Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


African and African Diaspora Studies

First Advisor

Ermitte Saint Jacques

Committee Members

Erin Winkler, Robert Smith, Cheryl Kader, Anika Wilson


activism, autoethnography, Black women, Milwaukee, qualitative research, self-care


This research originated in my experiences and observations as a Black woman activist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With the untimely deaths of Black feminist foremothers like Audre Lorde and more contemporary Black women activists, such as Erica Garner, I wondered about the burdens of oppression and stress in the lives of Black women activists. Traditional media covers activists’ fatalities, but the question of the health and wellbeing of activists remains largely absent in discourse. Historians often focus on the leadership characteristics and intellectual work of Black women. Yet, leadership narratives can overlook the health of Black women activists. To date, little work has attended to the health and wellness of Black women activists in social justice movements. As a result, tropes of the strong Black woman are reinforced in narratives about Black women as activists, which marginalizes their prioritizing of self-care that is grounded in overall health. The lack of attention to the health of activists places the sustainability of Black women who are at the forefront of movement work in jeopardy, as well as limits our scholarly understanding of the impact of activism in the lives of Black women. “Learning to Take the Excess Baggage Off”: A Study of Black Women Activist’s Self-Care Practices challenges the one-sided narrative of Black women primarily as caregivers and argues that Black women use activism as a way to mitigate stress and prioritize well-being. My dissertation uses semi-structured interviews with thirty-nine participants, participant observations with four of the participants interviewed, and critical self-reflection to map traditions of Black women’s organizing and to analyze the relationship between activism and self-care. I define self-care as “a transformative, on-going process involving practices that are pleasurable, joyful and leads to optimal mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.” This definition was constructed from the data collected and review of literature. According to this definition, activism is a form of self-care, which is also supported by the research findings. The findings conclude that activism and community networks were frequently used as self-care practices, while economic insecurity and problematic White allyship were major challenges for participants. Moreover, the research categorized participants into an activist typology that includes five categories: embodied activist, activist strategist, full-spectrum activist, civic activist, and activist empaths. Self-care as activism makes an important contribution to feminist scholarship on Black women’s health and wellbeing, and historical scholarship on activism and community ties. Finally, by looking beyond normative assessments of Black women as caregivers, this research raises new questions about the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, activism, and intimacy.

Available for download on Saturday, May 24, 2025