, prioritizing others’ needs above their own is a current norm for most women. It also reminds me that the social determinants of health (e.g. where you live, work, play and pray) are REAL and they truly impact how women experience life and wellness. In order to create lasting change we as public health professionals need to strategize ways to make self-care for women the default choice, as well as ways to positively influence the social determinants of women’s health. Indeed, this is a tall order but it’s necessary to change the status quo.

As my practicum comes to close, I have started to reflect on all I have learned these past six months. While the technical skills are indeed significant to me, what resonates most to me about my practicum is the well-rounded nature of my experience. From meetings with stakeholders, to capacity development webinars, to daily in-office conversations with my supervisor and the fellow staff, this experience has been a total emersion in all things MCH. I’ve learned countless new jargon, discovered new thought leaders and followed intense political legislation alongside my fellow staff. 
The most meaningful part of my practicum has been interacting with professionals from different disciplines. It has been both informative and rewarding to hear about women’s health issues from their perspective and then share my thoughts from the HB point of view. These interactions have highlighted how all disciplines have significant expertise necessary for accomplishing our shared goal: improve the health of populations. By working together we are able to put the different pieces of the puzzle together, have a collective impact and achieve our shared goal. Although my practicum is ending, I am excited to continue this versatile experience of personal and professional development as a part of the EWSE leadership team.  As a North Carolina partner I am looking forward to continuing our work towards health equity in our region.

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Gulfport, Mississippi to partner with EWSE Leadership Team member Juanita Graham and her colleagues on promoting the life course approach to reducing infant mortality.The focus of my trip was a presentation to the District 9 FIMR Teams (fetal, infant mortality review) coordinated by Mary Craig and Cheryl Doyle, both experienced and dedicated leaders on this project. Teams have now reviewed over 50 cases and 7 area hospitals have introduced some new policies and classes, particularly around SUIDS risk reduction. The group is now eager to expand their thinking about new approaches to preventing infant death. The meeting was very well attended, including several staff from the state health department in Jackson. The group had a lively discussion about life course and shared ideas about how it could be applied in Mississippi. 
Part of the trip included the chance to network with Juanita’s colleagues on behalf of the coalition. My visit happened to coincide with the MS Nurses Association Conference which was themed “Hunting for Evidence-Based Practice” (thus the camo gear). I had the great opportunity to go with them on an evening boat ride in the Gulf. The sunset over the Gulf was amazing and those MS nurses know how to have fun! I also had the chance to recruit some new members to the state team and learn about the MS Coast Interfaith Task Force which is doing some fantastic work on community resilience, access to health care, life planning for 8th graders and more.
While the landscape is lovely and the people are really warm, Mississippi faces many challenges, including poverty, obesity, few resources for programs and high rates of maternal mortality. Fortunately, the state also has a cadre of nurses and public health leaders who are determined to make change happen. Seeing how the community has rebuilt from two recent disasters (Katrina and the oil spill), it was clear that the people of Mississippi are resilient. Hearing that in 2012 Mississippi has achieved its lowest rates of infant mortality ever (while other Southern states have seen increased rates or stagnation) absolutely affirms that these leaders are making a difference. We look forward to connecting with new colleagues and continuing to build the  Mississippi Connection!

Savannah Cooksey, Connie Bish, Juanita Graham, Cheryl Doyle, Sarah Verbiest and Mary Craig (start top left to right)

Cecilia Sáenz Becerra is the field organizer with Raising Women’s Voices. She works with RWV’s state partners throughout the South and resides in Atlanta, GA.

RWV2logoWhat about health care reform is exciting for you?
As October 1 draws arrives, I am excited that thousands of people across the nation who previously did not have health care will finally have the opportunity to get covered through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)! Specifically, I’m excited about mobilizing women, women of color, immigrants, and LGBT folks to enroll for affordable insurance options – especially in the southern states where we know the highest percentage of uninsured populations reside, many of whom don’t earn enough to be able to buy private insurance and aren’t eligible to be covered by Medicaid. Another exciting aspect about ACA is how it’s making insurance improvements. For example, no more gender rating (women will no longer have to pay more simply because they are women), no more lifetime or annual limits, no more pre-existing condition bans, and no more taking away insurance when you get sick!

To help women learn about the new options ahead of us, Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need and the Ms. Foundation have collaborated on a campaign that will complement, support, and amplify state level ACA outreach and enrollment efforts. The campaign, women 4 health care (@Women4HC), premiered on October 1 and includes an array of resources, tools, and materials for organizations engaging in this work, including Facebook and Twitter. Get the latest updates on Women 4 Health Care and learn more about how to get involved by filling out this simple form – click here.

What worries you / keeps you awake at night?
The new health care law will bring peace of mind and security to millions of Americans, but I worry about the people who will still fall into gaps that remain – some of which directly affect some of the people I’m closest too.

In many Southern states, conservative politicians have so far refused to accept federal funds that would allow them to provide insurance coverage through state Medicaid programs to more low-income people living and working in their states. This is a heart-breaking missed opportunity that will leave many people with no affordable way to get health insurance, like my partner. And according to economic experts in states that have done the analysis, it’s also a fiscal mistake because using federal money to expand Medicaid eligibility could actually save money for states, support well-paying health care sector jobs, and generate new tax revenues. It’s not too late, though, and I hope we’ll be able to make this worry go away by persuading more states to accept the federal funds and cover the new eligible populations.

Another gap that exists throughout the country is that undocumented immigrants, like my mother, are not allowed to buy insurance on the marketplace (even if they have the money and are able to pay full price). Immigrant youth who have filed for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are also not eligible, despite being recognized as “lawfully present” in the U.S. And even immigrants with documentation will face some barriers because of the five-year ban making them ineligible for the financial help they might need to make insurance affordable in the Marketplaces. People who can’t get insurance because of these gaps will have to rely on the same, limited sources for care that were available before the new law, including community health centers, which did at least get some new funding, thanks to the ACA.

For the millions who are eligible to buy insurance in the Marketplaces, I worry that women, women of color, and LGBT folks might not get the information they need to make informed decisions about plans that will meet their health care needs. These are constituencies that historically have been ignored and marginalized and, in the South and other rural states (like Montana), often face additional access challenges. To make sure they do get the necessary information, there will have to be outreach that’s specifically designed to overcome these challenges — taking the information directly to these communities — in their homes and by phone — and to places where people from various underserved communities are already coming together — like at community events, festivals, using social media channels where people congregate virtually.

Yet, there isn’t a challenge out there that doesn’t come with great opportunity. The need to do this targeted outreach creates space for organizations big and small to come together for a common goal. And there are some great organizations that are targeting these populations and engaging in outreach in the ways I just mentioned, like RWV, Out2Enroll, Enroll America, along with a slew of local and state-wide organizations. These are the challenges we face, that for one keeps me worried, but it’s also motivating to know there is a lot collaborative work being done.

What charge might you issue to women in the South about what we should be doing now?
I would give women in the South a charge of three things to do right now:

  1. If you’re uninsured, get ready to enroll by identifying your health care priorities
  2. Draw on local available help to figure out which health insurance plan fits your budget and meets your needs, and sign up!
  3. Whether you have insurance or not – find formal and informal ways to talk with friends and community members about these exciting changes and share the tools that are available with your networks.

To expand on number one, you really have to think about what is important for you in an insurance plan. Does the plan include the doctor, clinic or hospital that you use? Does it cover your medical needs? Which plan best fits your budget? You can get more information and other thought provoking things to keep in mind in the Choosing a Plan section of the RWV website.

If you have enrollment questions you want to ask to a person, suggests you visit to find help in your area, and you can also contact one of RWV’s Regional Coordinators if we have one in your state. We are always looking to expand our Southern partners, contact me if your organization is interested.

For number three, even if you don’t feel like an expert, remember that the best messenger for these very personal issues is often a person we know. You can use the RWV Fact Sheets to help your friends and family members learn about the changes that are coming, and share the 10 ways to get ready for the Health Insurance Marketplace with anyone you know who doesn’t have insurance!

  • January 2017
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  • September 2015
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  • December 2014