When Wendy Batiste-Johnson was asked to participate in a WDIV panel with anchor Kimberly Gill featuring three Black moms last summer, an idea was born.
“With COVID and all the racial unrest, emotions were high and we were all in our homes,” she said. “In the Black communities, these issues were not necessarily new for us. Sitting at home with our children was new and being emotionally burdened with COVID.”
The discussions that followed felt like a form of group therapy. “We needed to create a space to feel safe in having these conversations,” said Batiste-Johnson, of Bloomfield Hills. “We were not taking care of ourselves because we’re so concerned about everyone else. Black women were fearful for our husbands, sons and daughters, and our health was put on the back burner. What came out of this was a pandemic within a pandemic.”
So Batiste-Johnson founded United Black Mothers of America (UBMA), currently serving as president. “Our goal is to support one another in health and wellness. We have wellness walks in person and we’ve had virtual participation from mothers across the country.
“That is the joy in what we do. The goal as we grow is to expand our efforts, and we already have women who have walked with us in different states from Texas, Ohio, California and Connecticut. We are committed to change the self-care of Black mothers, but we are inclusive and welcoming to other mothers to walk, talk and be well alongside Black mothers.”
Local participants register to meet at a designated location. During a recent event, two men joined the group. “It was the most heartfelt and rewarding walk,” she said. “It certainly added a part of the conversation that was so welcomed.”
For their first anniversary in June, they plan to host their first family walk. “When we look around our friend groups, they are typically people that are in our bubbles and probably very like-minded,” Batiste-Johnson said. “Some may have not had the opportunity to come into contact with others. This presents the opportunity for that type of new communication in your everyday life.”
Batiste-Johnson owned a boutique in Ann Arbor for 10 years. After having children and taking time off, she worked for Taubman in management positions for Twelve Oaks Mall and Partridge Creek. “It was a great experience, but I realized I wanted to do something else, so I resigned in the spring of 2019 to take a year off for the ‘wellness of Wendy,’” she said.
“I’m a workaholic with two kids and a husband. I had to make decisions for me and my health and wellness. It was literally the best decision I made – and then came the pandemic. It prepared me to make an impact on people’s lives.”
There are physical, social and emotional components to UBMA. Besides wellness walks, they host health talks to address mental health and nutrition.
“Self-care starts at home. You deserve to give yourself an hour to engage in the community. We have to put it on ourselves first before we take care of others.”
Dialogue is also needed. “The power of conversation can’t be understated. It’s so powerful and desirable right now. People tippy-toe around conversation because they’re scared of saying the wrong thing, but it’s so impactful. It’s so much better for a Black mother for someone to say something embarrassing than to be silent.”
Her kids will surely learn important lessons along the way. “One thing we can all agree on is that we want a better world for our children,” she said.
For more information and to subscribe to the UBMA newsletter, go to unitedblackmothersofamerica.org.
Story: Jeanine Matlow
Photo: Laurie Tennent