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

Viola Davis Helps Fight Childhood Hunger as Ambassador for Hunger Is Campaign

Viola Davis (photo via txconferenceforwomen.org)

Julie Zeilinger via mtv.com

Viola Davis has never been afraid to speak out for what’s right — from issues like sexual assault to the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry, and beyond. Now Davis is using her star power to focus on another worthy cause: childhood hunger.

As the Ambassador for the Hunger Is campaign, “The How to Get Away With Murder” star has spearheaded a campaign that has raised more than $20 million since 2014 to help provide meals to children all over the country who normally do not have enough to eat.

“The continued success of this program is not only exciting but it’s a sign of the strength our communities possess to bring about positive change,” Davis said in a press release. “Too many children go without breakfast in this country, and it’s all of our duty to work toward fixing that problem.”

A huge number of American children struggle with hunger every day. In fact, 1 out of every 6 children in America live in a household without consistent access to adequate food and 3 out of 4 K-8 teachers say they regularly see students come to school hungry, according to the Hunger Is campaign.

1 OUT OF EVERY 6 CHILDREN IN AMERICA LIVE IN A HOUSEHOLD WITHOUT CONSISTENT ACCESS TO ADEQUATE FOOD

Providing these hungry kids with even just a daily breakfast can make a huge difference. For example, students who regularly start the day with a healthy breakfast have an average 17.5% increase in standardized math scores, according to Hunger Is.

Everyone can play a part in helping this worthy cause. You can get involved by finding volunteer opportunities in your community.

“I’m honored to lend my voice to this important conversation,” Davis said. “My gratitude goes out to everyone who continues to donate and help spread awareness of childhood hunger in America.”

Source: http://www.mtv.com/news/3046008/viola-davis-childhood-hunger/

New York University Study Shows Diversity in Schools Has Positive Impact on Student Achievement

(image via steinhardt.nyu.edu)

via jbhe.com

A new report by the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University finds that there is an academic advantage for students who go to diverse schools. Researchers compared demographic information on the student bodies at New York City public schools with results on achievement tests and graduation rates.

The researchers found that there was a modest benefit for students attending the most diverse schools – those that were between 50 and 75 percent Black and Hispanic. (Least diverse schools were those that were more than 75 percent Black or Hispanic or those that were more than 50 percent White). Third and eighth grade students at the most diverse schools outperformed students attending the city’s least diverse schools on standardized tests in mathematics and English. Students at the most diverse high schools had slightly higher graduation rates than students at the least diverse high schools.

The results also showed that the benefits of diversity are smaller for younger children than is the case for older students. This, the authors conclude, provides evidence of the long-term benefits of greater school diversity.

David E. Kirkland, the lead author of the report, said that “the academic achievement and high school graduation evidence that we analyzed suggests that increasing diversity can increase equity in New York City schools and significantly decrease gaps in some student outcomes such as high school graduation. Thus, plans to stimulate diversity in New York City schools can pay off for the City’s most vulnerable students.”

The full report, Separate But Unequal: A Comparison of Unequal Outcomes in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools, may be downloaded by clicking here.

Olivia Ohlson, 10, Raises More Than $4K Through Bake Sale to Help Fight Breast Cancer

Olivia Ohlson, 10, held a bake sale to raise money for people affected by breast cancer after her mother, Gini Ohlson, was diagnosed with breast cancer. (Photo: Gini Ohlson)

by Katie Kindelan via abcnews.com

When 10-year-old Olivia Ohlson learned that her mom Gini was diagnosed with breast cancer, she jumped at the chance to help. Olivia, a fifth-grader from Evanston, Illinois, made pink lemonade and baked shortbread cookies with her grandmother to sell outside the family’s home. “I always wanted to have a lemonade sale and when my mom got cancer I wanted to raise funds for women like her,” Olivia told ABC News. “I thought that since I wanted to raise money, I could have a lemonade stand.”

She also contacted local bakeries to ask that they donate cookies for her to sell in the shape of pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness.

Olivia Ohlson, 10, poses with her mom, Gini Ohlson, before, left, and after Gini Ohlson lost her hair due to chemotherapy. (Photos: Gini Ohlson)

“It was very touching,” Gretchen Vetter of Tag’s Bakery in Evanston said. “I was very moved by it so I was more than willing to help.”

Olivia has raised $4,500 through one bake sale and online donations made by family, friends and strangers. She is holding a second bake sale next weekend.

Olivia said her favorite part of the bake sale was interacting with her customers. She is donating her proceeds to Northshore Kellogg Cancer Center, where her mom, Gini Ohlson, is being treated for breast cancer.

“I know my mom has lots of family and friends who take care of her but other people don’t so they need more support,” she said. “By giving Kellogg money they can use it … for patients.”

Ohlson, 50, was diagnosed with breast cancer in both of her breasts in March. She underwent a double mastectomy in May and said she is halfway through 16 rounds of preventive chemotherapy.

Ohlson, the executive director of a nonprofit organization, may also need radiation in the future. Her early stage of breast cancer was diagnosed through her annual mammogram.

“My doctor told me that if I hadn’t had my mammogram, we wouldn’t have felt anything for a year to three years and I would have had a very different diagnosis,” she said. “That’s really given me a positive attitude.”

Ohlson described herself as “very proud” of Olivia, her only child. She said she is most impressed that Olivia did all of the hard, behind-the-scenes work that bake sales entail.

To read more, go to: Girl raises more than $4K through bake sale after mom diagnosed with breast cancer – ABC News

Rap Video on Instagram by #blackgirlsrock in NY Celebrates STEM and Education

For anyone who needs a pick-me-up, a hot beat and some fresh motivation today, watch the treat of a music video below!

Barack Obama’s Name to Replace Jefferson Davis’ on Mississippi Elementary School

Former President Barack Obama speaks in New York on Sept. 20. (Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

by Dan Corey via nbcnews.com

A public elementary school in Mississippi named after the president of the Confederacy will be renamed to honor the first black president of the United States.

Davis Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary in Jackson, which is named for Jefferson Davis, will be renamed Barack Obama Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary beginning next school year, the school’s PTA president, Janelle Jefferson, said at a Jackson Public Schools Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night. The prospect of changing the name of what Jefferson called the best elementary school in Mississippi was raised by a student, she told NBC News. “They know who [Davis] was and what he stood for,” she said. “This has a great impact on them, because [Obama] is who they chose out of anybody else they could. This is the person that the whole school supported. He was their Number One choice.”

The PTA asked the Davis Magnet community to submit suggestions for the new name, Jefferson said. Parents, students and school staff were given two weeks to submit recommendations, and they voted using paper ballots on Oct. 5. Students from every class researched and gave presentations about their candidates at an assembly before the vote, Jefferson said. The decision to name the school after Obama was made on Oct. 6. School buildings must be named “for persons of good character and prominence who have made outstanding contributions to the school system,” according to the school board’s facility-naming policy. “A facility named to honor a person shall not be renamed except for compelling reasons.”

“Every generation has a right to choose how it represents itself,” Jake McGraw, public policy coordinator the University of Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, told NBC News. “Having a school where there was input from parents, teachers and students — along with the school board — it seems like a model for how these decisions should be approached across the country.” About 98 percent of current Davis students are black, Jefferson said. The students chose Obama because they were alive during his administration and felt that he shared their principles, Jefferson said. McGraw said: “It shows that we don’t need to shy away from exploring these controversial topics. It’s important not just in the symbolism of an elementary school, but here we’re having a real genuine examination of our history in an elementary school — within the broader school system in Jackson — which is exactly where it needs to happen.”

To read more, go to: Obama’s Name to Replace Jefferson Davis’ on Mississippi School – NBC News

Scholarship Fund Established for Children of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson

Sgt. La David Johnson (Photo: Department of Defense)

by David J. Neal via miamiherald.com

The death of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami Gardens, FL, one of four soldiers killed Oct. 4 by ambush in Niger, wasn’t just another tragedy involving a constituent to U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson. So, she and her 5,000 Role Models of Excellence program decided to do something for Johnson’s survivors.

Wilson knew Johnson, his parents, his two kids and wife Myeshia Johnson, who is pregnant with their third child. Johnson hadn’t just gone through the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence program Wilson founded in 1993, he’d been a leader among leaders. Johnson’s cousins went into the program also, saying they were followed his example. Wilson couldn’t help but recognize the numeric parallel of Johnson being killed at 25 early in the program’s 25th school year. “He was a true role model,” Wilson said of the young man known as Wheelie King for his bicycle tricks before he enrolled in the Army.

While part of an advisory group in Niger, Johnson didn’t make it out of an attack the Department of Defense blames on The Islamic State. ISIS increasingly teams up with fellow extremist Islamic group Boko Haram, the terrorists in Wilson’s prime international cause, the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria. So, the 5,000 Role Models of Excllence program has established Role Model Army Sgt. La David Johnson Scholarship to ensure Johnson’s three children will have money for college.

A gofundme page has been set up for those who wish to contribute.

Source: Scholarship fund for kids of Sgt. La David Johnson, killed in Niger | Miami Herald