When Ms. Belinda Pittman founded Nia Imani Family, Inc. (Milwaukee, WI) in 1994, she had no intentions that the years of commitment and service would result in a Doctorate of Community Health by UW-Milwaukee. On December 19, Ms. Pittman was one of four outstanding individuals awarded a UWM honorary doctorate.
Ms. Pittman, CEO and Founder of Nia Imani Family, Inc., has led her non-profit organization that offers critical services to women with histories of homelessness and trauma, eventually evolving into working with younger mothers. Ms. Pittman has been nationally recognized for her groundbreaking approach to trauma-informed care, which has achieved a far-reaching impact.
Nia Imani Family, Inc., a transitional living facility located in the heart of Milwaukee’s inner-city, serves African American women in the 53205 and 53206 poverty-stricken zip codes. The name is derived from the seven principles of Kwanza, two of which guide the non-profit: Nia meaning “purpose” and Imani meaning “faith.” The word Family was added to the name as the facility was not only bringing many families back together through repaired relationships and reunification but also by providing a community that functions as a family to one another.
Nia Imani Family remains Milwaukee’s only long-term transitional living facility where women can stay with their children for up to two years. They offer a variety of programs to help women learn to succeed on their own including job skills training, parenting classes, financial literacy classes, and they connect women with community resources such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Most importantly, however, Nia Imani Family, Inc., offers women unconditional emotional and social support and acceptance.
Ms. Pittman shared, “I became a partner of UW Extension and UW-Milwaukee early on and was able to come up with an approach that worked to teach young adults. Mentors worked with me to create a process, test it, and prove the format we were using was indeed a successful form of education. This is how I learned to research materials and create methods.”
The community Ms. Pittman has formed through Nia Imani Family, Inc., has had a lasting impact on the women and families of Milwaukee, as well as the students of UWM. Ms. Pittman has served as a mentor and teacher for UWM nursing students for several years. UWM undergraduate nursing students have participated in population health practicum experiences at Nia Imani Family, Inc. UWM graduate students work hand in hand with Ms. Pittman on Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) projects, such as data analysis and manuscript development to assess the impacts of Nia Imani’s programs.
Ms. Pittman shares, “This Honorary Doctorate of Community Health has brought respect to something I have spent my life dedicated to. I’m committed to the nursing students because Nia Imani Family can help teach students about the population of women we serve. This doctorate says that what I have done all these years is appreciated, useful and possible. These years have been worth it. I made lots of sacrifices. Many times, I wasn’t at the dinner table with my own children because I was teaching myself what I needed to learn while my family watched. The doctorate also represents generations that came before us and the family I have influenced. This is a message of not giving up and following your beliefs from family, participants, mothers and University partners, this is for all of us.” Ms. Pittman continued to share that there were many situations through the years of partnerships, meetings and networking she was hesitant to participate, however, shared the advice her daughter gave her, “Mom, don’t ever be afraid to take your seat at the table.”
From that advice and the years of dedication and service to women and participants at Nia Imani Family, Ms. Pitmann has been recognized both locally and nationally. As an author on a research article to various media, highlights include features in Milwaukee Magazine, The Milwaukee Times, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Neighborhood News Service, Shepherd Express, The Milwaukee Catholic Herald and many others. She has been a speaker at the 4th Street Forum, the State of Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Alverno College, Mount Mary University, the Wisconsin Association for Adult and Continuing Education, UWM College of Nursing, and has appeared on a “60 Minutes” episode on childhood trauma.
Learn more about Nia Imani Family and Ms. Pittman at niaimanifamily.org.