The American Heart Association’s Pamela Garmon Johnson Says These Money Moves Are Affecting Black Women’s Health
Credit: Pamela Garmon Johnson

The strong Black woman cultural trope is one most of us have experienced before. You know her: the strong, resilient, nurturing, ‘don’t worry, I’ve got it,’ kind of girl that always seems to take care of everyone emotionally and financially. While this could be viewed as a point of pride and even a form of self-protection, it could also cause more harm than good.  

Pamela Garmon Johnson knows first-hand how wearing a superwoman cape can sometimes smother us if we’re not careful. 

As the VP of Health Equity and National Partnerships at the American Heart Association, her job is dedicated to identifying opportunities to close care gaps and make it easier for people to access heart health resources. This work, she says, is intersectional for her as a Black woman since heart disease and stroke is the No. 1 killer in women, and stroke disproportionately affects the Black community. 

Unsurprisingly, one of the leading causes of stress induced heart issues are often finance related. This is especially troubling because data shows that in most Black households, mothers are the primary, sole, or co-breadwinners, but make less money than other groups. 

“We wear an ‘S’ on our chest, go out and work hard everyday, and we don’t even get paid the same amount as our white female counterparts, nonetheless white men,” Garmon Johnson said. “Black women have so many barriers, yet we are still expected, and want to save everyone all the time.” 

She even pointed out that although Black women make significantly less than other groups, they lead in charitable giving, which can sometimes lead to financial strain. Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post wrote: Between 2010 and 2016, White philanthropy remained consistent at 2 percent of their median wealth. Black families, by contrast, contributed 6 percent of their median wealth to charity in 2010. The rate jumped to 11 percent in 2013 and then dropped to 8 percent in 2016, according to a 2018 Urban Institute report

This is interesting because white families have a median wealth of $188,200, compared with Black families’ median wealth of $24,100, per the 2019 Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances

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Garmon Johnson says that while offering financial support to loved ones is important, Black women need to be intentional about prioritizing themselves more often, in every way. 

“I find that taking care of myself in small ways has helped me incredibly,” said Garmon Johnson, who once also suffered from borderline hypertension. “At a certain point in my life, I realized I was putting others’ needs ahead of my own, so I leaned on a partner to help keep me accountable for taking care of myself, which sounds silly, but sometimes you need that reminder.” 

She also mentioned Black families should aim to be more intentional  about alleviating financial strain from one another in the future by making some important decisions right now. 

“We as a community need to prioritize purchasing life insurance if you can, so loved ones aren’t left with the financial burdens after you’re gone,” she shared. 

Garmon Johnson also acknowledged that small self-care steps can lead to lasting financial impact for Black women down the line. 

“Financial strain is not easy to deal with for anyone, but it is especially troubling if you’re battling your body too.” She says putting exercise and healthier food choices at the forefront can lead to an overall better quality of life. 

“I know it sometimes seems impossible to do things for yourself when everyone else is looking to you for solutions, but even a 20 minute walk or 60 seconds of meditation can help you refocus. Black women want the best for everyone, but we have to want the best for ourselves as well.”