Written by Brianna Jones in collaboration with Cierra Sisters
“How do we love our community back to health?” – Ms. Bridgette Hempstead, Cierra Sisters Founder
I don’t think there is a more important question we can be asking, or a more qualified person to engage with this work. Through Cierra Sisters, Ms. Bridgette has been empowering African-American women to reclaim their health and establish important connections between medical providers and underrepresented community members. Across these past few weeks, I have been unbelievably fortunate to hear from Ms. Bridgette about the life-saving work Cierra Sisters does every day.
Cierra Sisters is a nonprofit located out of the Skyway neighborhood of South Seattle, with a goal to “break the cycle of fear and increase knowledge concerning breast cancer in the African-American and underserved communities.” They do this work on so many levels – ranging from holding encouragement-focused meetings via their support groups, spreading awareness of barriers to healthcare at some of their events across the year, or working with medical partners and clinicians to develop connections between them and community. This is their first year in NAC’s year-long Capacity Building Cohort program, funded by the City of Seattle.
One of the most powerful aspects of the Cierra Sisters’ work is through their support groups. These monthly groups (running January – October) provide a space for African-American women to develop community, learn from different guest speakers about self-care, and cultivate the hope that is crucial to their recovery. In addition, they hold a variety of events across the year, and this year were able to host their first annual World Cancer Day event. This event provided the community with a panel of world-renowned oncologists and doctors and created a judgement-free space for community members to ask questions about their health and experience in the health care system. And this is just one of the ways Cierra Sisters breaks down the barrier between community members and the medical professionals who serve them.
The other major way Cierra Sisters accomplishes this is through the consulting work they do with major cancer research organizations like Fred Hutchinson. By surveying the community to understand the needs, Cierra Sisters is able to relay critical community knowledge to the people who need to hear it most. The connection developed through these research partnerships also benefits Cierra Sisters, by creating a reliable group of physicians that can be reached in times of emergency or crisis.
In addition to all of this, there is the day-to-day work, which is described by Ms. Bridgette as being “in the trenches”. Through the Cierra Empowerment Partnerships (CEPs), different volunteers receive training and resources so that they can go with other Cierra Sisters to their doctors’ appointments and other medical visits. These CEPs act as advocates for the Cierra Sisters receiving treatment and are available to translate medical jargon into more accessible language. This advocate work is so crucial, especially due to the earned mistrust that most African American women have with physicians.
Over their time with NAC, we have been grateful for the way Cierra Sisters has showed up in the cohort. Ms. Bridgette is a skilled advocate for the Cierra Sisters work; she is never afraid to ask for help from NAC’s interns, coaches, and external partners striving to support the cohort. Whether she is repurposing items that would otherwise get wasted, or visiting one of NAC and Wayfind’s legal clinics, Ms. Bridgette is intentional about making sure that Cierra Sisters gets everything it can out of NAC.
Cierra Sisters is doing critical, lifesaving work in Skyway and in the greater Seattle area. Through their true centering of people who often have limited access to medical care and information in a traditional medical situation, you can’t help but be inspired by their mission, their community power, and the heart they bring to the work.