April 17, 2018—Women’s health – and the health of women of color in particular – are at risk. In response, The California Wellness Foundation announced today that it is investing $13 million over five years in two initiatives that address health issues that disproportionately impact women of color. Through its Reentry Women and the HIV/AIDS/STIs and Women of Color initiatives, Cal Wellness is countering threats to the wellness of women and girls of color.
“Women are suffering. The dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and the social safety net, the rolling back of reproductive rights and the traumatic impact of incarceration on women put the health and wellness of our communities at great risk,” said Judy Belk, President and CEO of Cal Wellness. “And communities of color are bearing the brunt of these attacks. But there is hope. Philanthropy can play a critical role in advancing wellness for all by fighting the injustices affecting the most vulnerable among us.”
“This is the next phase of the Foundation’s long history of boldly confronting injustices based on race and gender,” said Crystal Crawford, Program Director of Cal Wellness and the lead for the two initiatives announced today. “These initiatives aim to give voice to women of color and to meet their needs as essential leaders in our communities. We hope they fuel innovation and advocacy in serving the needs of women of color and inspire others to contribute to the changes our communities need.”
Cal Wellness is launching these two grantmaking initiatives after an in-depth planning process that included numerous key stakeholder interviews; web-based research and literature review; community forums, focus groups and expert roundtable discussions; and collecting stories, testimonies and input from the general public, advocates and experts.
Black and Latina women together represent less than a quarter of all U.S. women but make up the large majority of women currently living with HIV. HIV/AIDS-related illness is among the leading causes of death for Black women ages 25-34. In addition, women of color in the U.S. have high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Women of color also face high risks of acquiring HIV and STIs due to the social and economic conditions that make it difficult to protect their sexual health, such as high rates of poverty, ongoing trauma, income inequality and unemployment.
A core part of the Foundation’s Women of Color and HIV/AIDS/STIs initiative will be a public awareness campaign, “Upspoken,” coordinated by RALLY, a communications firm. “Upspoken,” which launches later in April, will engage multi-generational Black women and contribute to new ways of thinking about HIV, AIDS and STIs among direct service providers, advocacy organizations, individual and institutional funders, and policymakers. The campaign also seeks to increase understanding and raise awareness about the disproportionate impact of HIV, AIDS and STIs on women of color and encourage increased funding and improved public policies related to Black women and HIV, AIDS and STIs.
The initiative also will fund two demonstration projects to document and disseminate best practices to address prevention and early intervention for women of color at risk for HIV, AIDS and STIs, and to develop innovations that result in integrated prevention and early intervention services for at-risk women of color. A demonstration project in Los Angeles County will be led by Dr. Gail Wyatt, Director of the Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities at UCLA’s Semel Institute. In Alameda County, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases (WORLD) will partner with the East Bay Community Foundation.
Re-entry for Formerly Incarcerated Women
Women of color are overrepresented among those incarcerated at the federal, state and local levels, and California is home to the largest number of incarcerated adult women in the nation. Once released from jail and prison, formerly incarcerated women face significant barriers to building stable and healthy lives when they return to their communities, including unemployment and lack of access to education, permanent housing, health care and support in being reunited with their families. For women of color, these barriers are exacerbated by racial discrimination.
Cal Wellness’ Re-entry and Employment Initiative aims to ensure that formerly incarcerated women of color, especially African American and Latina women, achieve health through financial well-being, including through increased participation in the workforce and building financial assets. The Foundation awarded grants to four organizations tackling criminal justice reform, A New Way of Life, Justice Now, Time for Change Foundation and The Praxis Project, to mobilize for local and statewide policy opportunities, such as effective implementation of Proposition 47 with a gender lens, that impact the specific challenges facing re-entry women. The grantees have established the Women Organizing Re-entry Communities of Color for Prop 47 (WORCC) Collaborative to target Prop 47 resources to benefit women of color as they seek employment and financial well-being upon re-entry.
As part of the initiative, Cal Wellness also approved grants to support three demonstration projects to Root & Rebound in Fresno County, A New Way of Life in Los Angeles County and Time for Change Foundation in San Bernardino County along with Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO). The grantees will engage formerly incarcerated women of color, especially Black and Latina women, in comprehensive workforce development services including job training, career advancement and asset-building. The Center for Employment Opportunities will provide technical assistance. The demonstration projects also will promote and advocate for systems and policy change that produces integrated services for formerly incarcerated women of color to gain financial well-being.