The MCNY Black Maternal Health Initiative (BMHI) is a student and community engagement project that seeks to respond to the existential crisis of Black maternal health in the U.S., New York City, and most specifically, the Bronx. 

The initiative grew out of a roundtable conversation the MCNY Library hosted in December 2021 on the many social determinants that shape the drastic health inequity in maternal health in our communities. In April 2022, the library secured the Libraries Transform Communities Engagement Grant from the American Library Association to support the call to action on Black maternal health that students, alumni, faculty, and staff forcefully articulated in December.  

Key to the initiative is the library’s partnerships with Bronx-based community groups working in the field of Black maternal health. This collaboration fosters a rich exchange that will support MCNY students and alumni in taking on leadership civic engagement roles in the broader MCNY community. 

The Peer Leadership group is at the heart of the MCNY Black Maternal Initiative. Recruited from among MCNY students and alumni through an application process, Peer Leaders will have the opportunity to meet and work with the project’s community partners as well as with other leaders in public health, medicine, political advocacy, and activism. They will do research and discuss the issues among themselves, drawing from an array of different life and work experiences and leveraging the knowledge and practices of their own different academic disciplines.

The Peer Leadership Group is tasked with engaging the MCNY community in deep conversation and advocacy around this longstanding crisis. This will include, among other things, designing select library programming over the next two semesters. 

The MCNY Black Maternal Health Initiative has been developed and stewarded from the MCNY library by librarians Kate Adler, Tina Callender, and Natalia Sucre, with Natalia Sucre serving as project lead from January 2022 to March 2023 and Tina Callender assuming the lead role in April 2023.

In February of 2023, MCNY received a TD Bank Ready Commitment grant from the TD Charitable Foundation aimed at advancing awareness of the Black Maternal Health crisis, the health equity crisis in maternal care for birthing people of color and supporting NYC advocacy efforts for change.

The college-wide conversation on the health equity crisis in maternal care for Black and Brown communities, with support from the TD Charitable Foundation, will host panel discussions open to the public, featuring leaders in the field as guest speakers. The TD supported project will culminate in fall 2023 with a health fair hosted at the Bronx MCNY campus and a symposium that will bring together healthcare and community leaders and scholars as well as showcase MCNY student work around the topic.

Meet the Peer Leadership Group

The Peer Leadership Group is comprised of nine undergraduates, graduates, and alumni from across a range of MCNY programs including Public Administration, Emergency and Disaster Management, Community Health Education, Human Services, Business Administration in Healthcare Management, Business Administration in Health Services & Risk Management, Education, Project Management, and CASAC. As such, the Peer Leadership Group benefits from a multidisciplinary perspective as well as from the unique life and career experiences of each of its members.  

Events

Note: All events are hosted by the BMHI Peer Leadership Group

Participating Organization:

Arthur Ashe Institute
Asthma Task Force
Bronx Rebirth
Bronx Works
Weill Cornell Medical
Dr. Allegra Cummings
Emblem Health
Essen Health Care
Heart to Heart
NorthWell Health
Primerica Financial Services
Touro College (Harlem)
WE ACT- Environment Justice
South Bronx Unit
United African Congress
Union Settlement
East Side Institute

What Should Families Known About Black Maternal Health Equity? Hosted by Prof. Desi K. Robinson and Prof. Vashon Smith

Thursday, June 1, 6pm – 8pm

Amplifying the Spring BMHI 2023 discussion panel “Addressing Racism as a Public Health Crisis: Mental Health and Birth Equity”: Post-discussions led by BMHI Peer Leaders.

Building on the previous programming, the Black Maternal Health Initiative Peer Leaders Group continues its commitment to engage the MCNY community in conversations and advocacy around Black maternal health care and equity. Their next public event will be held on:

Thursday, June 1, 6pm – 8pm. Register here.

Topic: In August 2022, New York City’s legislative body passed a package addressing significant disparities in maternal health, mortality, and morbidity. Each year a significant number of people of color die or experience extreme medical emergencies during childbirth. Learn more about the NYC City Council legislation: https://council.nyc.gov/press/2022/08/11/2240/

Wednesday, March 29, 2023 & Friday, March 17, 2023

March 29: Reproductive Health Rights & Transgender Birth Equity, hosted by BMHI Peer Leaders Lorna Modeste-Thomas and Paige Lamont

March 17: Systemic Racism in Maternal Care, hosted by BMHI Peer Leaders Jania Clark and Kabrina Stephens

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Spring 2023 BMHI Discussion Panel Sponsored by TD Charitable Foundation

Addressing Racism as a Public Health Crisis: Mental Health and Birth Equity

This Spring semester, the BMHI Peer Leadership chose to focus on the mental health impacts of the maternal health equity crisis among Black and Brown communities in the U.S. During their first two semesters of work, BMHI Peer Leaders came to understand deeply how systemic racism drives the current disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality and traumatic births among Black and Brown birthing people. Such knowledge, the very awareness the Peer Leaders are dedicated to fostering, brings with it a mental health toll that must be addressed too. The March 7th panel-discussion convened four leading figures in the field of maternal health justice to discuss with the MCNY community the key issue of mental health and respectful maternal care in effecting change on birth equity.

The Peer Leadership Group thanks our invited guest speakers: 

Dr. Melissa Barber, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, author of Thirty Days of Thanks, public health researcher, and ambassador for the Birthing Project. 

Jade Kearney, educator and tech entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of She Matters, a digital health platform that provides Black mothers who experience postpartum comorbidities access to community, culturally competent healthcare providers, and culturally relevant resources.

Bruce McIntyre, founder of saveArose Foundation and birthing equity activist working to bring a midwife-led birthing center to the Bronx and lobbying government officials to craft legislation on maternal, mental health & surviving families; one of the central figures featured in the 2022 documentary Aftershock 

Isabel Morgan, director of Birth Equity Research Scholars at the National Birth Equity Collaborative and a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researching infertility epidemiology and equitable access to fertility treatment; co- author of several recent influential research studies on Black maternal mental health. 

A special thanks to our panel moderator, MCNY’s own Desi K. Robinson, MBA, Community Health Education professor, health + lifestyle journalist, doctoral candidate in Health Education and Behavior Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a Mama Glow-trained birth/postpartum doula. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Student Initiative Addresses Black Maternal Health Disparity in Underserved Communities:
Announcing the Spring 2023 BMHI Discussion Panel on Tuesday, March 7, 6-8pm

New York, February 27, 2023 – Metropolitan College of New York (MCNY), an accredited, not-for-profit college with two campuses in lower Manhattan and the Bronx, is proud to announce that it has received a TD Bank Ready Commitment grant from the TD Charitable Foundation aimed at advancing awareness of the Black Maternal Health crisis, the health equity crisis in maternal care for birthing people of color and supporting NYC advocacy efforts for change.

This year, through the TD Ready Commitment grant, MCNY’s student and alumni-driven community project Black Maternal Health Initiative, (BMHI or the Initiative), established in 2022 by the MCNY Library with the help of an American Library Association (ALA) Libraries Transform Communities Engagement grant, will undertake yearlong student and community engagement around birth equity and institutional racism as a public health crisis.

The college-wide conversation on the health equity crisis in maternal care for Black and Brown communities, especially in the Bronx, is driven by student and alumni interest through the BMHI Peer Leadership Group (BMHI-PLG). With support from the TD Charitable Foundation, the Initiative will host panel discussions open to the public, featuring leaders in the field as guest speakers. These will be followed by a series of roundtable talks led by the BMHI-PLG to continue the conversation. The project will culminate in fall 2023 with a health fair hosted at the Bronx MCNY campus and a symposium that will bring together healthcare and community leaders and scholars as well as showcase MCNY student work around the topic.

“In the first year of the initiative, BMHI Peer Leaders engaged with groundbreaking scholars, inspiring activists, and experienced practitioners. It has been wonderful to see them grow into their own power as advocates for the reproductive health equity issues they feel so strongly about,” said Natalia Sucre, Director of Library Services for Metropolitan College of New York, “Now they are ready to take further community action themselves, and this is what the TD grant will support.”

MCNY serves a large population of Black and Brown adult students with undergraduate and graduate programs in human services, public policy, healthcare systems management, emergency management, education and community health education. The College’s mission, to promote social justice, and encourage positive change in workplaces and communities, along with the demographics of its student body and fields of study perfectly aligns with bringing awareness and solutions to disparities, inequities and inequalities.

The first TD Ready Commitment supported panel discussion, “Addressing Racism as a Public Health Crisis – Mental Health and Birth Equity,” will take place on Tuesday, March 7 from 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm and is open to the public via zoom and streaming on-site at the MCNY Bronx and Manhattan campuses.

This event is open to the public. Advance Zoom registration is required for virtual attendance.

Register HERE.

Wednesday, February 15, 2022

An Afternoon of Wellness Care & Birth Equity Advocacy for Expecting Parents & Friends

Speakers

Bottom from left: Myla Flores, Iyanna Betaudier, Courtney McClain, Teneisha Olivierre, Terrie Paladino. Top from left: Bruce McIntyre, Margot Bellon

We partnered with Myla Flores, creator of The Womb Bus and co-founder of The Birthing Place, for our first hybrid event – onsite at the Bronx MCNY Commons and virtual via Zoom. Myla designed an afternoon of reproductive health community care and birth equity advocacy. She brought together birth justice leaders from The Birthing Place and saveArose Foundation, health care professionals from Saving Mothers, and healer, Iyanna Betaudier from Ancestral Traditions.

Collage

Clockwise: Iyanna Betaudier; Bruce McIntyre, Prof. Desi K. Robinson, Lamont Paige; Librarian & BMHI co-director, Tina Callender; Myla Flores

The result was an afternoon of deep listening and connecting. We learned of the struggle to bring a midwife-led birthing center to the Bronx and how The Womb Bus was created to immediately address the need for providing respectful, culturally appropriate maternal care to communities of color in the Bronx. The Bronx has the highest rate of maternal and infant mortality in the City. The Birthing Place has built a grassroots lobbying and policy movement with the purpose of advancing reproductive justice and facilitating access to birthing centers in NYS. Sign up here to get involved!

We learned about the NYC-based work of Saving Mothers, an organization founded by physicians and healthcare professionals to do away with preventable birth-related deaths in low-resource settings, originally in developing countries such as Guatemala, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Uganda.

Responding to the fatal impact of systemic racism that has created the maternal health equity crisis in NYC, the organization has launched the mPOWHER Project in NYC. The project’s goal is to provide standardized training to NYC community health workers in maternal care. Stay tuned! The MCNY Bronx campus may be hosting a Saving Mothers community health worker training soon.

We learned of one healer’s journey to listen to her own body and extend that knowledge to other women of color who are routinely not listened to in healthcare settings. Healer and licensed acupuncturist Iyanna Betaudier’s workshop “Focusing on Menstrual Cycle as Vital Sign of Womb Health” was information-packed, providing a holistic, justice-focused approach to reproductive health.

Black Birthing Bill of Rights

Copyright 2020 National Association to Advance Black Birth. Designed and illustrated by Angelica Marie @wearekarasi

Finally, BMHI Peer Leaders gave back to our guests and community by introducing the Black Birthing Bill of Rights created by the National Association to Advance Black Birth (NAABB) as a tool for birth equity. See the BMHI Peer Leader reflections on these powerfully stated and illustrated rights here. A special thanks to the NAABB for granting MCNY’s BMHI permissions to use this resource.

Everyone

Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022 – Third BMHI Virtual Roundtable

From Loss to Activism: The Ripple Effects of the Maternal Health Crisis in Black and Brown Communities

The power of the documentary Aftershock is best summed up in the filmmakers own synopsis of the film: 

In October 2019, 30-year-old Shamony Gibson tragically died after being ignored by medical providers 13 days following the birth of her son. Two months later, we began filming Shamony’s surviving mother, Shawnee Benton Gibson, and bereaved partner, Omari Maynard, as they began to process what happened and figure out their new normal. 

In April 2020, 26-year-old Amber Rose Isaac, died due to an emergency c-section that stemmed from medical negligence. Within weeks of Amber’s death, Omari reaches out to Amber’s surviving partner Bruce McIntyre and a lifelong bond is formed. Together, Omari and Bruce begin the fight for justice for their partners with their families and community by their side, while caring for their children as newly single parents.

Through the film, we witness these two families become ardent activists in the maternal health space, seeking justice through legislation, medical accountability, community, and the power of art. Their work introduces us to a myriad of people including a growing brotherhood of surviving Black fathers, along with the work of midwives and physicians on the ground fighting for institutional reform. Through their collective journeys, we find ourselves on the front lines of the growing birth justice movement that is demanding systemic change within our medical system and government.

Peer Leaders facilitated an intimate discussion of the inequities the film exposes and the activist community building it showcases. In this regard, they emphasized how the documentary challenges stereotypes of Black fathers. Aftershock draws urgent attention to how the Black maternal health crisis impacts Black men –a point often forgotten. At the same time, it documents how Black men are impacting the situation through community building and activism. See more on these points in Birth Justice: A Panel Discussion with the Filmmakers of Aftershock. A conversation to be continued! Special thanks to community guest Shane Jones of Melanated Mermaid Doula and MCNY’s own Rebecca Marbach for their presence and valuable contributions. 

Monday, Augst 1, 2022 – Second BMHI Roundtable

Black Maternal Health, Roe v Wade, and the Reproductive Justice Movement: A Teach In

Invited guest panelists on why they do what they do

Dr. Allegra Cummings, board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, Weil Cornell voiced her commitment to “trying to make sure that we have the rights just to be safe, to be healthy, to live our best lives, to live our truths and have autonomy.”

Dr. Allegra Cummings, board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, Weil Cornell voiced her commitment to “trying to make sure that we have the rights just to be safe, to be healthy, to live our best lives, to live our truths and have autonomy.”

The Peer Leaders Respond

“Dr. Cummings is a really smart and accomplished lady. It takes a lot of courage to provide maternal health care given all the adversity right now. People’s health needs are so challenging and it takes someone who is really committed to do this work right now. I love her courage – Williamina Gbaryea, Business Administration, Healthcare Management Systems

“I was impressed by Dr. Cummings care for the transgendered birthing patients.” Lamont Paige, Emergency Management and Business Continuity

“I was struck by Dr. Ferdinand’s openness about her own experience with miscarriage and how important it is to create safe space by being vulnerable and telling your story,” Lorna Modeste -Thomas, MCNY 2022, Community Health Educator

“Sometimes we are lazy about research, Dr. Ferdiand’s comment about taking a step back when overwhelmed by the history of racism made me think about how doing research about history and learning about things that are important to you is a component of self-actualization and finding oneself,” Kabrina Stephens, Business Administration, Healthcare Management Systems

Monday, June 27, 2022 – First BMHI Virtual Roundtable

Black Midwives & Doulas: Taking on the Black Maternal Health Crisis

Invited guest panelists on why they do what they do

Carmen Mojica, Certified Professional Midwife, Educator, and Co-Founder of BX-Rebirth: “I became a midwife as a form of direct action I’ve been politically active since high school and so becoming a midwife was just an extension of that, especially and specifically for Afro descendant and also in allyship and conspiring with indigenous people to protect our rights to family and sovereignty over our bodies.”

Kesiha Goode, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, author of Black Body: Midwives and Maternal Outcomes in the United States: “I initially wanted to study how Black maternal literacy practices impacted the experience and joy of reading among black boys– I was teaching primarily English and language arts. And like much literature and language around blackness, a lot of the research was coming from — at least from my perspective at the time– a very kind of deficit model around blackness, specifically as it relates to education, and I really wanted to switch course because I did not want to contribute to that literature. I’m a black woman living in the United States, and I’m deeply invested in black life and abundance and joy. And my interest in it [Black motherhood and Black midwifery] extends beyond the maternal mortality. I think one thing for us to talk about is that this crisis is very expansive –there’s mortality, there’s morbidity, there are issues around consent, there are a lot of things here. But ultimately, we want more than for people to not

die, we want people to thrive and be joyous, this is about community and family.”

Shane Jones, Full Spectrum Doula and CEO of Melanated Mermaid Doula: “There are so many different levels to understanding how to support a person, and most of the people that I know that are doulas, they’re coming from a place of being in the community and understanding trauma. […] There are community doulas –like myself– who would work on sliding scale payments, because they work in the community, and they know what the community needs. And so they’re not going to be working in a certain community asking for things that they know that people in the community can’t provide. As a doula I don’t necessarily only deal with birth. When I say full spectrum, I’m dealing with the person and understanding that maybe a person who has a nine to five does not necessarily have the same needs as a person who doesn’t have a job, who doesn’t have finances. […] You have the opportunity to seek a doula at any point in time in your pregnancy. Doulas are a support person, they’re not just birth related. There are doulas for people who are looking to become pregnant, for people who have had miscarriages, for abortions — there are doulas for all types of situations that deal with birth, so that’s what I mean by full spectrum.”

The Peer Leaders Respond

“I appreciate the passion, the fire the guest panelists have for their services and for providing information to the public. Their passion makes you want to tune in and learn more – it’s motivating,” Michelle Dickson, Human Services

“Dr. Goode is a perfect example of a sister of color sitting at the table to represent her people no matter what,” Kabrina Stephens, Business Administration, Healthcare Systems Management

“We appreciate all the others who participated too – Prof. Robinson, Prof. Strong, Dr. Barber, Dr. Cummings. These very busy, high-powered people demonstrated commitment and dedication to the community by showing up and sharing,” Kabrina Stephens, Business Administration, Healthcare Systems Management.

“This round table discussion is an excellent example of the platforms and conversations that are needed on the subject matter of the Black Maternal Health Crisis in the United States. Our guest speakers shared knowledge, based on their ongoing work, practice, and encounters amongst diverse populations across cultures, age, etc. They got across a real sense of urgency and called for immediate action from us all centered around the severity of the Black Maternal Health Crisis. Appreciation goes out to all our guest speakers, team leaders, and everyone who contributed to making this round table discussion on the Black maternal health crisis a success. Again, I say thank you, ” Lorna Modeste -Thomas, MCNY 2022, Community Health Educator

Listen to Them Discuss BX-RAP’s Mission and Work

Meet Our Community Partners

Dr. Melissa Barber

Dr. Melissa Barber completed her medical training at the Latin American School of Medicine (LASM)/ La Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM) in Havana, Cuba and is the author of Thirty Days of Thanks: A Journey Towards Healing and Deliverance and the CEO of the consultant company Thirty Days of Thanks. Dr. Melissa Barber takes a multi-pronged, interdisciplinary approach to public health research and advocacy. Her work as principal investigator on the COVID-19 Community Pesquisa Project, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, and founding Executive Board Member of the Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewarts Inc. addresses the social, environmental, health, and economic wellbeing of communities in the South Bronx, where she was born and currently resides with her daughter. In addition, as an ambassador and advocate for the international maternal-infant organization, the Birthing Project USA: the Underground Railroad for New Life, Dr. Barber brings to the MCNY Black Maternal Health Initiative a deep knowledge of practices that promote the health and wellness of birthing people and babies of color.

BX (Re)Birth and Progress – BX-RAP

BX-RAP is a collective dedicated to building alternate systems of care that protect and honor birthing people in the Bronx and their families. The collective was founded in 2020 by longtime birth workers Carmen Mujica, Evelyn Alvarez, and Nicole JeanBaptiste to address the deepening inequities in Bronx maternal health exposed by COVID, as evidenced by the case of Amber Isaac. In early 2022, BX-RAP established a no-cost community-doula program for Black pregnant people at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. Offering open community trainings and leading advocacy and direct-action campaigns, the collective hopes to create a hub for birth work in the Bronx that does not center whiteness and uplifts a new model of community-based doula care. 

As individuals, each of BX-RAP’s founders have deep roots in birth work and the Bronx.  

 

Carmen Mojica

Carmen Mojica is an Afro-Dominicana, born and raised in the Bronx, a certified professional midwife, writer, and reproductive rights activist, focusing particularly on birth justice and Afro-Latina identit.

Evelyn Alvarez

Evelyn Alvarez is a mother, trainer, coach, doula and founder of Prom King as well as of Radio Caña Negra where she facilitates workshops about parenting, reproductive justice, and restorative practices in schools.

Nicole JeanBaptiste

Nicole JeanBaptiste is a mother, doula, lactation counselor, yoga instructor, and oral historian who served as a community doula consultant for the New York City Health Department’s COVID-19 Perinatal Taskforce and founded Sésé Doula Services.

An MCNY Library Special Collection