Earlier this year, I had the honor of revealing the maternal ancestry of Dr. Marilyn Gaston to her family, friends, and colleagues.
Dr. Gaston is a historymaker with a fascinating story. Beginning with her medical school experience as the only African American woman in her class at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, her career has been committed to improving the health of poor and underserved Americans. She has been an Assistant Surgeon General and as the director of the Bureau of Primary Health Care in the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, was the first woman to direct a public health service bureau.
Dr. Gaston shares ancestry with the Mende women in Sierra Leone. Mende woman participate in the Sande society which is responsible for initiating girls into womanhood. If Dr. Gaston were living in Sierra Leone today, she would definitely be recognized as a Sowei.
In her book, Radiance From the Waters: Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Mende Art, art historian Sylvia Ardyn Boone describes the Sowei as the teacher, healer, and judge of the women. She is an arbiter and creator of feminine beauty in Mende society.
Today, Dr. Gaston and her partner Dr. Porter are the creators of Prime Time Sister Circles. Their approach encourages midlife Black women to take charge of their lives.