“The body keeps the score, and that count is especially high up for a lot for black women.”
That’s one of the key lessons Dr. Yasmene Mumby learned, when in her late twenties, she was told she was close to losing sight in her left eye due to severe hemorrhaging. The culprit? Her stressful job. Mumby was working at a respected firm, carrying 12+ hour days while showing up as the perfect daughter, partner, and friend. She often put herself last. The body keeps the score.
“I got very sick,” Mumby told ESSENCE. “I got so burnt out between 2015 and 2016 that I had a series of health ailments that really knocked me out.”
This included a blood clot that impaired her vision for a year, doctors weren’t sure if she would ever regain her vision at all.”
“They were preparing me to go completely blind.”
At the same time, she also found out that she was growing a fibroid tumor, a health defect many Black women face. Researchers estimate that 25% of African-American women will suffer from fibroids by the age of 25 and 80% will have them by age 50.
Although the cause is still indefinite, some data points to cumulative stress, particularly “the weathering of being a Black woman in this country” Mumby describes. “It surges our cortisol stress hormones, and the trauma has to go somewhere, right?” The body keeps the score.
In 2010, Cheryl Giscombé, Ph.D., published the paper entitled “Superwoman Schema: African American Women’s Views on Stress, Strength, and Health” in the journal Qualitative Health ResearchTrusted Source and explained that specific societal pressure impacted on Black women can lead to medical issues.
In the paper, Giscombé pointed out that research suggests that health disparities in African American women, including adverse birth outcomes, lupus, obesity, and untreated depression, are linked by stress and coping.
“So, I became interested in this — really, I became interested in emotional suppression first,” Giscombé explained in a 2020 interview with MedicalNewsToday.com. “So, if women felt like they could not express their emotions, how might that impact their health? And then I became interested in this concept of strength — if they feel obligated to present an image of strength.”
Mumby is a testament of this. She says she felt compelled to hide behind her accomplishments as a way to feel worthy of the love she wasn’t freely given as a child.
“So much of that ambition on paper is driven by being excluded, feeling the cold of not being invited in and having the resolve to say, ‘no, you don’t let me in, and I’m going to make you recognize who I am’,” she explained. “So much of it started when I was a little kid and realizing that as a little black girl, coming into the understanding that people were racializing my look, my skin, my hair texture, and that in elementary school if I want some positive attention, I had to achieve.”
She continued: “I learned early as a child in school that some teachers support and show more interest in a student if they do well in school, get good grades, and achieve. Otherwise, the student may be ignored and left aside. Initially, I developed my drive to overproduce in elementary school when I witnessed some teachers showing interest in my development only until after I started performing well in their classroom. I also noticed that some teachers showed interest in the development of my peers who were white, whether or not they performed well, academically.”
That early realization led to Mumby receiving excellent grades, earning a Bachelor’s in International Studies and Master’s in Teaching from The Johns Hopkins University, along with a JD from University of Maryland School of Law and a Doctorate in Education Leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Mumby was working for the firm while in law school as a summer associate and was offered a role at the firm.
“When there were conversations about my steps forward, the woman handed me the information to a good therapist,” Mumby said. ” ‘You’re going need it’ she told me.”
And she did. Following her health scares and subsequent recoveries, she shook up her life and put herself first. That meant enlisting support to change her daily habits, re-evaluating relationships, and declining the offer to work at the high-powered job.
Not too long after, she founded The Ringgold a consultancy that helps corporate teams shape their strategic communications with a particular focus on equity and research initiatives.
She utilizes her signature technique, The Easeful Leader: The Method For Sustainable Leadership Skills For Long-Term Career Success, and combines her background in academia and wellness to coach ambitious high-level executives, leaders, and business owners through turbulent and unknown waters so they can lead with compassion, avoid burnout, and find peace in their purpose. Her clients have included the ACLU, the International Rescue Committee, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Women’s Democracy Lab, National Audubon Society, Faith in Action, and Working Families Party.
Despite the impressive resume, she’s choosing a “slow, intentional life” with her family, practicing yoga, and leaning into balanced living.
“I had to teach people how to treat me, including myself.”
Seems like the score is finally even.