Category: Children

Spelman College Student Deanna Hayden Works to Raise Literacy Rates with “House of Knowledge” Project

by Robin White Goode via blackenterprise.com

It’s National Library Week, and at Spelman College a student is changing lives by improving a community’s literacy. Deanna Hayden, a junior Comparative Women’s Studies major, volunteers in an impoverished neighborhood in Atlanta, the West End community.

“I grew up in rural Mississippi,” Hayden said, “where there was an overwhelming lack of educational resources. When I started volunteering at Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary School in the West End, I noticed parallels between the education system here and in Mississippi.”

BOOKS TRUMP POVERTY

Hayden relayed there are students with low reading scores, ironically in a school named after a literary giant. “I sat in on third-grade classes and could see that there is a need to improve their literacy,” she says.

Hayden had noticed that in wealthy communities there are what she calls “free libraries”—not library buildings from which books can be borrowed, but small, house-shaped structures full of books that can be taken for keeps, or added to. (Hayden was most likely referring to the Little Free Library book exchange.)

Regular reading is critical to raising literacy and reading levels, but book ownership also makes a huge difference. According to a 2014 study cited in a New York Times article, the number of books in a home is “the most important predictor of reading performance” after gross national product. “The greatest effect was seen in libraries of about 100 books, which resulted in approximately 1.5 extra years of grade-level reading performance.”

Astonishingly, a home library appears to matter more than the family budget. The Times article goes on: “… in the United States, with the size of libraries being equal, students coming from the top 10% of wealthiest families performed at just one extra grade level over students from the poorest 10%.”

THE HOUSE OF KNOWLEDGE

Spelman
(Courtesy of Spelman College)

Similar to both the Little Free Library and Barbershop Shops, which sets up books targeting black boys from age 4 to 8 in barbershops, the House of Knowledge is a literacy initiative that Hayden developed in response to the struggling readers she encountered.

There are now seven Houses of Knowledge throughout the West End community “in places frequented by children, such as churches, recreation centers, and doctor’s offices,” Hayden told me. Each holds 25 books targeting readers in kindergarten to eighth grade.

“Each House of Knowledge has its own theme,” Hayden says. “Some offer books on science and technology—others are all about black women.” Each box has a sponsor which is responsible for monitoring the box to make sure there is always a selection of books inside. The sponsor—organizations like the NAACP, the National Council of Negro Women, and others on the Spelman campus—determines what books will be offered.

Hayden, who graduates next year and plans to study public health and educational policy in graduate school, still has plans for the House of Knowledge project. “I’d like the kids to do surveys and quizzes on the books,” she says. “Eventually I’d like to develop an after school component as well.”

In the meantime, she’s also hoping for a grant that will make the program more sustainable.

To learn more, visit the House of Knowledge website.

Source: http://www.blackenterprise.com/spelman-student-raising-literacy-skills/

Nigerian Photographer Àsìkò Recreates Black Panther-Inspired Posters with Kids

(images by Àsìkò, Disney/Marvel)

by Ricky Riley via blavity.com

With just a few more days until its release, Marvel‘s next installment into their cinematic universe, Black Panther, has already started shaping the imaginations of a generation of kids.

London-based Nigerian photographer Àsìkò, who goes by @asiko_artist on social media, decided to highlight this by recreating the sensational character posters with kids inspired by the film. Àsìkò shared a few individual pictures from the series on Instagram and wrote about why Black Panther matters and what it means to him as comic lover.

“As a kid who read comics black panther was one of the very few superheroes I came across,” he wrote. “For a child it is a beautiful thing to see yourself represented in a positive light in pop culture. What is also great is that it’s a hero steeped in culture and heritage and not drug deals or street thugging.”

“The images are inspired by the movie character posters and will be displayed at the BFI on its opening film night this Friday evening,” he added.

Àsìkò wrote that the photos were commissioned by the Talent Agency @lookslikemeuk.  On his page, he posted a series of pictures featuring young kids channeling characters from the film, along with captions that include moving letters from fans on why black representation in film matters.

To read more, go to: https://blavity.com/these-awesome-kids-channelled-their-inner-black-panther-to-recreate-posters-for-the-film

Jackson Elementary School in Utah, Named for Andrew Jackson, Votes to Rename Itself After Mary Jackson, NASA’s 1st Black Female Engineer

Mary Jackson, NASA’s first black female engineer
Mary Jackson, NASA’s first black female engineer(Photo: NASA Langley Research Center)

by Marina Koren via theatlantic.com

An elementary school in Utah has traded one Jackson for another in a change that many say was a long time coming.

Jackson Elementary School in Salt Lake City will no longer be named for Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, whose slave ownership and treatment of Native Americans are often cited in the debate over memorializing historical figures associated with racism.

Instead, the school will honor Mary Jackson, the first black female engineer at nasa whose story, and the stories of others like her at the space agency, was chronicled in Hidden Figures, a 2016 film based on a book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly.

A unanimous vote by the the Salt Lake City school board this week was met with a standing ovation from the crowd in the room, reports The Salt Lake Tribune’s Erin Alberty. School employees and parents have discussed changing the elementary’s school name “for years,” Alberty reported, and last year started polling and meeting with parents, alumni, and others. More than 70 percent supported the change. Of the school’s 440 students, 85 percent are students of color, according to the Salt Lake City School District.

Mary Jackson, a native of Hampton, Virginia, worked as a math teacher, a receptionist, and an Army secretary before she arrived at NASA’s Langley Research Center in 1951 as a member of the West Area Computing unit, a segregated division where African American women spent hours doing calculations with pencil and paper, including for the trajectories of the country’s earliest space missions.

Two years in, a NASA engineer picked Jackson to help him work on a wind tunnel that tested flight hardware by blasting it with winds nearly twice the speed of sound. The engineer suggested Jackson train to become an engineer. To do that, Jackson had to take night courses in math and physics from the University of Virginia, which were held at the segregated Hampton High School. Jackson successfully petitioned the city to let her take the classes. She got her promotion to engineer in 1958. After 34 years at the space agency, Jackson retired in 1985. She died in 2005, at the age of 83.

Continue reading “Jackson Elementary School in Utah, Named for Andrew Jackson, Votes to Rename Itself After Mary Jackson, NASA’s 1st Black Female Engineer”

Taylor Richardson, 14, Raises $17,000 To Help 1,000 Girls See “A Wrinkle In Time”

Credit: Getty Images

by J’na Jefferson via vibe.com

Taylor Richardson, a 14-year-old aspiring astronaut from Jacksonville, Fla., exceeded her goal of raising money to send 1,000 girls to see the upcoming film A Wrinkle In Time. As of press time, her GoFundMe page for the goal has raised $17,455 of her $15,000 goal.

“This campaign is so very important to me because it will give me the opportunity to change not only girls perception of STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] and space exploration but boys as well,” explains Richardson in her original post about her goal.

A Wrinkle In Time stars Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon, and is directed by Ava DuVernay. The story tells the tale of a young girl, her friend and her brother, who are transported through time and space to a new world to rescue the girl’s father, a scientist who is being held prisoner on another planet.

Richardson was recently named a member of Teen Vogue’s Class of 2017 21 under 21 for girls who are changing the world. The self-proclaimed “STEMinist” recently attended the publication’s first ever Teen Vogue Summit in Los Angeles, and also spoke on the panel of TEDxFSCJ [Florida State College at Jacksonville] Salon: Rediscovering Space. Last year, Richardson raised money to have 1,000 girls see the science film, Hidden Figures.

“This campaign [“Send 1,000 Girls To Wrinkle In Time”] means a lot to me because it shows a female protagonist in a science fiction film,” she wrote in her most recent update. “Girls will know that the possibility of going into space, exploring other planets, being rocket scientists, engineers, mathematicians and astronauts for them is not that it is limited but limitless!”

A Wrinkle in Time is based on the 1962 science fiction novel by Madeleine L’Engle.

Source: https://www.vibe.com/2018/02/a-wrinkle-in-time-gofundme/

Ex-NFL Player and Teacher Aaron Maybin Raises Money to Keep Freezing Baltimore Public School Students Warm

Former NFL linebacker-turned-educator Aaron Maybin has raised money and national awareness about Baltimore students in desperate need of heat and warm gear.

Last week, Maybin, who currently works as a teacher at Baltimore’s Matthew A. Henson Elementary School, shared on Twitter a video of young students complaining about the frigid conditions inside of their classroom. “I’m super, super cold,” said one boy. “Yesterday, I had frostbite,” revealed another little boy who appeared to be wearing a winter coat. “This is unacceptable,” wrote Maybin as the caption of the tweet, which went viral.

In another tweet, the former player and Baltimore native expressed outrage about the way taxpayer dollars are allocated and prioritized.

According to BaltimoreBrew.com, the temperature inside of his classroom hovered around 40 degrees. “How would your kids concentrate if you sent them to school in a refrigerator for eight hours? With failing lighting. Two classes in one room?” Maybin told the site. “We tried our best as educators. They tried their best as scholars. But they are dealing with a lot already. And now they are supposed to learn in the dark and in the cold.” He added that about half of the school has been without electricity since the beginning of the month. “I’m told it was due to nobody being there during the holidays to make sure the heat stayed on and pipes didn’t freeze.”

In addition to voicing concern about the horrid conditions, the 29-year-old artist and activist also encouraged his Twitter followers to donate to a GoFundMe campaign, titled We Need Heat In Our Public Schools, that aimed to raise $20,000 to purchase 600 space heaters and winter clothes for students.

“Baltimore City Public Schools are currently operating with an inadequate heating system,” reads the GoFundMe page. “Students are still required to attend classes that are freezing and expected to wear their coats to assist in keeping them warm. How can you teach a child in these conditions?”

On Thursday, Maybin tweeted that the page raised over $8,000 after he shared a link on Twitter. That same day, he shared a photo of himself picking up clothing and other donations for the children. By Monday afternoon, the page had raised more than $76,000.

In response to the crisis, the Baltimore City Public Schools system released a statement on Sunday assuring that the heating issues were addressed late last week when city schools were closed. The statement also promised that “every student will be in a safe, warm learning space, or the school won’t be open.”

Source: http://www.blackenterprise.com/aaron-maybin-freezing-students-baltimore/

Study by Professor Sheretta Butler-Barnes Shows Positive Racial Identity Improves Academic Performance of Young Black Women

Sheretta Butler-Barnes works with Girls Inc. Eureka! Program, which exposes high school girls of color to an intensive STEM-based curriculum. Her research addresses structural racism and inequalities in education and youth development.(photo via brownschool.wustl.edu)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to jbhe.com, a study led by Sheretta Butler-Barnes, an assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, finds that young African American women with strong racial identity are more likely to be academically curious and persistent in school.

Researchers surveyed 733 adolescent Black girls from middle and high schools across three socio-economically diverse school districts in the Midwest. The study found that positive perceptions of school climate and racial identity were associated with greater academic motivation. The researchers also learned that racial identity acted as a protective factor in hostile or negative school climates.

“Persons of color who have unhealthy racial identity beliefs tend to perform lower in school and have more symptoms of depression,” Dr. Butler-Barnes said. “In our study, we found that feeling positive about being Black, and feeling support and belonging at school may be especially important for African-American girls’ classroom engagement and curiosity. Feeling connected to the school may also work together with racial identity attitudes to improve academic outcomes.”

Dr. Butler-Barnes joined the Brown School in July 2012 as an assistant professor. Previously, Butler-Barnes was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan’s School of Education affiliated with the Center for the Study of Black Youth in Context.

The study, “Promoting Resilience Among African American Girls: Racial Identity as a Protective Factor.” was published on the website of the journal Child Development. It may be accessed here.

To see Butler-Barnes speak about Equity in Education, click below:

Author Jacqueline Woodson Named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress

Author Jacqueline Woodson, whose professional accolades include a National Book Award (Brown Girl Dreaming), four Newbery Honors (Brown Girl DreamingAfter Tupac and D Foster, Feathers and Show Way) and a stint as the Young People’s Poet Laureate, has been named the sixth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, for 2018–2019. Her appointment will become official at an inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, January 9 at the Library of Congress, presided over by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. And Woodson will accept the proverbial torch, passed from author-illustrator Gene Luen Yang, who has just completed his two-year term as Ambassador and played a key role in recruiting her.

The National Ambassador for Young People program is sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council, and CBC’s charitable arm, Every Child a Reader. The Librarian of Congress selects the Ambassador based on the recommendations of an independent committee comprised of various children’s literature experts including educators, librarians, and booksellers. Among the criteria for the Ambassador post are: contributions to young people’s literature, the ability to relate to kids and teens, and dedication to fostering literacy in all forms.

In a statement, Hayden shared her enthusiasm for Woodson’s selection. “We are delighted that Jacqueline Woodson has agreed to be the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature,” she said. “I have admired Jacqueline Woodson’s work for years, especially her dedication to children and young-adult literature. The Library of Congress looks forward to Jacqueline’s tenure of encouraging young readers to embrace reading as a means to improve the world.”

Woodson says she never saw herself as Ambassador. In fact, she had contacted Yang, a friend, about a year ago to put forward the name of someone else (who she declines to name) she thought would be a great choice. “I had called Gene to put a name in the hat,” she said from her Brooklyn home during a telephone interview. “He told me, ‘Well, we have someone else in mind.’ I figured he was blowing me off.” And even when talk of the honor came up in passing, years ago, Woodson wasn’t sure she would ever be a good fit. “Earlier on, when the position was first starting to get some traction, and Jon Scieszka was the Ambassador,” she recalled, “people were asking me if I would ever do it, and I said, ‘Heck, no! There’s no way I could do that.’” She was busy with her writing and had just welcomed a new baby at that time. Over time, “I kind of had the sense that I had put the kibosh on it,” she added.

But more recently, Yang called and asked if Woodson would consider taking on the appointment. She continued to champion another author (“someone younger!” she joked), but Yang persisted. “He went through all the ways in which he thought I would bring something to the Ambassadorship that was needed at this time,” Woodson said. “I thought about it, I talked to my partner about it, and I was still a bit reluctant. But then Gene said that Dr. Hayden was really into me taking this position. And I love Dr. Hayden.” Woodson explained that one of the rules in her life has always been, “When it comes to Enoch Pratt Library [Hayden’s former library, in Baltimore], I can never say no to them. I did my first reading there way back when Last Summer with Maizon came out, and I have loved everyone there. I thought, OK, if Carla Hayden is asking me to do this, I’m not saying no to it.” On a more philosophical note, she continued, “I think you are often called to do the work you’re not quite ready to do, or willing to do. And for me that’s a sign that I need to push through and do the work that’s needed.”

Woodson has chosen the phrase “Reading = Hope x Change,” as her platform as Ambassador. “I definitely believe that reading can change us and shape us in so many ways, and through it we can be exposed to people and places and ideas that we might not otherwise come across or confront in real life,” she said. “A platform about the importance of reading and having conversations across the lines of books is really important to me.”

Woodson says she will use her message to address something she has been noticing. “Young people are getting labeled ‘reluctant reader,’ or ‘advanced reader,’ and the labels in front of their names begin to try to tell them who they are,” she lamented. “I would like to see less of that and more of just kids who read.” What they read shouldn’t matter and how they read it shouldn’t matter, she said, “just so long as they can have conversations and have a deep understanding of and a deep love for what they’re reading.”

One of Woodson’s foremost goals as Ambassador is to reach young people in areas of the country that are traditionally underserved. “My family and I are going to the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice [acknowledging victims of lynchings] in Alabama this spring. I’m going to stay and try to visit some schools in Alabama and Mississippi in some of the places where they don’t get to meet writers or ambassadors every day,” she said. Additionally, she says she’s looking forward to going into juvenile detention centers and other places “where the underserved can begin to tell their stories.”

Though she’s not exactly sure how kids will relate to her in a new role, she’s excited to find out. “The thing that always brings me the greatest joy is meeting the young people,” she said. “I’m always surprised when a kid’s in awe of me as an author—I think ‘I’m just Jacqueline Woodson and I wrote a few books.’ But they’ve been studying you so long and you walk into the classroom and you’re like this superstar to them. Then you work yourself back to connecting to them so that they see you as a human being and they see themselves as young people who can do what you do. In this position it’s the same. I would love for young people to see themselves as national ambassadors of many things, today and always.” She cites the example of her own family. “I always tell my kids when we go to other countries, ‘You are ambassadors for this family. When you walk out there people are going to have ideas about this family, and how you represent yourself is going to make a difference in how they think.’ ”

The opportunity to talk about reading is another high point she’s anticipating. “I am excited for the young people’s reactions and the interactions that we’ll have around literature, and really talking about reading,” she said. “In the past mostly I’ve talked about my books and my writing process. Now I can talk much more about my reading process and the reading process, and the conversations that can be had where there isn’t a right or wrong. Did you infer from the book? Who cares? I want to know what you loved about the book and what made you mad and I want you guys to agree and disagree and have real true conversations and make amazing text-to-life connections about the book.”

Asked if there’s anything that might be scary or daunting about her new position, Woodson is reflective. “It is a very scary time to be alive,” she said. “And given that, I think of [poet and activist] Audre Lorde saying ‘we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles and we will still be no less afraid.’ I do believe this is all I have—my words, I have the words that I write down, I have the words that I speak out, I have the words that I take into classrooms.” Woodson says she accepts that there will be hatred in general, and hatred online questioning why she would be chosen as Ambassador. “Risk of backlash and people not being kind, but that’s been the risk my whole life,” she said. “It’s not going to keep me from what I’ve been called to do.”

To read more, go to: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/75729-jacqueline-woodson-named-national-ambassador-for-young-people-s-literature.html

THIS WAY FORWARD: Helping Women Rebuild Lives and Family after Prison

Susan Burton at “Becoming Ms. Burton” book event (Photo courtesy of Susan Burton)
by Dena Crowder

“We’re creating throwaway people,” says Susan Burton.  She should know.  She used to be one.

“Six times I had been imprisoned and each time I had hope that it would be the last time, but deep down I knew I wasn’t prepared for life outside,” she writes in her award-winning book, Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women. “The system is set up to prove that “you’re useless.  If you’re useless, you have no value.  You’re a throwaway person.”

Now the founder and executive director of A New Way of Life, which helps formerly incarcerated women successfully re-enter society, and an internationally respected voice and human rights advocate, Susan gives women who find themselves in the same position she was in twenty years ago “a hand up and a means to stand on their own feet.”

“I’d been arrested over and over again for possession of a controlled substance. You’d think someone in the system might have gotten the idea that I needed drug treatment, that I needed therapy. But I was never offered help and I I didn’t know to ask for it because I didn’t know what to ask for,” Susan remembers.

Like many of the women who come to her for help, Susan had a history of trauma, abuse and addiction, and no idea how to break the cycle.  Her mission is deeply rooted in personal experience. “Women are the fastest growing segment of the (American) prison system,” she explains. “Yet, they’re not talked about, resources aren’t put towards them, nor (are there efforts at) stopping the recidivism. ”

Female incarceration was once extremely rare. In fact, in 1970, almost 75% of the nation’s counties held no women in jail. Currently, the rate of imprisonment for women outpaces that of men.  Put another way, the US has 5% of the world’s female population, but houses one-third of the world’s female prisoners. 

As more and more women are “being criminalized and taken away from their families and children,”  Susan encourages us to ask: what’s the cost to communities and the country?  Two years ago, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave her opinion: “We know that when we incarcerate a woman we often are truly incarcerating a family in terms of the far-reaching effect on her children, her community, and her entire family network.”

In the past, a common assumption was that incarcerated people were distinct from everyone else, a realm apart. With upwards of a million women in prison, it’s become increasingly apparent that mass incarceration is inseparable from mainstream society.  We are a nation of prisons and prisoners.  And we are all diminished for it. “So many people with so much to give have been taken away from us.  We need to be working towards supporting all of that wealth and revealing the gifts (that can enhance) our communities instead of keeping them locked away,” Susan asserts.

(Photo courtesy Susan Burton)

A New Way of Life provides a vehicle for harnessing the wealth that often lies untapped and undirected.  Women, many of whom have been sentenced for non-violent drug-related crimes, are given the emotional support to heal and the practical tools to find employment, regain custody of their children, and incorporate healthier habits.

While she’s primarily dedicated to “raising the visibility of women in the context of mass incarceration,” Susan is also on a mission to help all women reclaim their authentic value. Which is why she is hopeful about the positive change that may come as a result of this year’s #MeToo movement. She believes it represents something larger. “Women are saying no more and never again. We are collectively standing up against the containment of women and women’s power.”

I first met Susan nearly twenty years ago after her sixth and final release from prison. She remembers that period vividly: “You offered me a full scholarship to your Essential Woman class.  Six months later, I was able to pay the full tuition of the class. Through that course, I found my own value.”  When we see others as useless “throwaways,” she continues, “it’s because we’ve lost touch with our own value.  And that’s really the core of the prison epidemic in this country. Devaluing ourselves.  Devaluing others.”

In the years since she began A New Way of Life, Susan has helped more than 700 hundred women forge a new path, and has reunited 150 mothers with their children. Her incredible story of success proves that regardless of past mistakes, we’re all human beings with innate value and the capacity for contribution.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • You can purchase Susan Burton’s book here
  • To volunteer in your area of expertise for A New Way of Life, please contact http://www.anewwayoflife.org/volunteer/*They’re always looking for lawyers to assist their legal clinic.*
  • To donate, please visit http://www.anewwayoflife.org/donate-3/.
  • Know of a person or organization doing outstanding work that benefits people of color and want us to consider featuring them?  Click here to tell us more.   I’ll be spotlighting individuals and groups who are “doing good” in a monthly editorial here on GBN.

______________________

Dena Crowder is a strategist specializing in power.  She helps creators and influencers increase their capacity and cultivate “pure power” so that they leave a positive impact.
Her approach combines spiritual training with pragmatic action. To visit Dena Crowder’s website, click here.
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Akron Board Greenlights Plan for LeBron James’ Foundation to Open “I Promise” Public School

LeBron James (photo via reviewjournal.com)

via newsone.com

NBA star LeBron James is using his platform to advocate for education. Through his organization—The LeBron James Family Foundation—he will open up a public school in his hometown Akron, Ohio, USA Today reported.

The educational institution—dubbed the “I Promise” school—was recently approved by the city’s board, the news outlet writes. It’s specifically designed for students who have faced obstacles and setbacks when it comes to excelling in school. In efforts to get students who have fallen behind in their studies on the right track, the new school will have extended school days and start classes during the summer season to ensure that learning and education becomes a priority in the lives of its students. The school is an extension of his foundation’s “I Promise” program that was created to prevent kids from dropping out of school. According to the news outlet, the school is slated to accept third and fourth graders next fall and other grades will subsequently be added in the coming years.

James said that his experiences while coming of age in Akron inspired him to open the school. Through his organization’s initiatives, he wants to provide the youth in his hometown with a sense of hope. “I walked those streets, and it was just like there’s no way I’m going to be able to get out of this situation. I just thought about that every day. I had dreams and I had mentors, and they allowed my dreams to become who I am today,” said James, according to the source. “The basketball thing, I love it and I enjoy it, but to give back and open up a school, that’s something that will last way beyond my years.”

USA Today reports that James’ company SpringHill Entertainment and the production company Warrior Poets will team up to work on a documentary about the creation of the school.

In an age where activism and sports are intertwined now more than ever, James has continually used his platform to speak out about social and political issues. This summer he called out Donald Trump for his failure to condemn White supremacists who were involved in the Charlottesville chaos, he’s been outspoken about the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, and during the Cavaliers’ season-opener against the Celtics this season he wore sneakers that read “equality.”

SOURCE: USA Today

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

(Photo via thechildbirthprofession.com)
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 “THIS WAY FORWARD: Community-Based Solutions for the African-American Childbirth Crisis”

The Good Things Black People Do, Give and Receive All Over The World
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