Stephanie Johnson, Vice President of Communications and Product Strategies for the American Medical Association, wants every Black woman in America to boldly and unapologetically place self-care at the top of their to-do list as an act of self-love. “You cannot function at your best for your family, your job, your friends, your church and community, if you don’t give yourself your best first,” Johnson told ESSENCE.
As a pillar of her mission to make self-care a movement among Black women, Johnson helped to launch the national ‘Release the Pressure’ (RTP) platform in 2020, in partnership with national health care organizations, experts and influencers—encouraging Black women to stress less and live their healthiest lives. “The RTP campaign supports Black women by providing free resources to help them proactively monitor their heart health,” said Johnson. “RTP also promotes teaming up with a squad of accountability partners such as health care providers, family, and friends to help you stay motivated.”
Johnson says the call for change is pressing — 49% of Black women over the age of 20 are living with heart disease. “We have got to change the numbers by every means necessary,” she said. “More than half of Black adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure (HBP), a precursor to heart disease. And of the adults who have HBP, most don’t have it controlled to a healthy goal.”
By visiting ReleaseThePressure.org, women can access tools to help them properly measure and track their blood pressure at home. There’s also a host of wellness programming and special events specifically designed to help Black women create practical and sustainable wellness plans.
“For me, this work is very sacred. Last year, during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, my family was hit with two personal tragedies that made life almost unbearable,” Johnson told ESSENCE. “First, losing my big sister, Anita, to a stroke in March and within a month following that just before Easter, my mom passed away from congestive heart failure, something that she dealt with for a long time.”
In the midst of grief, Johnson transformed the double heartbreaks into a living legacy to help better serve Black women through RTP. “Black women are not only primary caregivers for our families, we also often bear the brunt of systemic neglect, structural racism, and the fracturing of our communities,” said Johnson. “The effect of these everyday stressors can have a lasting negative impact on our health and wellbeing.” The RTP campaign creates a special space for Black women to share, connect and prioritize putting themselves first. “My mom used to work two jobs back-to-back every day for years to ensure her children had everything we needed, but that meant sacrificing precious moments she should have devoted to herself. That she deserved to devote to herself,” said Johnson. “RTP is about reminding Black women how magnificently beautiful we are—how magnificently perfect and wondrous we are, just the way we are.”
Since the loss of her mom and sister, Johnson has taken steps to slow down, eat right and serve as a better role model of good health for her daughter, Blake. “We are mirror images for our kids. They watch us and learn from us,” said Johnson. “It saddens me that my mom is no longer here to talk to me every day, and watch her granddaughter grow up. But each day in tribute to her, Blake and I do something heart healthy like make smoothies or ride our bikes. We call it our Maggie time.”
Black women who are ready to join with Johnson and other sisters across the nation to achieve their highest self should go right now to ReleaseThePressure.org and take the heart health pledge as a commitment to themselves and their resilience. “We have the power to protect our hearts,” said Johnson. “The first step is taking the heart health pledge, which takes less than a minute. From there the RTP coalition will show up for you, be there for you, and walk with you on your personal journey to better health.”