Op-ed "Why We Need a Black Breastfeeding Week" at the top, with an image of the author at the bottom.

Op-ed: Why We Need a Black Breastfeeding Week

August is National Breastfeeding Month, and in the U.S., there’s also a time to commemorate and uplift Black Breastfeeding Week during the last week of the month. As with many similar commemorations, some might question the need for a separate event based on race. All babies can benefit from breastfeeding. Why the need for Black Breastfeeding Week?

Let me answer that question with one word: history. As a Tulsa, Oklahoma native, I’ve spent the months since the 100th anniversary of my hometown’s race massacre considering how tragedies in our past shape our present when it comes to healthcare in America.

Some of my work as Executive Director of the Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative focuses on helping communities understand our history and how we got to this place in our healthcare journey. It’s my job to increase access to Birth Workers of color as a way to address health inequities in Tulsa and build healthier families. 

Health and employment disparities in medical care

Black Breastfeeding Week organizers highlight that 75% of white women have breastfed versus only 58.9% of Black women, with a lack of diversity in the lactation field identified as a key part of the issue. Sadly, health disparities we see today are the result of decades of Black loss and missed opportunities for justice.

For many women, much of the first practical advice they receive around breastfeeding comes in a healthcare setting, at a clinic, or in the hospital shortly after delivery. Though advice and guidance from trusted family and friends is crucial, any problems or deficits are usually diagnosed by a doctor, midwife, or nurse.

For Black women, the chances that this medical practitioner will be a person of color are slim. As of 2019, only 2.6% of the nation’s doctors identified as Black or African-American, and in 2020 these groups accounted for a mere 7.3% of students enrolled in medical school. 

But do you know why these numbers are so low? Some might conclude that Black Americans can’t cut it in higher education, or they simply don’t choose to study medicine at the same rate. History tells a different story.

For example, have you ever heard of The Flexner Report? Also referred to as “Medical Education in the United States and Canada,” it was published in 1910 by American educator Abraham Flexner, with backing from the Carnegie Foundation. The Flexner Report has been credited for transforming and standardizing medical education. It called for significant improvements to medical education, higher admission standards, adherence to scientific methods in research and practice, and oversight by state licensure boards.

Racist beliefs in Flexner Report led to lack of Black hospitals, doctors

However, while it may have helped standardize medical care, The Flexner Report exacted a steep cost for medical schools without the funds to implement the changes.

Five of seven medical schools committed to educating Black physicians closed as a result of The Flexner report. A study published in August 2020 estimated that if those five schools had remained open, an additional 35,315 Black physicians would have entered the workforce in the years that followed, producing a 29% increase in the number of graduating African-American physicians in 2019 alone.

In addition, the medical schools that remained opened were unlikely to admit Black students due to Flexner’s beliefs about Black people and their role in medical education. In November of 2020, The Association of American Medical Colleges renamed their prestigious Abraham Flexner award due to his racist and sexist ideologies. In Chapter 14 of The Flexner Report, titled “The Medical Education of the Negro,” Flexner states that Black people should be trained in sanitation because he believed, “A well-taught negro sanitarian will be immensely useful; an essentially untrained negro wearing an M.D. degree is dangerous,” Flexner wrote.

Where did this lead? A report published in June 2020 by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a worsened doctor shortage of between 54,100 and 193,000 by 2033.

Changing outcomes

This all equals bad outcomes for Black patients. We know that a diverse workforce, training, and cultural competence are essential aspects of quality healthcare. Studies confirm that communities of color benefit from being seen by doctors of color.

The foundation of the U.S. Medical system was never intended to address our needs, support our families, repair our wounds and nurture our children. In other words, the system works beautifully for the people it was designed to support, and everybody else is on their own. Many people will overlook the role Abraham Flexner played in shaping the trajectory of the physician workforce, but if we continually fail to examine these lessons, we will struggle to move forward.

To solve a problem, we have to understand it. The Flexner Report may not be as violent as many of the historic crimes committed against Black people. Yet, its implications are still being felt today in ways both obvious and subtle, from the shortage of Black doctors to the appalling Black maternal mortality rate.

As we consider the solutions, it will take reflection and discomfort if we want to get at the nuances of the inequities we see today. So, yes, we need a Black Breastfeeding Week and so much more.

This op-ed was written by LaBrisa Williams, the Executive Director of the Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative, a HealthConnect One community-based doula replication site. LaBrisa is a 2021 Aspen Institute Healthy Communities Fellow. This article was originally published in The Black Wall Street Times.

Honoring Birth Justice Heroes: Looking To The Past As We Chart A New Future

Many active birth justice heroes embody Sankofa, a Ghanaian symbol that represents the importance of looking back to our traditions and culture as we move forward. It is essential that as we work toward birth justice, we bring forward our brilliance and traditions to promote unity, wellness and health in our Black community and innovate toward a brighter future.

In the last year, the needs of moms and babies in the Black community have been increasingly overshadowed by the pandemic, racial tension and the associated fallout. Birth justice leaders have persisted and adapted their work despite the challenges, leaning in, advocating with and supporting moms, babies, families and communities. We will proudly honor the work being done by partners and collaborators in the Black community to promote birth justice throughout the month and the year, because the greatness, progress and innovation of the Black community must be celebrated each day, not just in February.

We have begun our planning for our W.K. Kellogg First Food Equity Program, where we will facilitate positive change to ensure culturally reflective breastfeeding support in 20 locations across the US.

HealthConnect One is working to rebuild community health by partnering and collaborating with Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities that experience the greatest inequity in the current system. As our country grapples with pandemic-related challenges and the movement toward racial and social justice, the time is now to support and advance outcomes that build healthy communities. 

HealthConnect One is the national leader in advancing equitable, community-based, peer-to-peer support for pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and early parenting. HealthConnect One is committed to collaborating with Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities to ensure safe and healthy pregnancies and births, thriving babies and families, and successful early parenting and nutrition.

Racial Equity for All Moms, Babies and Families

It was a warm day in August 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his powerful “I Have A Dream” speech to a peaceful crowd of marchers at the Lincoln Memorial. “I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

Now more than ever, Dr. King’s dream resonates with families across the nation. It comes at a turbulent time when Black, Brown, and Indigenous families are devastated by Covid-19, racial tensions, and the aftermath of an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Today, we look to Dr. King’s legacy for answers to these pressing issues because his life is a lesson of hope for all of us. Dr. King’s words and acts of nonviolent resistance like grassroots organizing and protests demonstrate the power of social change.  We must continue this legacy with vitality and commitment to dismantling racism and the systems that uphold it.

Dr. King’s example and leadership are important for HealthConnect One as we continue to fight for racial equity. We do this through co-developed peer-to-peer programs that decrease maternal and infant mortality and increase bonding, breastfeeding, maternal support networks, and early learning for infants. Our vision is to see every Black, Brown, and Indigenous mom, baby, and family thrive in a healthy community.

As we continue to work towards a collective “American dream,” we encourage you to be intentional each day in centering and lifting Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities who are struggling while “dreaming of the day they can live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.”

Black Women, The Backbone of Democracy

Dear Friends,

This election is a very American story – a deeply fractured nation showed up to exercise their right to vote. Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, who are also the most overlooked, drove change. Boots on the ground, people on the phone, and online urged communities to vote, and the results have been incredible. 62% of eligible voters cast their votes in this presidential election. This turnout was the largest since 1968, which was another period of racial and societal tension.

Our communities are experiencing a crisis within a crisis as generations of systemic racism have made us more vulnerable to the pandemic’s effects. The heightened racial tension playing out in the nation provides a constant reminder of the ever-present interpersonal racism, bias, and divisiveness. Amidst this crisis, we showed up. Our votes shifted the course of the election; the large Black communities in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit and the Indigenous and Latinx communities in Arizona made a significant impact on the result. Our lives matter, our voices matter, our votes matter, and our participation in government matters. 

The nation has lots of healing to do, and I hope that President-Elect Joe Biden supports the change we need in our communities and the country. As a Black Jamaican woman, a child of immigrants, and someone raised by a single mother, I am filled with pride to witness Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris take office. Her acknowledgment that Black women are often overlooked but are the “backbone of our democracy” cannot be understated and was echoed by the many people online thanking Black women for getting people to the polls. 

My sincere hope is that the appreciation of Black, Brown, and Indigenous votes is not the end. The work of organizations focused on racial justice, including birth justice and the racial wealth gap must be supported through funding and policy change. HealthConnect One is committed to continuing our work supporting birth justice, fair pay for birth workers, and collaboration with partners and legislators for an even more significant impact.


Dr. Twylla Dillion
Executive Director
HealthConnect One 

Photo courtesy of: Meena Harris via Twitter

Honoring Black Birth Workers of the Past

by Olivia Dockery

Black History Month is the time when we honor, reflect and learn about elders who have impacted Black culture and how their legacy is continued. This Black History Month, HealthConnect One wants to honor the legacies of Black birth workers who have played critical roles in improving the health outcomes of Black mothers, babies, and families. Today, Black women are three to four times more likely to die due to pregnancy-related causes than white women. Most of these deaths are preventable, so why does this disparity exist?

The 15th century marked the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade. Africans were enslaved and brought over to the Americas to provide labor in order to secure and build European settlements and wealth. To resist one of society’s most dehumanizing atrocities, enslaved Africans preserved traditions and customs. One of those customs were traditional birth practices. Traditional birth workers were vital to the survival of Black people. These birth workers, also known as “granny” midwives, were viewed as trusted community members with the ability to heal, care, and assist others. They were taught through practice and would pass down their knowledge from generation to generation.

Black birth workers were known as more than midwives; they were postpartum doulas, lactation consultants, family counselors, health educators, and so much more. The post- Emancipation period did not improve the quality of life for formerly enslaved Blacks. They had to succumb to working and living conditions similar to those on plantations. Black birth workers traveled all over the south to make sure that Black families received the care that was needed regardless of their geographic location or ability to pay. They bridged the gap between disenfranchised communities and the health care system. Advancement in medicine, systemic racism, and patriarchy pushed Black midwives out and provided space for the white, male doctors that conquered U.S. medical institutions. Midwifery began to be regarded as an unsafe, outdated model of childbirth and “by the 20th century, 50% of births were attended by a midwife.”

According to ProPublica,  “only 10% of all births were attended by a midwife,”  and 2% of midwives in the U.S. are Black, noted the American College of Nurse-Midwives.” Multiple studies have shown that midwives and doulas can improve the health outcomes of mothers and babies. It is clear that community-based birth workers can lead successful interventions to combat the racial disparities that exist within maternal and child health. While we encourage Black health professionals to enter the birthing field, we must continue to challenge and dismantle the systems of racism and patriarchy. Black birth workers of the past did just that, today we honor them.

Spotlight On Historical Black Birth Workers

Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born enslaved in Georgia during the early 19th century. She was not only a midwife, but an advocate for other enslaved Black people. Her last owner moved west to California and there she petitioned for her and her family’s freedom. Once she was free, she began to save money from her midwifery practice. She founded the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in L.A. Through Mason’s acquired wealth, she became known as a local philanthropist. She donated to many charities, fed and housed low-income families, and visited prisoners. She also founded an elementary school for Black children. Bridget “Biddy” Mason’s contribution to improving the lives of Black families will not be forgotten.

Margaret Charles Smith didn’t start practicing midwifery until her late 30s. She was one of Greene County, Alabama’s first official midwives in 1949. Her career spanned over 35 years and she delivered over 3,000 babies. Smith worked mostly in the rural, Jim Crow South where there was little to no care for Black mothers and their families; whether there were no accessible health facilities or the health facilities refused to treat Black patients. In 1996, Smith wrote a book about her life as a midwife, Listen to Me Good: The Life Story of an Alabama Midwife. In 2010, she was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. Margaret Charles Smith’s legacy of caring for marginalized and underserved communities lives on through the contemporary work of Black birth workers.

Mary Francis Hill Coley also known as Miss Mary was a midwife that practiced in Georgia for more than three decades. She trained under another great, Black midwife, Onnie Lee Logan. Miss Mary was a pillar of her community. Along with her midwifery practice, she became a health advocate for rural Black families. In 1952, Miss Mary was asked to do a training video for the Georgia Health Department. It was clear that Miss Mary was an expert at her craft, her patients and community loved her. The documentary, All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story, received critical acclaim and was used by the World Health Organization and United Nations to train midwives across the globe. We honor Miss Mary and the work she has done to improve the health outcomes of Black moms, babies, and families.

This month, HealthConnect One will be publishing our latest  in-depth brief “Community-Based Doulas and the Medicalization of Birth.” Stay tuned!!!

Black woman breastfeeding old black and white image

Black Breastfeeding after a History of Trauma

by Mekha McGuire

In the conversation on Reproductive Justice and Birthing Equity, the climate is one of immense urgency.

With public breastfeeding now legal in all 50 states as of July this year, there’s a lot of momentum around birth equity, breastfeeding, and the rights of mothers in both the private and public spheres, but with every institutional reform and public shift, the question begs to be asked: Where does this leave Black mothers?

In the context of reproductive justice and the history of our communities in this country, the answer is non-extractable from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the practice of slave breeding in the Americas. This Black Breastfeeding Week, like many others in the past, meets the crucible forged by white supremacy, medical racism, and heteropatriarchal state violence against the bodies of Black mothers and their children.

The history of the controlled reproductive capacities of Black and afro descended women is the foundation on which this country is built. The legacies of terror, oppression, and gendered dehumanization still impact the ancestors of those who survived the vast grief of enslavement. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities reported in 2017 that 64.3% of Black American parents breastfed, in comparison to 81.9% of Latino and 81.5% of White parents breastfeeding. Now, those statistics can look very different when breaking down the racial variations within the Latino statistic (as people can be both Black and Latino as well as any race and Latino.) The enduring legacies of slavery are part of this equation.

Certified Nurse Midwife Stephanie Devane-Johnson of Greensboro, North Carolina conducted research as to why Black women weren’t breastfeeding and found that, “The echoes of slave women being forced to give up their milk still resounded. And black women didn’t talk to their sisters, daughters and granddaughters about how to feed their babies; the bottle was just assumed. And for some women, breast-feeding was a ‘white thing.’”

Devane-Johnson’s Findings

As part of her research for a doctoral degree at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing, Devane-Johnson held focus groups to ask Black women about breast-feeding. She presented her research at the annual UNC-Chapel Hill Minority Health Conference, held recently at the Friday Center. Devane-Johnson described how she recruited 39 women ranging in age from 18 to 89 years old and asked them what conversations they’d had with family members. Turns out, many hadn’t had conversations at all.

“In the formula-feeding group, it was just assumed,” she said. Some women who had breast-fed said it was a topic that couldn’t be addressed in their families. “If they did breast-feed, they didn’t breast-feed at, say, their aunt’s house, they would tell them, ‘You can’t do that in my house. Breast-feeding is nasty,’” Devane-Johnson said. “You don’t talk about ‘boobies,’ because breasts are sometimes seen as sexual and not as functional.”

And then there was the enduring legacy of slavery. “There were some older black women who wanted to disassociate themselves from the past, from slavery and the wet-nursing,” she said, explaining that often young slave women were pressed into giving their milk to white infants. “That image of a ‘mammy’ when people would say that,” reads one of the quotes Devane-Johnson collected from her focus groups. “It did conjure up those pictures of the women feeding the white babies and all that.” And the cultural memory has been passed down even to younger women. “It really was amazing…. In my 18-to-29-year-old breast-feeding group, there was a young lady in there who said, ‘Yeah, the white men used to steal the slaves’ milk,’” she said. Devane-Johnson explained that often slave women had to be away from their own children, at the cost of their own children’s lives.

“A lot of slave babies died during slavery because they weren’t breast-fed. They were fed concoctions of dirty water and cows milk,” she said. Meanwhile, those children’s mothers were giving white children their milk. And women reported that oral histories have been reinforced by modern technology. “These pictures are all on social media,” Devane-Johnson said. “Then someone gets pregnant and people talk about breast-feeding. They’ll say, ‘You don’t have to do that anymore.’”

A study on Enhancing Breastfeeding Rates Among African American Women by Angela Johnson, Rosalind Kirk, Katherine Lisa Rosenblum, and Maria Muzik included this graphic for mapping and understanding the various factors that influence breastfeeding in Black American mothers. (Fig 1.)

Within the realm of influences that contribute to the comparative low numbers for breastfeeding amongst Black Women are slavery, racism, implicit bias, and discrimination from care/treatment providers. What creates a more nuanced and complex take on this data is also the influence that mental health and personal history have on the breastfeeding parent. When we consider the material realities and sentiments around mental health that exist inside our community, as well as the structural violence we face, a completely different picture around Breastfeeding is painted.

To center the history of these legacies, material realities, and subjectivities, I talked with a Black mother named Christena, who is based in Washington, D.C. and has a two year old son named Thiago. I wanted to center her experience with Breastfeeding, discuss some of the situations, structures and resources she had in place that made her feel supported and NOT supported, and learn what would make breastfeeding a better experience for her and for other Black mothers in her community.

Christena has been nursing her baby for two years and counting!

She’s a working class mother who has been though the ringer — having been illegally reprimanded for pumping at work, and having nursed through postpartum depression. Hopefully, her truth and her experience dealing with the structural inequalities around feeding her baby and mothering can provide a mirror to support other Black mothers who may be doing really well but need inspiration to go further; or mothers who are struggling with trauma or resource capacities (emotional, financial, and otherwise) and need some honest affirmation in their journey.

Christena Nataren, 27 | Breastfeeding her son Thiago 2 years+

My decision to breastfeed was both a financial and deeply personal choice. I knew breastfeeding was incredibly important to infant health and it lowers rates of infant mortality. The anxiety around keeping a baby alive and thriving was only slightly eased by breastfeeding. I’m thankful for the connection I was able to establish with my baby through breastfeeding. I left my OB/GYN halfway through my pregnancy and opted with a birthing and family center in my area instead. I didn’t feel supported by my OB and that changed when I switched to midwives. Even then, I felt a little hostility from medical professionals and I can only assume it’s because of my race and low income status.

I have a lactation consultant available to me through the birthing center and they offer a lot of help and literature. Outside of the medical structure, I have no support besides my partner. I don’t know anyone that has ever breastfed, so I was met with skepticism from my family. My baby’s birth wasn’t easy and I didn’t feel supported during and labor. The hospital’s lactation consultant was hostile and impatient with my questions. The nurses assigned to me also pressured me to use formula, so I did.

There were many times I wanted to stop, but the convenience and zero cost of nursing was a major factor to continue to nurse my baby.

I suffered an extreme bout of PPD. I suffer from PTSD from CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse) and it was really hard to associate a sexualized part of my body with functionality. These are no longer parts of my body where I feel shame, but parts of my body that I feel sort of proud of — I have a healthy, bouncy baby that thrives on my breast milk. I feel so much pride in that.

When I had to eventually return to work, I was harassed by management about pumping breast milk at work. I was eventually fired and accused of wage theft over my 15 minute breaks on $2.77 an hour.

My experience with breastfeeding has been traumatic, overall— but I’m still nursing my son at 2 years old. I don’t feel ready to stop nursing and he doesn’t seem ready either, so I’m okay with extended breastfeeding. I’ll be ready to stop when he is. I’m hoping to make my next pregnancy and experience with breastfeeding an infant better than my first experience. I wish I had more emotional support and understanding from both medical professionals as well as coworkers and family members who were purely ignorant on the subject.

I don’t believe Black women are supported enough to breastfeed. Based on my experience, there are no conversations that are had with us from OB/GYNs or other medical professionals. More importantly, there isn’t access to this knowledge.

This inspired me to start a new project to help other mothers. I’m currently working on an app and a website that does the work of mapping out breastfeeding-friendly areas in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area — had I known, I would have ventured out with my baby more. You should be able to feed your baby anywhere you are, but I personally like to know when I’m going to feel safe. That’s where the idea for my project came from.

Christena is an essential part of the community we resist for, support, work with and build with to close these structural trenches. Her story highlights a truth that endures over many centuries of life in diaspora. It’s a truth that propelled our ancestors while they endured inconceivable dehumanization.

Together, our dreams, hopes, resistance, and survival will always drown out the labor of empire to keep us where we are. In the words of Gwendolyn Brooks “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

My hope is that other Black parents who are breastfeeding — and struggling to be in congress with themselves through this time of immense repression — can read these words and be supported.

This Black Breastfeeding Week, let’s uplift breastfeeding LGBTQ parents, and breastfeeding parents who have postpartum depression, mental illness, or traumas, and aren’t routinely represented in birthing community conversations and support models.

#BBW #LoveOnTop

Mekha McGuire’s transdisciplinary labor is informed by her work with Black girls as an educator and community worker, as well as her service as an abortion doula and Black birth equity advocate. Her research and organizing is built on ethnographic and Black feminist frameworks that analyze and center conversations around Black girlhood, collective memory, femme genealogies, Reproductive Justice, solidarity politics and intergenerational gendered trauma within the African diaspora. Ms. McGuire is a leader in HealthConnect One’s Birth Equity Leadership Academy (BELA).

Hidden Figures in the Black Birth World

For Black History Month, we invited Black allies, partners and friends to share about Hidden Figures in the Black Birth World. Here is what we heard.

Has there ever been a time you supported a mother and she wanted to deliver at a certain hospital but she wasn’t able to do so?

Yes, I had a mom that wanted to deliver in New Albany but she had to deliver in Tupelo due to her going to our local Healthy Start Clinic. She asked them to transfer her but they never did.

What did you do about it? Were you able to turn this around for the mother?

I asked client what she didn’t like about our local Women’s hospital, and then provided her with some of the pros and cons of delivering in different facilities around our area. I educated client that I knew of a lady that delivered in New Albany and baby had issues so they had to bring the baby to our Tupelo facility. I also explained to mother that I would be right there with her to ensure that her voice is being heard, as well as to hold her hand when she gets scared.

Was there ever a time you were supporting a mother who wanted certain services but was unable to receive them because she had public insurance?

I had a mom that wanted to have a home birth with a midwife but couldn’t afford it. She also heard about wireless monitors and other things that were offered to mothers that didn’t have state insurance.

What did you do about it? Were you able to turn this around for the mother?

I educated client on a birth plan and that she needed to state what she wanted to have for herself and her baby as long as it’s not an emergency situation that they should be able to accommodate her. Also for her to setup an appointment with her physician and discuss how she is feeling about certain things and what she is looking for when she delivers her baby.

After she did her birth plan and talked to her doctor, she was able to get all that she asked for. Her doctor educated her that the reason most don’t get it is because they never ask or question anything that is going on with them or what they are being told.

~ Natasha Enos with the Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project

Are there other Hidden Figures in the Black Birth World who you would like to recognize?

NyAsia Bey, aspiring midwife in the city of Detroit


~ Tyneal Carter

Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) was performing the job of a supervisor but she wasn’t recognized as a supervisor — she wasn’t “professional enough.” Does that make you think of anyone?

Khyrej Jones started a Facebook group for mothers of color in our area who needed help breastfeeding. I noticed a huge lack of representation for parents of color and we created a Facebook group. Together, we teamed up to start a non-profit called Brown Baby Brigade that seeks to create a network of professionals of color to connect with other people of color who need their services.

Before I met Khy, she was told she couldn’t run a group about breastfeeding because she didn’t have any type of formal training. Instead of letting that set her back, she became a lactation counselor. She is also a doula.

Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe) went before a judge to present her case concerning racial equity and became NASA’s first black woman engineer. Does that make you think of anyone?

I am a first generation Jamaican. My parents immigrated here before I was born. I have many cousins, but they all went straight to formula. I really wanted to breastfeed.

My daughter was born at 27 weeks and 4 days, and my dreams of breastfeeding seemed bleak.

Despite all odds, I was able to breastfeed my daughter, and we are still breastfeeding at 27 months — despite my struggle with tongue ties, allergies, reflux, low supply, etc.

~ Roxanne Bogalis, Brown Baby Brigade

Thank you for participating in our Hidden Figures Black History theme!

Although we set aside a month to acknowledge African-American women in the birth world for their amazing contributions and endless dedication, we know many remain hidden every day across the nation. Let’s continue to acknowledge our sisters to our left and to our right who work shoulder-to-shoulder with us — whether they offer breastfeeding support, support for birth, or they’re just being a friend.

Sisterly Love,
Tikvah Wadley

A Few Hidden Figures

NyAsia Bey
Aspiring Midwife in Detroit

Kiddada Green
Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association

Kathryn Hall-Trujillo
The Birthing Project

Khyrej Jones
Brown Baby Brigade

Jennie Joseph
Commonsense Childbirth Inc.

Shafia M. Monroe
International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC)

Tikvah Wadley

Who are the Hidden Figures in the Black Birth World?

Hidden Figures is a movie that portrays women of color who worked at NASA with very important roles — yet were not acknowledged for their wisdom or their contributions to NASA’s great work.

At HealthConnect One, we believe that every community has its own leaders, who know the community’s language and hold solutions for the community’s challenges. A majority of the time, these leaders are not recognized for the important roles they play or for their contributions to the world of birth. I think of these leaders as Hidden Figures in the community and we would like to acknowledge them during Black History Month.

For example, if you read the questions below and someone comes to your mind, feel free to acknowledge!Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji Henson) was responsible for the calculations for an astronaut’s takeoff and landing but she was unable to use the restroom where her colleagues were and was forced to go to another building which was much further away.

  • Has there ever been a time you supported a mother and she wanted to deliver at a certain hospital but she wasn’t able to do so?
  • What did you do about it?
  • Were you able to turn this around for the mother? Was anyone?
  • Was there ever a time you were supporting a mother who wanted certain services but was unable to receive them because she had public insurance?
  • What did you do about it?
  • Were you able to turn this around for the mother? Was anyone?

Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) was performing the job of a supervisor but she wasn’t recognized as a supervisor — she wasn’t “professional enough.”

  • Breastfeeding Peer Counselors support mothers in their communities and help them with the very first hours of life when the baby comes — and in some cases, with the very first latch. However, they are not seen as “professional enough” to be recognized as vital to their community. Does this make you think of anyone?
  • Can you remember a time when you helped a mother continue to breastfeed when she wanted to give up? How did you turn her negative into a positive?
  • Can you remember a time when you were disrespected and/or devalued as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor? How did this make you feel? How did you turn this negative situation into a positive?

Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe) went before a judge to present her case concerning racial equity and became NASA’s first black woman engineer.

  • What were you the first of?
  • Breastfeeding?
  • Going to college and graduating – were you the first in your family?
  • Were you the first to give birth in your family or community without interventions? Were you the first to become a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor or Community-Based Doula in your community, although it was unheard of?
  • Do you know someone who was the first to do any of these things?

Tikvah Wadley, AAS, CD(DONA), BDT (DONA), is a Certified Doula and Birth Doula Trainer through DONA, and serves as Project Coordinator for HealthConnect One. She has worked in the community for nearly 20 years and believes in empowering women in today’s society.

For Black History Month, we’re offering a platform for Black allies, partners and friends to share about the hidden figures in your communities. Have someone you want to recognize? Please share!

We will publish responses right here on February 28th. Thank you.

“History is the sum total of what all of us do on a daily basis,” says Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book, “Hidden Figures,” in a Smithsonian article last Fall.

“We think of capital “H” history as being these huge figures — George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King.” Even so, she explains, “you go to bed at night, you wake up the next morning, and then yesterday is history. These small actions in some ways are more important or certainly as important as the individual actions by these towering figures.”

~ Source: The True Story of “Hidden Figures,” the Forgotten Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Maya Wei-Haas

On Sojourner Truth, Motherhood and Trust

For Black History Month 2016, HealthConnect One invited partners and allies to share how they have been influenced or inspired by Black women who made history – women like Sojourner Truth. ~ Editor’s Note

by Phyllis Brown

phyllis brownSojourner Truth traveled telling the truth. She also had some of her children taken away from her.

As a community-based doula, I have some understanding of both of these circumstances.

I want to talk about my experience with a client and her pregnancy, which pushed me to stand up and advocate for services to help ease her stress, anxiety, and feeling of overwhelm.

I wanted to make sure I could support this young lady to find her voice and communicate with her providers concerning her wants and needs. I went with her to a meeting with her case management agency, for support, so that she would know someone was with her and walking alongside her regardless.

This mother was so stressed about her pregnancy and wanted to make sure her pregnancy was not in vain. She wanted a crib, a car seat, a bathtub, equipment that would make her feel like a mother, equipment that was given to other mothers without hesitation.

I began to tell the case management agency the truth about this young mother and her anxiety concerning infant equipment, and why it was important to her, but the agency did not see the importance of it as we did. I continued to speak the truth. If we could provide this young mother a chance to speak, if we could simply listen with compassion and affirm her needs by providing her with the equipment she desired, then if her pregnancy ended up in the loss of custody of her child after birth, she could still be part of caring for her baby. She could still help to make sure everything would be fine. The equipment was one of the ways this mom could feel her pregnancy was real and be acknowledged by others as a mother.

I wanted to make sure this mom felt supported and had the opportunity to go through “nesting” as other moms do, regardless if her baby was staying with her or not. I gave equipment to the mom from our agency, to help her have her nesting moment.

We set it up together.

This has built trust between the mother and me.

Phyllis Brown works as a community-based doula for UCAN in Chicago. She has been in the business of supporting others through the birthing process for more than 35 years and began doing this professionally 12 years ago. She was working with a population of young people who were in need of the service and it was bestowed upon her to assist. She has formal training as a community-based doula and has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a minor in Organizational Psychology.  

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Black Babies Matter

by Stacy Davis

I am here to free you just as Harriett Tubman freed the slaves,
To free your mind and body from the damage that made you feel no better than yesterday’s trash,
To free you from the plagued mindset that black lives did not matter,
To free you so that you can freely nourish and nurture your child wherever you are.

I am here to show that you need to be Bessie Coleman to take flight in your community,
To show you how you can conquer your fears and take your sisters and brothers on the flight with you,
To show you how making waves will create stronger communities, men, women and children,

To provide you with the tools to be the next Misty Copeland,
To support you, as you stand on your points to create a better life for yourself, family and community.

I am here to shout the truth as Sojourner Truth did until breastfeeding is normalized, racial equity has been achieved, and the lives of black babies and residents of Flint matter.


Stacy Davis 2Stacy Davis, program coordinator at Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), with 16 years of community-based health care experience. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Health Administration from Davenport University and is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Public Health. Stacy is a 2015 Ecology Center Health Leaders Fellow and committee member for the National Association for Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color. Mrs. Davis is the mother to four sons: Lawran (15), Devahn (12), Jessie (6), and Jace (3). As one of the few African American lactation consultants in the state of Michigan, Stacy is committed to providing families of color with culturally-competent breastfeeding support.

For Black History Month 2016, HealthConnect One invited partners and allies to share how they have been influenced or inspired by Black women who made history.

We hope you will share with us, too!

Join us on Twitter this Thursday, Feb 25th, at 1:00 p.m. ET (12 noon CT, 11a MT, 10a PT) for a Black Herstory Twitter Chat, using the hashtag #BlkHerStory.