Sunday, September 28, 2014

Recap on Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness

These will be my final thoughts on the Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness, and my lessons learned from the experience.  First and foremost I want to thank a few folks:
Our walk sponsors:
  • Ergo Baby
  • Jennie Joseph and the JJ Way
  • Home State Health Plans
Other donors who donated to cover walk expenses:
  • Andrea Dixon (funds to rent RV)
  • shoes for walk (Yolanda Fortin and Tasha Reed)
  • Logo and T-shirts (Corey and Racquel Hykes)
  • Misfit Wearable Shines (fitness/mileage tracker)
Human Resources:
  • Team members who helped plan and execute the walk (Janet and Julie)
  • Host families who sheltered us in the storm (and in fair weather)
  • Guest walkers who shared part of the time on the road (Rebecca and Marijke)
  • Folks who set up speaking gigs, radio, and newspaper interviews (Janet and Elizabeth)
  • My Council of Elders who supported this walk (Tasha, Noriah, Rebecca, Bryan and Sharese)
  • Uzazi Village staff who held it down while I was away (Mariah and Charlene)
  • All those who watched, waited, and read along on the journey
  • Those who planned and attended the Improving Birth Rally that kicked off the Walk
End results of the walk:
When all was said and done, I walked 61 miles over six days and raised, $3,720 toward Uzazi Village operations and programming.  Which mean $1,860 for programing (50%), $1,116 (30%) for operations, and $186.00 (5%) each donated to ICTC and National Association of Birth Centers of Color.  The remaining $372 (10%) covered fundraising fees for paypal and causevox.  Thank you to all those who donated to make this fundraiser a success.  From sponsors and other donors we collected $2, 300 to cover walk expenses which included RV rental, food, gas, and motel costs.

My Experience:
The walk was an amazing experience for me.  I walked alone for hours on end for days at a time.  That was a true gift.  I was beautiful beyond words out on the trail and I got to soak it all in.  I'm so grateful to have had that experience.  Someone asked me if I ever felt unsafe alone out on the trail.  I have to admit it took a couple of days to get used to.  City folk like me are used to always having people around and really didn't think the trail would be THAT empty of people.  Now that I've done it and look back on it, I'm really proud of what I accomplished. I challenged myself physically.   I did increase awareness of the issue, and started some dialog both in Missouri and around the nation.  Its just a pittance when so much needs to change.  In order to keep the conversationa and awareness going, I've decided to do the walk again next year, and allow others to walk in thier own states to bring awareness and invite dialog which I hope will lead to action.  Thank you to all of you who supported my efforts and followed my walk.  I will be keeping the walk page open and will reset it for next September so that I can share as the plans for a multi-state walk take shape.  This will be no small task as I enter into a CPM preceptorship and a PhD program.  Your continued prayers and well wishes are most welcomed.

Lessons Learned:
  • Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
  • The only way things will change will be if we change them.
  • Listen to the body and care for its needs.
  • Always bring enough to share.
  • Fear is in the mind, courage is in the action.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

With Friends Like These...

So remember the movie "The Help"?  There's a running joke all through the movie.  The event that the ladies' group was putting on was raising funds to help the 'poor little starving colored children in Africa'- the joke of course being that they were busy throughout the movie, mightily oppressing the 'poor little starving colored children in America' and their parents.

Why do I bring up the situation proposed in that movie?  I often feel stuck in the same kind of scene.  The people in the position to render me a good turn, are often the same people I need to lend the most forbearance.  I call them 'allies'.  I define allies as 'those who do not self-identify as a person of color, but who demonstrate commitment to communities of color and decreasing health disparities within them.'  Notice I use the term 'demonstrate' and not 'talk a good game'.  This is a touchy subject but I feel driven to write about it.  There are days when my 'allies' tax me more than anyone under the sun. Too many allies credit themselves with too much knowledge about my culture, my community, my cause, etc.  Often, very often, they don't know nearly as much as they think they do. 

I'm not saying allies aren't good people, but if they don't maintain humility and a learner's heart, they become quite burdensome to me and to the goals I'm trying to accomplish.  There can be a long learning curve for systemic racism and white privilege.  It can't be assimilated and understood overnight.  Especially since it becomes so intertwined in how we view the world.  It can take a really long time to unpack all that privilege.  In the meantime, you just have to trust me when I ask you to stand down. 

Allies often confuse 'helping' with 'leading'.  I witness this confusion on a daily basis.  Dominant culture women are just not used to following women of color.  It doesn't fit well and feels ackward.  It's one thing to use your privilege to uplift and illuminate a woman of color and her works.  Its quite another to stand down and walk behind her, and support her in that way.  Often allies think their task is 'to come alongside'.  It is not.  Your task is to follow in a supportive role until such time you are invited to 'come alongside'.  You may never be asked to 'come alongside' and if that is the case, you must be content to follow.  "But I'm only trying to help!" is often the distressed cry I receive when I point this out.  "No," I state patiently, "You are only trying to lead- which is what you have been taught to do."

How do allies rid themselves of the 'Saviour Complex' they are enculturated to embrace?  It will take some work.  Recently at Uzazi Village, I did a little social experiment during an event being held at our facility.  Prior to serving the food, I announced that our special guests of honor would go through the buffet first.  I then announced that those special guests were the women of color in attendance.  The dominant culture women stepped aside as the women of color made their way through the food line.  Later in the evening, I invited the dominant culture women to recall another time when they had to 'give way' to a woman of color, because she was a woman of color.  I invite those reading this blog to reflect upon that question as well and share their thoughts.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because my allies are only helpful in proportion to their awareness and humility.  I need my allies to step up and stop being oblivious to their own privilege.  I don't need you to 'come alongside', I need you to be willing to follow.  And please don't come to 'save me'.  I am saving myself.  I might need your help, but I don't need you to take over.  I know this is difficult to hear, because it is difficult to say, but it needs to be said.  I cannot work with so-called allies who do not understand these truths.  You cannot lead in my community- even if no one else has stepped forward to do the work; even if you have looked and can't find woman of color leaders; even if there are no people of color who are qualified (in your opinion); even if, even if, even if.  You cannot lead in my community; you don't know enough, to know what you do not know.

Disparities pimping is a wide spread practice.  Our communities are already preyed upon by well meaning do gooders who support their middle class lifestyles by drawing a paycheck off 'serving' the poor including folks of color.  The poor never get less 'poorer' but the workers manage to maintain their middle class lifestyles. When the grants are dried up, those people and their programs are gone as well.  There is a grave lack of trust of those who encroach on our communities in the name of 'fixing' us.  Please allies be aware and beware.

The fight for health equity needs soldiers, but the general slots are already spoken for.

Monday, September 1, 2014

And so it begins...

I am on the cusp of a journey.  I am not ready, not quite totally prepared, but none-the-less, it will begin. Today begins the 12 day walk I have spent nine months preparing for.  I start on a journey across the Katy Trail between Kansas City MO and St. Louis MO for 175 miles.  I am walking for Black Infant Mortality Awareness.  I walk because I want people to know about a silent epidemic that is occurring right now in our communities around this nation.  Black babies are dying at a rate twice that of their Caucasian peers.  I want us to know better so we can do better for these babies and moms.

As I sit here in my quiet house (everyone sleeping), alone with my thoughts, I am eager for this adventure.  I am worried too that I will be inadequate to the task.  Come what may, I plan to do my part.  There are so many moments I am eager to embrace.  Speaking for the first time at Missouri's only Historic Black College.  I so long to embrace those students and share my stories with them.  I also look forward to the warmth and well wishes of my sister Missouri midwives. I'm looking forward to long days on the trail alone with my thoughts shrouded in pristine beauty of central Missouri.  I'm looking forward to my talk in Columbia MO to a mixed audience of healthcare providers, educators, birthworkers, and birthing women.  I'm even looking forward to my time in Jefferson City talking to legislators about this issue. The talk in St. Louis at the end of the walk is completely humbling to me.  They gave me an auditorium that seats 225 people.  Wow.  I'm excited for the people I'll meet, the conversations I'll have, the lectures I'll give. the new things I learn.

I want everyone to follow this adventure, this journey.  I'll be recording vlogs daily, and writing in this blog whenever I have access to internet.  Thank you to all my many supporters from around the globe and around the nation.  Please make a donation to our work if you have the means.  All prayers and well wishes for my safety are equally valued.  Pray for my internal fortitude, a deepening of my relationship with my creator, that I would have a heart full of gratitude, a head full of wisdom,  and a mouth filled with temperance and forbearance.  Pray that I will be a blessing to those along my path. Pray for strength for my team who will be my strength.

Thank you to those who have made this journey possible, my many supporters near and far, my sponsors,  Ergo Baby, the JJ Way, and Home State Health Plans, and you.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
  ― Ernest Hemingway