When Chris Omni’s mother entered hospice care just before her death in 2016, her doctor told her she had been able to fight cancer for 26 years because of her faith and her fitness.
Her mom’s story inspired a way for Omni, known as “The Health Hippie,” to honor her mom and other cancer survivors. With an impact grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, she has created a yearlong initiative focusing on the health of black women between the ages of 39 and 64.
If and when black women receive a cancer diagnosis, Omni said Wednesday, “this opportunity is going to give you that foundation to fight it and win and fight for 26 years and beyond.”
The initiative, called Black Butterflyz, will incorporate two 13-week phases of walking classes punctuated by three sets of biometric screenings to track height, weight, girth measurements, blood pressure and glucose. Its goal is for black women to improve their health by being physically active.
Phase 1 will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Capitol building, where women in a low-impact group or moderate- to high-impact group can walk each floor and the 296 steps to the top of the dome. Omni will lead Phase 1 classes, which will be held on Saturdays, while Phase 2 will be led by volunteers called Monarchs with sessions held every day except Friday at locations across Topeka.
Omni said black women are 60 percent more likely to have diabetes, 40 percent more likely to die of cancer, 40 percent more likely to die of a stroke and 30 percent more likely to die of heart disease.
“Looking at black women as sisters and aunties and grandmothers and cousins and nieces, I don’t want anybody to have to go through what I went through of losing my mom,” she said.
Omni said the initiative is “about meeting black women where they are and helping them get where they want to be” by focusing on physical activity. Black Butterflyz is for women along the spectrum from those able to run a marathon to those in a wheelchair, she said.
Wellness is defined as a deliberate lifestyle choice to achieve optimal well-being, Omni said — a definition that doesn’t state a specific size. That is why Black Butterflyz won’t focus on weight or body mass index, which takes only height and weight into consideration.
“When you look at the structure of a lot of black women, you’re going to see a higher BMI, which does not necessarily mean that they’re overweight,” she said.
Omni said her goal is to have at least 100 women enrolled by February. Until then, she will work on recruiting, marketing and establishing additional partnerships for the program funded by the Kansas Health Foundation. The Capitol and Washburn University, which will conduct participants’ biometric screenings, are its current partners.
Black women between the ages of 39 and 64 who are interested in joining Black Butterflyz may do so on the website for Omni’s nonprofit Makin’ Moves.
Contact reporter Samantha Foster at (785) 295-1186 or @samfoster_ks on Twitter.