Thousands of Black women take part in DC-area midlife health support program

This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.

For 20 years, two D.C. area medical professionals have partnered to help thousands of Black women in midlife better deal with their health.

Dr. Gayle Porter and Dr. Marilyn Gaston are the founders of the Gaston and Porter Health Improvement Center.

Porter is a clinical psychologist and Gaston is a physician and former Assistant Surgeon General of the United States. Their Prime Time Sister Circles, are 12-week support programs that focus on helping women reduce their blood pressure, increase physical activity, improve their nutrition and reduce stress.

Two D.C. area doctors have helped education thousands of Black women about their health over the past 20 years. (Courtesy Dr. Gayle Porter and Dr. Marilyn Gaston)

They focus on women between the ages of 40 and 75 because, Gaston said, “They are the matriarchs in our communities. They’re the teachers.”

But, she said, they are also the most vulnerable women in the country.

“We have the highest rates of death from all of the chronic diseases,” Porter said.

She said midlife is when women begin to get hypertension, some suffer from obesity and heart disease. The center’s goal is to help Black women take charge of their health and then become evangelists by spreading the word to family and community.

Gaston and Porter had known each other for years, but their partnership appeared coincidental. They just happened to attend the same panel on African American women’s health, and both realized that people wanted more information.

They were unsuccessful in finding books on Black women’s health, so they teamed up to write one.

The doctors’ book, “Prime Time: The African American Woman’s Complete Guide to Midlife Health and Wellness” was published in 2001. Their nonprofit was developed in 2002.

As they celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Prime Time Sister Circle, Gaston said, “We have put their health in their hands. And, I think that’s a major accomplishment.”

She said people have plans for their education, their careers, their relationships, “But most of us don’t have a healthcare plan in terms of living a life of prevention.”

The Prime Time Sister Circle aims to give participants the tools they need to live healthier and longer lives.

According to Gaston, upon completing the program women can say, “I now know how to read a food label, I now can take my own blood pressure, I can now measure my own abdominal circumference.”

Both Porter and Gaston were born in the Midwestern part of the U.S.: Porter in Chicago, Illinois, and Gaston in Cincinnati, Ohio.

They said they often joke about who grew up the poorest, but they both agree that growing up poor equipped them with a lifetime of problem solving skills.

Gaston said she decided she wanted to become a physician after watching her mother die prematurely from metastatic cervical cancer.

The center’s main office is located at 5301 North Capitol Street, N.E., D.C. 20011.

But the nonprofit has held Prime Time Sister Circles in eight states including Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, New York and Tennessee. Over 4,000 women have participated in the program over the last 20 years.

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant is an Anchor and Reporter for WTOP. Over the past 20 years, Stephanie has worked in several markets, including Baltimore, Washington, Houston and Charleston, holding positions ranging from newscaster to morning show co-host.

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