NewsLocal News


Support network helps Black daughters who are caregivers

Posted at 7:53 PM, May 23, 2024

BALTIMORE — About one in five Americans are caregivers for older adults or people with disabilities, according to the CDC. More than half of caregivers are women.

Dawnita Brown is bringing caregivers out of the shadows and giving them the support they need.

"I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa,” Brown says. “I was at the end of my service. And I learned on a phone call with my dad that she was on life support. And on the next day, I flew home, and caregiving became my life once I hit US soil."

Dawnita is the founder of The Binti Circle, a support network for black daughters who are caregivers. "Binti" is Swahili for "daughter."

Her mother, Joan, had a stroke. It left her with a form of vascular dementia associated with a traumatic brain injury.

"She's pretty stable, surprisingly, because the prognosis that we had initially was bleak at best, so we didn't expect her to be here this long,” Brown says. “So as a caregiver, even that, just navigating this journey is challenging but rewarding as well."

The 73-year-old retired IRS auditor is unable to walk or care for herself and had to move into her daughter’s Northeast Baltimore home. Their story is in the film "Remember Me: Dementia in the African American Community."

"I think that being educated, losing the 'we don't we keep secrets we don't share our business' like losing that in the African American community where we can talk about it and share and not be ashamed of it and not hide our loved oven,” she says.

Cimmon Byrd is a member of the Binti Circle. She cared for her father, a retired dentist, until he passed away in February.

"My father had health challenges that he couldn't outrun. And he was very private, and very stoic."

Baltimore has the second highest percentage in the country of people with Alzheimer's. And African Americans are being diagnosed with Alzheimer's and related dementias at twice the national average.

Seventy-five percent of the Binti Circle women are caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's or other dementia.

"I was so grateful that I already had that resource and knew that there would be people who would listen judgment-free," Byrd says.

Byrd’s father requested that he not be put in a facility and asked her to be his caregiver.

"As a people, we see that differently as black women caring for our parents,” she says. “I get to love on my father in such a way that although I didn’t agree with his end-of-life decisions, I loved him enough to be a good daughter. We get to love on our family through this. It's hard work, but it's love."

Work that impacts the health and financial stability of caregivers and their families. More than 53 million family caregivers nationally provide care without pay.

Taueret Thomas of Baltimore has been caregiving for 10 years, initially for her grandmother’s caregiver and then for her mother, who has been living with Alzheimer’s. She’s now caring for both of her aging parents, who still live in their own home. The Binti Circle has given her a community that empowers her to express her feelings.

“Being able to talk to other women who understood what I was going through, who were not judging me for being angry not sometimes being able to communicate all the emotional toll I was experiencing,” Thomas says.

An executive chef, she quit her job as campus director of a culinary school to run her own business. That gives her income and flexibility.

“I was so stressed out,” Thomas says. “The Binti Circle…was a release for me. I was able to share freely, and it felt good.”

Thomas enjoys the retreats that the Binti Circle holds. They focus on wellness with yoga and sound-balming sessions.

“The retreats have been a wonderful source of stress relief,” Thomas says. “It’s a definite need for caregivers to get that respite and think about yourself, the individual, in the midst of all you’re doing.”

Helen Holton of Owings Mills is also trying to balance caregiving with a busy personal life. Single and a successful business owner, Holton was not an active caregiver when she joined The Binti Circle. She says she was preparing herself for what lies ahead as her mother ages.

“I could see the handwriting on the wall, and I think that scared me more than anything,” Holton says. “I have to get a handle on this before I’m actually there.”

Holton expresses the challenges that many adults have when taking responsibility for their parents, and that is the strain of parents wanting to remain independent when they really need help.

“The realization of watching your parent become a child, totally dependent upon you, and the embarrassment, the shame, the gratitude, all rolled up,” Holton says.

An entrepreneur, she says she lives by her calendar, and caregiving is upending that. She says she’s grateful that she has the women in the Binti Circle who can share their experiences from their caregiving journey.

“I’ve just been very clear that my life is changing because my mother needs more care,” Holton says.

One of Dawnita's goals is to advocate for more support for caregivers like the women in The Binti Circle.

"We have to make sure that the caregivers are also taken care of."

Here are some resources for caregivers of people of all ages:

The Binti Circle:

Family Caregiver Alliance:

Generations United:

National Alliance for Caregiving:

Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers:

Well Spouse Foundation:

State resources:

State of Maryland Caregiver and Dementia Support:

The Maryland Commission on Caregiving:

Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Maryland Chapter:

Also, each county in Maryland and the City of Baltimore have programs to support caregivers. Locally:

Baltimore City Family Caregivers Program:

Baltimore County Caregiver Support Program:

Anne Arundel County Family Caregiver Services:

Carroll County Caregiver Support:

Harford County Caregivers Toolkit:

Howard County Caregiver Support Program: