Lisa Cunningham sits at the intersection of health equity and artistry. As a filmmaker and director of Digital Communications for the Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI), Cunningham highlights the unique healthcare experiences and challenges faced by Black women and girls across the organization’s digital platforms.
For decades, Black women have been at the center of a public health emergency. Black women have a higher prevalence of many health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes, maternal morbidities, obesity, and stress. Infant mortality rates for children born to Black women are twice as high as those for children born to white women.
But Cunningham is not discouraged by the data; rather, she is invigorated by the opportunity to change the tide. The digital channels she drives have become a megaphone to amplify the joy, resilience, innovation, and legislation needed to face the realities of a healthcare system that fails Black women and girls regularly.
The digital media maven, who also serves as an advisory council member for AWHP, sat down with our team to share more about her work and her commitment to women’s preventive health.
AWHP: What led you to a career in digital storytelling?
LC: I’m a bit of a unicorn regarding my career path. I started out in the entertainment industry. Being an Atlanta native in the early 90s, right, the Mecca of all things related to urban music,I started shooting music videos while I was in college. I spent all my free time working on video sets as a production assistant with artists like TLC and Kris Kross. I also had a passion for marketing, so for many years I worked with record labels. But I was always yearning for something different, something more meaningful. I started thinking that I could use my talents as a filmmaker to work with nonprofits and do other meaningful projects. That one intention led me to work with some amazing organizations and brands. I call this pivot in my career, the remix.
AWHP: What attracted you to the role of director of Digital Communications at Black Women’s Health Imperative?
LC: I grew up idolizing my older sister. I have three sisters, and unfortunately, we lost my eldest sister to sickle cell. But she lived almost 20 years longer than doctors said she would. For years, I was a primary caretaker for my mother, who is 93 years old. I saw how income accessibility and top-tier insurance created better health outcomes for my loved ones. As a storyteller, I became intrigued with how I could make a difference with my art form to spread awareness and help impact real change. So, it was truly kismet.
AWHP: February is Black History Month. Does that hold any significance for you?
LC: Black History Month means a lot to me. As an Atlanta native, I grew up in the birthplace of Martin Luther King. That history and pride permeate through our community. I’ve received the opportunity to have conversations with people like Ambassador Andrew Young at the local YMCA that bears his name and discuss how important preventive health is for our people.
My goal as a storyteller and filmmaker is to tell more diverse stories during Black History month. We rotate those same 20 to 30 names, I think it’s important for us to expand the people we showcase during this time.
I was able to tour the archives of Spelman College with the founder of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, Byllye Avery. Together, we looked at the photos from her conference that took place over 40 years ago where she brought together 2,000 Black women to the campus of Spelman to discuss Black women’s health for the first time. She still works to this day, at 85 years young, to change what she likes to call the “Conspiracy of Silence” surrounding the nuanced experiences that Black women face. Things like that must be a part of the Black History Month conversation.
AWHP: Why now, more than ever, is an organization focused on prevention for women and girls across the lifespan so desperately needed?
LC: The United Nations tells us that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is not just the goal, but a key to sustainable development, economic growth, peace, and security. Any organization focused on prevention for women and girls across the lifespan can play a critical role in making the world a better place. That’s my sole motivation. I don’t think on a day-to-day your average person really realizes how important prevention is. I’m a dot connector. I know that everything is related, and that’s how I live my whole life from a community standpoint, knowing that what I’m doing over here can affect someone over there and vice versa.
AWHP: Black communities face so many obstacles to accessing high-quality care. We often suffer the most hardship and find ourselves unable to access vital healthcare services. How do you carry that and what gives you hope?
LC: The current CEO at the Black Women’s Health Imperative, Linda Goler Blount and I often talk about the word hope. We know the stats. We choose not to be consumed by them. They can be so overwhelming. My mother always told me that I was her most appreciative child because I always got so excited over the littlest of things. That is the approach that I take with this work. I get excited over the littlest of things. For example, I’ll regularly visit our social media page and if a post that we’ve shared generates healthy comments, results in “aha” moments, provides new information or even a new resource that can guide them to a better health outcome… my day is made.