THIS WAY FORWARD: Community-Based Solutions for the African-American Childbirth Crisis

by Dena Crowder

Kyira “Kira” Dixon Johnson and her husband Charles seemed to have it all: a healthy baby boy, flourishing entrepreneurial careers, and vibrant health. Which is why no one could have predicted that 24 hours after welcoming their second son into the world, Kyira would be dead.

The Johnsons represent an alarming reality that’s only recently gained attention in the national media: African-American women are dying in childbirth at 3-4 times the rate of their white counterparts. When I first read the statistics, I was stunned. “This isn’t the 19th century!” Yet facts prove otherwise.

For a recent Essence article, Meaghan Winter wrote:

“In some rural counties and dense cities alike, the racial disparity in maternal deaths is jaw-dropping: Chickasaw County, Mississippi, for instance, has a maternal death rate for women of color that’s higher than Rwanda’s. In New York City, Black women are 12 times more likely than White women to die of pregnancy-related causes—and the disparity has more than doubled in recent years.”

While experts agree that the causes are multi-faceted, and include factors such as diet, poor pre- and post-natal care, existing high-risk conditions (like hypertension and diabetes) and lack of access to properly trained medical staff, by far the most troubling thing I heard was this comment from Darline Turner, an Austin-based physician’s assistant and certified doula:

“This goes across socio-economic status. Even a high achieving Ph.D. – who is a six to seven figure earner – still has worse birth outcomes than a white woman without a high school education who is smoking,” she said during a phone interview.

“How is this possible?” I wondered.

Darline explained that the “issue no one wants to talk about” is the experience of chronic mental, physical and emotional stress experienced by black women living in modern America, and its negative impact on birth outcomes. (For more thoughts on this topic from Darline Turner, click here.)

Disturbed by the seeming nonchalance at what should be declared a national health emergency, she began the Healing Hands Doula project, a grassroots effort aimed at supporting healthy pregnancies and births for women of color in Texas.

Her belief that “we’ve got to return to community” is borne out by scientific studies from a variety of fields. “We know that loneliness is a major factor in disease.” According to her, a mom who isn’t connected to a strong and vital community offering robust emotional and medical support is more susceptible to complications.

The good news is, with proper care, the statistics can be reversed. This fact is demonstrated by Jennie Joseph of Common Sense Childbirth, a prenatal clinic, birthing center, and school of midwifery in Florida where she applies her holistic maternity care model. The results are astoundingly positive and are changing the status quo. By making a difference, Joseph is not only increasing the well being of the families she serves, but also her own. To learn more about her and her mission, visit her website here: http://www.commonsensechildbirth.org. (Additional resources can be found via Sister SongCenter for Reproductive RightsBlackMamasMatter and The Afiya Center.)

The kind of purpose-driven work that birth professionals like Turner and Joseph are doing on behalf of women of color falls into the category of purposeful contribution. Over the past few years, research has shown that when you answer the “call” to do good for others, you actually strengthen your immune system.

What about those who lack a sense of purpose? They develop genetic patterns equivalent to people under constant stress. (This correlation between chronic stress and purpose is based on studies done at UCLA, The University of North Carolina and in the work of Dr. Mario Martinez.) The only cure for what ails the purposeless is to give meaningfully. Continue reading

10 African Americans Win 2018 Rhodes Scholarships, Most Ever in Rhodes History

Cadet Simone Askew, of Fairfax, Va., is one of 32 Americans awarded Rhodes scholarships to study at Oxford University in England. (Richard Drew, File/Associated Press)

The latest group of U.S. Rhodes scholars includes 10 African Americans — the most ever in a single Rhodes class — as well as a transgender man and four students from colleges that had never had received the honor before.

The Rhodes Trust on Sunday announced the 32 men and women chosen for post-graduate studies at Oxford University in England. Among them: the first black woman to lead the Corps of Cadets at West Point; a wrestler at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who’s helping develop a prosthetic knee for use in the developing world; and a Portland, Oregon, man who has studied gaps in his hometown’s “sanctuary city” policy protecting immigrants in the country illegally from deportation.

“This year’s selections — independently elected by 16 committees around the country meeting simultaneously — reflects the rich diversity of America,” Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, said in a news release announcing the winners Sunday. “They plan to study a wide range of fields across the social sciences, biological and medical sciences, physical sciences and mathematics, and the humanities.”The scholarships, considered by many to be the most prestigious available to American students, cover all expenses for two or three years of study starting next October. In some cases, the scholarships may allow funding for four years. The winners came from a group of 866 applicants who were endorsed by 299 colleges and universities. Four of the institutions had winners for the first time: Hunter College at the City University of New York; Temple University in Philadelphia; the University of Alaska in Anchorage; and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The 10 African Americans in the class include Simone Askew, of Fairfax, Virginia, who made headlines in August when she became the first black woman to serve as first captain of the 4,400-member Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy — the highest position in the cadet chain of command at West Point. Askew, a senior, is majoring in international history, focused her undergraduate thesis on the use of rape as a tool of genocide and plans to study evidence-based social intervention at Oxford.

Her mother told reporters over the summer: “That leadership is something I’ve seen throughout her life — wanting to be first, wanting to be the best, wanting to win, in sports, in academics, in every aspect of her life. … And to serve others, as well.”
Continue reading

National Museum of African American History and Culture Digitizes Vintage Photos For Black Families

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington D.C. harbors pieces of history that illustrate the story of the Black experience in America, and now the institution is giving African American families the opportunity to preserve memories of their own, The Baltimore Sun reported.

The museum launched a free program—dubbed the Community Curation Program—which provides Black families with the tools and equipment needed to preserve old photographs and footage by converting them into digital records, the news outlet writes. The program is supported by the Robert Frederick Smith Fund and travels to different cities across the country. The museum also provides the same equipment at the institution in Washington. One of the project’s latest stops was at the Impact Hub Baltimore in Station North, Maryland.

“In a very radical way, we recognize the importance of these vernacular, homemade images, this folk cinema, as an alternate history to the kinds of history that the mass media tells,” museum media archivist Walter Forsberg told The Baltimore Sun. “We wanted to render a public service free of charge because we knew there was a lot of material out there trapped on obsolete formats.”

Krewasky A. Salter, another museum curator, told the news outlet that the museum hopes to include some of the images, footage, and objects in their upcoming exhibitions; stating that the content provided by families will help fill in missing gaps in history. Several families have already taken advantage of the resource. Individuals who have digitized their family mementos say that the Community Curation Program has allowed them to weave their personal family stories into the larger fabric of Black history in a significant way. “These are stories in my family, and now I can share them with others,” said Pia Jordan, assistant professor at the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University, according to the source.

The National Museum of African American History has been dedicated to capturing the essence of all facets of Black culture. The institution is currently working on crowd fundraising for a hip-hop anthology that will delve into the influence of Black music and African American culture on the world.

Source: https://newsone.com/3759889/smithsonian-digitizes-black-family-photos/

LaToya Cantrell Elected New Orleans’ 1st Woman Mayor

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (photo via nola.com)

by Kevin McGill via abcnews.go.com

LaToya Cantrell, a City Council member who first gained a political following as she worked to help her hard-hit neighborhood recover from Hurricane Katrina, won a historic election Saturday that made her the first woman mayor of New Orleans.

The Democrat will succeed term-limited fellow Democrat Mitch Landrieu as the city celebrates its 300th anniversary next year. “Almost 300 years, my friends. And New Orleans, we’re still making history,” Cantrell told a cheering crowd in her victory speech. The leader in most polls before the runoff election, she never trailed as votes were counted.

Her opponent, former municipal Judge Desiree Charbonnet, conceded the race and congratulated Cantrell late Saturday. Later, complete returns showed Cantrell with 60 percent of the vote. “I do not regret one moment of anything about this campaign,” Charbonnet said. The two women led a field of 18 candidates in an October general election to win runoff spots.

Landrieu earned credit for accelerating the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in an administration cited for reduced blight, improvements in the celebrated tourism economy and economic development that included last week’s announcement that a digital services company is bringing 2,000 new jobs to the city.

Cantrell entered the race as the perceived front-runner, leading in fundraising and in various polls. She had an 11 percentage point lead in a poll released last week by the University of New Orleans. It showed 46 percent of 602 voters surveyed from Nov. 1-8 favored Cantrell over Charbonnet, who had 35 percent; 20 percent were undecided. Former state civil court Judge Michael Bagneris, who finished third in last month’s race, endorsed Cantrell, as did Troy Henry, a businessman who also ran for the post last month.

UNO political science professor Edward Chervenak said the endorsements appeared to help Cantrell overcome revelations that she had used her city-issued credit card for thousands of dollars in purchases without clear indications that they were for public purposes. The money was eventually reimbursed but questions lingered about whether she had improperly used city money for personal or campaign expenditures.

Voters also made history in a New Orleans City Council race.

Cyndi Nguyen defeated incumbent James Gray in an eastern New Orleans district. An immigrant who fled Vietnam with her family when she was 5 in 1975, Nguyen is the organizer of a nonprofit and will be the first Vietnamese-American to serve on the council.

To read full article, go to: http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/latoya-cantrell-orleans-1st-female-mayor-51252667

Author and MacArthur Fellow Jesmyn Ward Wins 2nd National Book Award for ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’

Jesmyn Ward attends the 68th National Book Awards at Cipriani Wall Street on November 15, 2017 in New York City, NY, USA. Photo by Dennis Van Tine/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images) 

MacArthur “Genius” grantee Jesmyn Ward took home the National Book Award prize for Fiction Wednesday, marking the second time she has won the prestigious award.

She took the top prize for her book Sing, Unburied, Sing,” a Mississippi-based family epic that, according to the New York Times, “grapples with race, poverty and the psychic scars of past violence.” She previously won the fiction award in 2011 for her novel “Salvage the Bones.”

Critics have compared her writing to works by greats like Toni Morrison and William Faulkner. In her acceptance speech Ward said that she had received her fair amount of rejections for her subject matter.

“Throughout my career, when I have been rejected, there was sometimes subtext, and it was this: People will not read your work because these are not universal stories,” she told the audience. “I don’t know whether some doorkeepers felt this way because I wrote about poor people or because I wrote about black people or because I wrote about Southerners. As my career progressed and I got some affirmations, I still encountered that mindset every now and again.

Eitherway, she added, many people were able to connect with her characters and stories: “You looked at me, at the people I love and write about, you looked at my poor, my black, my Southern children, women and men — and you saw yourself. You saw your grief, your love, your losses, your regrets, your joy, your hope.“

Earlier this year, she was a recipient of a MacArthur ”genius grant“ from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Source: https://www.essence.com/culture/jesmyn-ward-second-national-book-award-sing-unburied-sing

Federal Judge Catherine Perry Rules St. Louis Police Force Against Protestors Unconstitutional

Photo: St. Louis Public Radio

(Photo: St. Louis Public Radio)

via blavity.com

Wednesday, a federal judge placed restrictions on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, claiming their conduct during recent protests has violated demonstrators’ constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled that the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against St. Louis police “are likely to prevail on the merits of their claims” that their First and Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.

The case stems from protests which took place in September, following the “not guilty” verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a white police officer who shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man, in 2011.

Perry found sufficient evidence that although there was no violence, police declared an assembly without taking the protesters’ rights and opinions into consideration. She also ruled that there was “no credible threat of force or violence to officers or property” when police rounded up citizens, including journalists, on Sept. 17. Following those arrests, the sitting head of the St. Louis MPD declared his department “owned” the night, as the officers mocked protesters by chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Perry shared that officers had clearly retaliated against protected First Amendment speech simply because they did not prefer being criticized, and used chemical weapons to divert speech they didn’t favor.

“Plaintiffs’ evidence — both video and testimony ― shows that officers have exercised their discretion in an arbitrary and retaliatory fashion to punish protesters for voicing criticism of police or recording police conduct,” Perry wrote. “When all of the evidence is considered, plaintiffs have met their burden of showing that they are likely to succeed on their claim that defendant has a custom or policy of deploying hand-held pepper spray against citizens engaged in recording police or in expressive activity critical of police in retaliation for the exercise of their first amendment rights, in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.”

Perry says police are not permitted to declare an unlawful assembly unless there’s a clear and present threat, and they cannot use the law to punish people engaged in protected activity, such as protesting. Perry additionally confirmed chemical agents can’t be used, unless there is probable cause to arrest, and police are not able to threaten to use chemical agents against anyone engaged in expressive, nonviolent activity.

In October, during a hearing, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Anthony Rothert proclaimed “pepper spray is the new fire hose,” and said officers were using pepper spray “arbitrarily, gratuitously and without warning.” We are hopeful that more injustices will be brought to light and rightfully punished, as well as justice be served as these officers and others misusing their duty to serve and protect are corrected.

To read more, go to: https://blavity.com/a-federal-judge-calls-st-louis-police-force-against-protestors-unconstitutional

NYC Men Teach Initiative Recruits Black Men As Public School Teachers

(Image: iStock/asiseeit via blackenterprise.com)

by Robin White Goode via blackenterprise.com

Efforts are underway to recruit more teachers of color, and one such successful initiative is in New York. NYC Men Teach was started two years ago under Mayor Bill de Blasio; the program is part of the mayor’s Young Men’s Initiative (YMI), started under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

NYC Men Teach, a three-year pipeline program, has a goal of recruiting 1,000 men of color into the teaching profession. Two years into the program, it has already recruited 900 men.

Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, under whose purview YMI falls, said that the program is a priority because of the administration’s commitment to equity. “This is a critically important issue,” Buery stated. “We’re in a crisis in terms of diversity in our nation’s teaching force. The real question is, why aren’t men of color entering the teaching profession and why aren’t they staying there?”

In New York, students of color make up a majority of the city’s public school students; more than 43% are boys of color. Yet only 8.3% of its teachers are black, Latino, or Asian men.

This matters because research shows that, especially for low-income black boys, having a black teacher significantly lowers—by 39%—the likelihood that they will drop out of high school. Interestingly, other studies have suggested all students prefer teachers of color.

It’s also worrisome, Buery pointed out, that 85% of white students in New York State attend a school without a black or Latino principal or assistant principal. Those kids are going to school seeing “no model of black or Latino leadership or authority in the building,” Buery said.

But to get them in the building requires getting over hurdles that can be barriers to entering the profession. “In talking to the teachers, we’ve learned that many men of color have not had positive school experiences themselves,” Buery told me. “That can have an impact on their willingness to pursue a teaching career.”

Anecdotally, Buery is getting positive feedback about NYC Men Teach. The recruited men are being retained and finding support. It’s too early for quantitative results—and some results won’t be apparent for years, not until today’s students are faring well in college.

But in the end, it’s not just about academics, Buery said. “It’s about citizenship and leadership. It’s about having people see a vision of the world where people of all races lead and guide. We need our schools to look like the world we’re trying to create.”

For more about NYC Men Teach, visit its website.

To read full article, go to: http://www.blackenterprise.com/education/3-year-pipeline-initiative-recruits-men-color-teaching-profession/

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