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Why Black Women Can’t Breathe – A Statement From the Black Women’s Health Imperative

I can’t breathe’ is a term that is notoriously recognized as the final, helpless declaration made before the tragic deaths of Black men at the hands of law enforcement officials. From Erick Garner to George Floyd, we have watched, in horror, a flawed justice system built on mistrust and deeply-rooted racism fail Black men; both during the incidents leading to their untimely deaths, and then again during judicial proceedings that let their killers go free. Our sisters have not gone unscathed. The deaths of Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson and many others have left us with more questions than answers.

Systemic racism is a public health crisis that tears at our nation’s fabric, limiting white America’s ability to see black men as something other than a threat. We are still fighting a global pandemic that sees Black men and women of color 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with or to die from COVID-19. And, while we live in one of the most technologically and medically advanced nations in the world, Black women are 4 times more likely than white women to die during childbirth. School-aged girls in low-income communities miss 2-3 days of school each month because they don’t have menstrual products. 

The inequitable treatment of Black men and women by law enforcement and within the healthcare system is no coincidence, it stems from 400 years of devaluing Black life in this country. 

And that truth is enough to take a Black woman’s breath away. 

Over the past week, the Black Women’s Health Imperative has stood in solidarity with people across the globe who’ve identified lawful ways to sound the alarm about the many injustices that must be addressed through policy changes, cultural sensitivity training and simple acknowledgement of just how real and far reaching these issues are. 

We have been encouraged by the growth of our audience and the interest of many allies and supporters in our work. We think of some like the friends and neighbors in Cooperstown, NY who gathered together to support us, and we are also filled with gratitude at the thousands of people who have made donations to us on social media and through our website. Your gifts fuel our ability to remain in the fight and we are accountable to you, to the 37-year legacy of our organization and to the generations to come who will work to achieve optimal health outcomes for Black women. 

There is power in breath. It is central to many spiritual and mindfulness practices as a life source vital for centering and healing. 

We will continue to work with our valued partners and stakeholders to address the most pressing health issues impacting our nation’s 22 million black women and girls. We work hard everyday to ensure that Black women can breathe easier. 

We invite you to join us.