Growing up, I was fortunate enough to be nurtured in a way that led me to believe I could do anything. But, after a variety of experiences during my college years, that foundation was shaken. It was an undergraduate women’s studies class and an introduction to feminism that helped me forge a path back to that confident individual I had been raised to be. I learned about the silenced voices of women and the resulting toll on their bodies and minds. This realization ignited a fire in me that has burned brightly ever since. Over the years I came to understand more about my privilege and the responsibility I bear because of it. I became a mother. I found myself wanting to DO something. To make a real difference for all women. To facilitate change.
One rainy, fall afternoon in 2009, I was talking with a friend and former colleague on the phone. We hadn’t spoken in a while, so we spend quite a bit of time catching up about our lives, our kids and our careers. Both of us had spent more than 15 years working to improve the health and wellness of mothers and babies. And we were both incredibly frustrated at the lack of progress. We admitted to each other that we felt disconnected from other women in our field, that we needed mentors, and we wanted the opportunity to speak honestly about what was holding change back. What if we could get a group of Southern women together so we could all learn from each other and work together in innovative ways that would allow every woman in the Southeast to rise? It sounded like a great idea—and it was one neither of us could shake once we hung up the phone that day.
Several months later, my friend and I found ourselves at the same meeting. So, we joined forces, cornered a funder to pitch our idea about a southern women’s coalition and landed our first grant with the March of Dimes. We wasted no time in moving forward, holding our inaugural meeting on March 2, 2010 in Atlanta, GA. The women who were part of that meeting were connected by a collective fatigue at always being in the worst performing region of the country when it came to women’s wellness. But, more importantly, we were united and powered by an unfailing desire to learn from each other. To give a voice to community influencers, and to look at women’s needs in their full complexity.
Every Woman Southeast officially “came out” as a coalition in June 2011 at the National Preconception Health Summit and received a strong vote of confidence in April 2012 through a grant from the WK Kellogg Foundation.
While Every Woman Southeast began as the “little idea that could” of two friends catching up on the phone—it has grown into a powerful movement. We are a diverse coalition powered by a passion to give all women a voice, to gain true equity, and to find new ways to achieve women’s wellness and justice. But, we’re only just beginning. There’s a long way to go. And we’d love to have you along for the journey.
Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPH
Director, Every Woman Southeast