On Friday, May 24, professional women of color representing an array of industries and professions took a day from work to visit Manatee Lagoon in West Palm Beach. However, their goal wasn’t to view or learn about manatees. Rather, the picturesque location served as the perfect venue for an all-day wellness retreat called “Nourish.”
Nourish was the brainchild of Jeanette Marshall, senior director of Healthier Neighbors, a Palm Health Foundation Healthier Together initiative. The mission of Healthier Neighbors is to improve the health and well-being of residents living in the Northern West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach neighborhoods by convening residents, listening to their needs and providing financial support and resources to help the neighborhoods make positive, healthy changes.
For several years, Healthier Neighbors has participated in the “Get Your Green On” campaign, a month-long mental health awareness effort in Palm Beach County. Although Get Your Green On is a powerful campaign that educates the public on the importance of good mental health and works to reduce the stigma surrounding the topic, Marshall didn’t feel that the campaign resonated with professional women of color, specifically.
“Many professional women of color in our community, a large percentage of them caretakers, don’t take the time to address their mental health,” Marshall explained. “These women do such a great job creating initiatives and finding solutions for the community, but do not take the same level of care for themselves.”
Marshall envisioned creating a safe environment where professional women of color could come together and identify with one another, while also learning new strategies for increasing positive brain health. She brought this idea to a committee of five women: Leontyne Brown with 513 Media; Shenetria Moore with SHEholdings; Anitra Moss with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies; Sophia Nelson with S.A. Nelson and Associates (event organizer); and Sheree Wolliston with American Heart Association of Palm Beach County. This committee of high-powered, professional women put their heads together to create a day-long retreat filled with workshops and experiences intended to bring peace, knowledge and empowerment to all women in attendance.
Nourish was a free, invitation-only event. The guest list was limited to 100 attendees to create an intimate atmosphere for sharing and learning. As attendees approached Manatee Lagoon from the parking lot on the morning of the event, they were greeted with signage displaying encouraging words, such as, “Beautiful woman, you can do this!” and “Self-care isn’t selfish.”
Attendees began the day with a healthy breakfast, then convened in an upstairs room with panoramic views of the Intracoastal Waterway. Guests were greeted with a bag of goodies, including a scented candle and beachy caftan, and a free yoga mat. From there, they were presented with options to sit on slouchy poufs, comfortable couches, the floor or chairs – whatever most comfortable - to enjoy the introductory presentation.
Event host and radio personality Moshay Laren explained to the group that women of color, particularly black women, are in desperate need of self-care. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Nourish was designed to help attendees confront their stress, feelings of overwhelm and lack of self-care, together, and then find the tools to create balance in their lives.
The wellness retreat was broken up into 30-minute sessions, lasting until 4:30 in the afternoon. Sessions ranged from self-guided adult coloring on the upstairs veranda, to yoga and meditation on the front lawn. Guests learned about crystal healing, journaling techniques, spiritual beading, creating vision boards, essential oils and the power of positive affirmations. Each session, unique from the next, brought questions, discussion, learning, sharing – sometimes tears – and growth.
During an afternoon lecture titled, “Black Women at Work and in Society” and facilitated by Christine Platt (@afrominimalist) , author and influencer, attendees stood and told stories of personal struggle with self-care. Platt shared that professional women of color with advanced degrees have higher mortality rates than white women who are high school drop-outs.
A deep dive into answering why health outcomes are poorer for black women leads to a commentary on the portrayal of black women in culture and their role throughout American history. Black women are understood to be strong, unwaveringly resilient and therefore averse to showing vulnerability and emotion. In higher education and the workplace, black women often find themselves the only one represented in a room of colleagues. This leads to a feeling of needing to work twice as hard to reach the accomplishments and accolades attainable by non-black peers. The weight of these realities can cause black women to internalize stress, which can lead to chronic health issues, including anxiety and depression.
“The event committee and I hoped that all attendees walked away from Nourish understanding the need for self-care in their daily lives,” Marshall said.
They certainly did. Attendees clapped and cheered each other on as women stood to declare their intentions for self-care and work-life balance. Women smiled, hugged, exchanged business cards and left Manatee Lagoon newly inspired and encouraged.
Contributed by Vanessa Moss