Resilient Sisterhood celebrates fifth anniversary

A fundraiser to empower black women and their health.

A Harriet Tubman portrait by Jules Arthur 28 x 40 inches, painted in oil on canvas panel. Mounted on distressed wood, rusted metal railroad rails, antique brass frame, 1800s Bible, Civil War revolver, and post-document memorabilia. The box window showcases narrative aspects depicting her journey, the dangerous mission and threats of the times.

In February of last year, journalist Gwendolyn Ifill co-moderated a debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on “NewsHour” — she was said to have brought forth some of the most memorable responses from each candidate.

“Every time the proceedings seemed on the verge of tedium … Ifill would step in with some out-of-the-box questions,” Politico reported.

Nine months later, at age 61, endometrial cancer claimed Gwen Ifill’s life.

The Resilient Sisterhood Project, a nonprofit based out of Boston, will honor her life at its fundraiser on August 5 at Lola’s in Oak Bluffs. In celebration of the group’s fifth anniversary, the Resilient Sisterhood Project will sell donated works from artists like Paul Goodnight, Julia Sohn, Charlot Lucien, and a specially commissioned piece from Jules Arthur.

Regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic status, black women are disproportionately impacted by reproductive diseases like uterine fibroids, infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and breast, ovarian, cervical, uterine cancers, and more, according to the National Institutes of Health. The Resilient Sisterhood Project aims to inform and empower women to take control of their health.

Lily Marcelin, founder of the organization, worked to aid people who are victims of human trafficking and sexual violence. But she noticed a pattern, and it piqued her curiosity — many of the black women faced reproductive diseases.

She thought about her friends, her family, her co-workers, and wondered, How far did this reach? To her surprise, but also suspicion, several she questioned had one if not more of the health problems.

“I remember more than one of them saying, ‘Oh my God, why don’t we talk about these issues? Why is there so much silence?’” Ms. Marcelin said.

Depending on the disease, cancers found in black women tend to be more aggressive, particularly in breast and endometrial cancer. And some of these health issues perpetuate others, like infertility, which can stand alone or be a byproduct of other issues, like fibroids.

“Nobody knows exactly what the reasons are — there’s no doubt that more research needs to be done,” Ms. Marcelin said.

The luncheon to honor Gwen Ifill also aims to educate attendees about the mission of the Resilient Sisterhood Project. Obstetrician-gynecologist Yvonne Gomez-Carrion, will emcee the fundraiser.

“Knowledge is power, so the whole mission of this organization is to empower women to take control of their reproductive health — and to do that you need to know your anatomy, physiology, and life stressors that have an impact on that.”

Disparities in access to health care are a common issue for women of color, but Dr. Gomez-Carrion says sometimes even when you get access, the preferential treatment and options afforded to the patient are factors to consider.

“Just because you have fine institutions doesn’t mean women feel comfortable going into those institutions — when it be from a bad personal history, or how they are promoting their health services,” Dr. Gomez-Carrion said. “Are there people of color in those institutions to provide them care? Not to say all women of color want to seek providers of color — but there’s an important link there as well.”