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

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

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

2017 Elections Round Up: Major Victories in State, Local Elections for African Americans

VA Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (l); Minneapolis City Councilmember Andrea Jenkins (r)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

If last night’s elections are any indicator of what is possible in the 2018 mid-terms, there will be even more to celebrate in a year’s time. Not only did the states of New Jersey and Virginia vote in the Democratic candidates for governor (Philip Murphy and Ralph Northam, respectively), each state also elected their first and second African-American lieutenant governors, Sheila Oliver and Justin Fairfax.  Fairfax is the first African American elected to statewide office in Virginia in 25 years. Read more about the victories and histories of both by clicking their names above.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles (l) and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter (r)

Two major U.S. cities also voted in mayors of color yesterday: Melvin Carter became the first black mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Vi Lyles was elected Charlotte, NC’s first African-American female mayor.

Additionally, Andrea Jenkins, who became the first openly trans woman of color elected to the city council of a major U.S. city, will represent Ward 8 of Minneapolis. To read the Washington Post feature on her, click here.

Another big city council seat win came from Mazahir Salih, the first immigrant to do so in Iowa City. Salih moved to the US from Sudan in 1997 and you can read more about her win here.

To continue to support these candidates, you can follow each on Twitter:

@SheilaOliverNJ, @FairfaxJustin@PhilMurphyNJ, @RalphNortham, @melvincarter3, @ViLyles, 

@andreaforward8, and @MazahirIowaCity.

Voting matters. High turnouts are meaningful. Congratulations to the winners, much gratitude to the grass roots organizers, canvassers and volunteers, and power to the people – always!

Sheila Oliver Voted New Jersey’s 1st Black Lieutenant Governor

New Jersey Lieutenant Governor-elect Sheila Oliver (photo via amsterdamnews.com)

via amsterdamnews.com

Reports indicate that Democrat Phil Murphy is projected to win the New Jersey governor’s race making his running mate, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor. She is now the second highest-ranking official in the State of New Jersey.

She was elected to her new title after the election of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy takes a sweeping victory from the Republican candidate, lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno.

“I certainly know how the legislature works,” Oliver said during her campaign. “I certainly have relationships with 119 members of the state Legislature. And to run an effective government and to get things done, you need to cooperation in the state Senate, the general assembly and the executive branch.”

Oliver, 65, is a native of Newark and is the first African-American woman Assembly Speaker in New Jersey. She has more than a dozen years of legislative experience, serving in the lower house of the New Jersey Legislature since 2004. She also served on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders from 1996 to 1999.

Source: http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2017/nov/07/sheila-oliver-becomes-first-black-lieutenant-gover/

Houston Texans Stage Mass Protest of Team Owner’s ‘Inmate’ Comments

Houston Texans players kneel and stand during the singing of the national anthem Sunday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

by Jay Busbee via sports.yahoo.com

The Houston Texans, incensed by team owner Bob McNair’s poorly worded description of players as “inmates,” staged a mass protest during the national anthem prior to Houston’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Virtually all Texans knelt for the anthem, locking arms or holding hands on the sideline. National media in attendance put the number of players standing at about 10. At the NFL owners’ meetings last week, McNair had expressed frustration with the way that the protest had affected the NFL’s business, and said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” He apologized on at least two occasions for that unfortunate turn of phrase, but players were not convinced. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins left the Texans’ facility on Friday after learning of the comments.

The Texans had discussed several options for protest prior to Sunday’s game, including kneeling, sitting, remaining in the locker room during the anthem or peeling the Texans’ logo off their helmets. Clearly, the protest was large, one of the most significant by any single team to date, but not unanimous.

This marked the first time any Texans players had protested during the anthem. Offensive tackle Duane Brown had raised a fist last season, the only demonstration the Texans had shown since protests began in the 2016 preseason. On Friday, Brown called McNair’s comments “embarrassing, ignorant and frustrating.”

To see full article, go to: Texans stage mass protest of owner’s ‘inmate’ comments

Protesters Arrested During Marches for Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge to be Awarded Up to $1,000 in Class-Action Settlement

(photo via NBC News)

via blavity.com

Nearly a year after protesters in Baton Rouge were arrested during marches for 37-year-old resident Alton Sterling – who was killed by police while selling CDs outside of a store – a federal judge approved a class-action settlement Friday, Oct. 27 that awards up to $1,000 to dozens. One of the most high-profile activists to be involved with the settlement was DeRay Mckesson, who was arrested along with 69 others. Besides cash payments, the victims will have their records expunged free of charge, the Associated Press reports.

U.S. District Judge John W. deGravelles gave the final approval regarding the settlement after a hearing with McKesson and other plaintiffs. The 69 plaintiffs will ultimately be rewarded amounts ranging from $500 to $1,000 out of the total value of the settlement estimated at $136,000. “It obviously is a matter that touches on a lot of sensitive issues and had the potential for being very contentious and destructive,” deGravelles said.

Kira Marrero, a 24-year-old plaintiff from New Orleans, was arrested while protesting the police-involved shooting of Sterling. “I’m definitely glad that we’re getting some justice, though at the same time it’s a really painful memory to dig up,” she said. “I’m still pretty heartbroken, I guess, by everything that happened. I think everyone who knew me trusted that I wasn’t out there breaking the law and that clearly something was wrong.”

To read more, go to: Baton Rouge Protesters Will Be Awarded Up To $1,000 In Class-Action Settlement | BLAVITY

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