Sunday, December 4, 2016

In the Space that Silence Holds

I have been silent of late.  The events taking place in my life and in my country have demanded it.  Silence and contemplation have always been my go-to's in times of deep conflict.  Its important to me that I know my own mind on a matter, and I find my own mind in silence and solitude.  The year 2017 marks not only profound changes for my country but for my personal life as well.  I spent several hours yesterday morning with my 'brain trust' (my group of woman who hold me accountable) mapping out what the coming year will look like, what I hope to accomplish and how.  I have tried not to fear change but rather embrace it, as a lifestyle choice.  Now is my time to put this philosophy into practice. 
  • I left my husband and have moved into Uzazi House.   My husband is an ardent supporter of the President-Elect, however I did not leave because of who he voted for, I left because our journeys no longer converge.  I am connected to my husband, but we no longer share the same life.  He has no understanding of my life mission, and remains unsupportive of my work, which he views as divisive and seperatist.  My life at Uzazi House is frankly a dream come true.  It is my quiet refuge in the storms of life. It is a three story, four bedroom house that I am converting into an AirBNB.  I want to stop teaching and make my income more passive so I can concentrate on getting the midwifery school up and going- and complete my midwifery apprenceship, and keep moving toward my doctorate.  I have no money, no assets to speak of, so the process is slow.  I teach adjunct for local nursing schools and use this income to live off of and fix up the house.  I spend as much time at Uzazi Village as I can, but my volunteers have blessedly filled the gap in my frequent absences.  My children (all of whom are adults except the youngest one) are not happy that I have left but they have adjusted with ease to going back and forth between our houses (as have I- I still do my laundry at my husband's house).  For now, things will continue as they are as we support one another and co-parent our children.
  • I am now two years into my midwifery apprenticeship and frankly I have not done a good job.  I have been distracted and indifferent, but that is about to change.  With the midwifery school on its way to me (the universe is making it happen without any volition on my part at all), I have to be ready when it arrives.  There is so much work to be done, but the universe has delivered on my most fervent prayers- a building to house the school (and Uzazi Village).  The commercial realty agent called me last week to inform me that she had found the perfect building for us.  She is not given to hyperbole, so I was immediately intrigued.  She gave me the address and as soon as I hung up the phone, I drove over to have a look at it.  It was none other than the very building I had prayed to the heavens four years earlier for.  I didn't have to see the inside.  I already knew this was our building.  There is still convincing the board that this is so, but that is a task I can handle.  It turns out= when the broker did arrange a tour- that the new owner has gutted the building and will rebuild according to leasee specifications.  We can get the build out to suit our specific needs!  This excites me more than you know, Dear Reader.  We can have a dedicated room for our Lactation Clinic and a modest exam room to jump start the Ida Mae (prenatal) Clinic.  The second floor will house the midwifery school. There will be a commercial kitchen for cooking classes and a community garden just out back.  It is just what we needed and all that I have hoped for. The vision continues to be manifested.  We will have several months to plan and fund raise, while the owner rebuilds the interior of our building.  My community is in the deep and demonic throes of gentrification.  How has it happened that I should find a landlord (wealthy white male) who is community minded and wants to support nonprofits that benefit the community (rather than tenants who merely enrich themselves)?  We currently have a wonderful landlord who is timely and attentive to our every need.  I did not think we would be so fortunate as to find another like him, but we have.  My community right now is crawling with the opportunistic who see a fast buck to be made if they have the money to invest.  This man actually wants to invest in long term growth and improvement for the community and will support  my vision in the process.  I hardly know him, but I feel a profound gratitude for him.  I feel that same profound gratitude for my preceptor.  She has been patient and shown great forebearance.  I will become a CPM, God willing, by this time next year.
  • The individuals I am meeting and getting to know as I invest in them, and they invest in me, has been phenomenal. They are salve to my wounded soul.  Tru in St. Louis, Aza in DC, Danielle in Oklahoma, Qua Tia in Rhode Island, Darline in Austin, Justice and Ameena at Uzazi, the list goes on and on- these women are PHENOMENAL- and they are putting in the work, and getting the job done.   My hope for the future is in individuals like these.  They are bright, innovative, creative and passionate!  They restore my hope in humanity while so much happening in my country right now diminishes it. I see my role as investing in individuals like these.  I am hosting a ten week class free of charge starting in January for Birthworkers of Color.  I have been given so much- time to give back.  I am inviting those for whom the class would help into the next phase of their journey.  We have got to start grooming our next generation of leaders.  I call upon Leaders of Color across the US to do the same.  Look amongst your ranks and pull others forward toward the next leg of their journey.  Be a mentor, a teacher, a cheerleader, a preceptor, a friend to those just starting out, or somewhere in the middle of this vast and lonely journey toward health equity in our community.  I am working with groups of others on several projects that I hope will have national impact.  I am working locally and globally with a future orientation so that what we need will be there when we  need it.  We cannot depend on others to be attentive to our sufferings.  Uzazi Village will be a beacon and all that come with a heart to learn, will be welcomed.
  • The political events of the past month have left me stunned and disoriented.  I hardly know what to think, do, or say.  Our country needs voices like mine more than ever.  I'll press on to become the leader my community needs, to speak truth to power, to be unbending in the face of oppression and tyranny.  To do this, I need more time of reflection, more silence and solitude, more filling of my own cup, more self care and self investment.  (I also need a cat.  I am an undeniable cat person, who has never lived [in adulthood] without a cat.)  Uzazi House is in need of a warm and fuzzy feline presence to welcome those who come from far and wide to study at Uzazi Academie or have internships at Uzazi Village.  I have no words of comfort concerning political outcomes.  I do not know what this means for our country or what the future may hold.  I do believe that we get the leaders we deserve, and for some reason we must live through whatever the near future holds.  I do believe that if the national leadership does not embody the principles we hold dear, WE must embody them all the more.  I will confess that a a part of me wants to close ranks- delve deeper into the Black community and make greater investment in that= and I will.  However I will also continue to embrace those that I see as true allies (by my determination, not their's) and invite their contribution to the work.  White people will have to be willing to earn any trust that comes their way.  It does not surprise me that we are at a crossroads in our country.  White people needed to know that racism is alive and well in America and now they know it.  Let them grieve their new discovery.  We will just get on with the work as we always have.  I do see opportunity, once all the hubris is dispensed with to finally advance real dialog in this country about racial equity and equality.  Make no mistake about it, Birth Work is racial justice work.  Fighting for the sovereignty of birth, the health of women of color in birth, the right of Black babies to survive birth and infancy- that is social justice work.  If political expediency and  punitive policies abandons our communities, we will be there as a stop gap. We will train our own midwives, catch our own babies, create our own infrastructures if need be.  I am a pragmatist, and will work with whatever systems are in place, but I also understand the role of the informal economy that undergirds the health and well being of my community.  I will work for the health of Black families no matter what barriers are placed in the way.
  • Two and a half years ago I met a couple who inspired me to rethink what life partnership looked like. Their friendship has offered me an opportunity to consider what a life partnership with me has to offer.  It would be difficult.  Whomever I might be joined with in the future must not only understand or tolerate my work, but participate in it.  My life is grounded in specific place and pursuits.  This is a chance to reset my expectations both of myself and any future partner.  What I find is that my expectations are high.  I will be happily alone rather than ever be unequally yoked.  I will only be with someone who is my equal and who is worthy of me. There will be no compromises made.  

Friday, September 2, 2016

Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness- Walk Locally, Demand Vocally

OK, I lied.  I'm blogging... but its for a good cause.  In just 23 short days, I will be doing my annual Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness, and I hope you'll join me.  On Saturday, September 24th, we plan to walk 6 miles from Truman Medical Center to Research Medical Center, in recognition that most Uzazi Village clients deliver at one of those two hospitals.  We plan to walk down Troost Avenue, the dividing line between Black and White in our community.  It is not a protest, it is an awareness campaign.  The purpose, as always is to bring awareness to the plight of Black life in America, starting from the day of our births.  Black babies are twice as likely to die before reaching their first birthday as White infants.  I walk to bring awareness of this largely invisible health crisis, and to bring solutions.  So this year, we will be presenting both hospitals with our two new documents: "The Doula Rules; A Guideline for Integrating Doulas into the Facilty-Based Setting" and "Birth Plan for Black Families; Toward Greater Health Equity".  Both offer viable solutions to the horrific social crime of Black infant mortality.This particular health inequity points to the unjust nature of the political, economic, and social injustice in the distribution of healthcare resources.  I encourage others around the country to plan Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness events in their own communities.  Our theme this year is "Walk Locally, Demand Vocally"  We invite our friends, families, and supporters to walk with us.  There may be other events happening in your community.  Events such as the "Improving Birth Rally" happening this Monday (Labor Day).  I encourage activists of color to participate in events such as this, to bring the concerns of our communities to the forefront.  Without our participation, the concerns and issues of our communities will not be a part of the agenda.  A group of local midwives is organizing our Improving Birth Rally this year and Uzazi Village will stand with them- to ensure that voices of color are heard.  It is our women that suffer disproportionately from high cesarean rates and VBAC bans.  We are the ones that cannot access breastfeeding help when it is needed and who are marginalized within the healthcare system. Its is our babies that die, two to one.  Why aren't righting these injustices at the top of everyone's agenda and concerns?  It is our job to make it so.  Plan a walk in your community.  Do a letter writing campaign to the administrators of your local hospital outlining the problem and offering solutions.  Make your voices heard in the policy or political arena.  Tell your stories to legislators.  Have a nurse-in at the state Medicaid office.  Highlight birth practices and practitioners that value Black life and Black business.  Remove it from those who don't.  Send the message that policies need to change in ways that positively impact Black health. If you can't be a part of these activities, send a donation to those who are doing the work.  If you plan an event, please post it on the wall of the Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness page or the Uzazi Village community page.  We want to hear about what you are doing.  Can't join us physically to walk?  Join us for our Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness Twitter Chat and Stroll.  We'll be Twittering the entire walk, including our meetings with both hospital administrations. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Final Blog Post of 2016

Dear Village,
This will be my final post for the year 2016.  I am taking time off from blogging to devote to completing my book, "Birthing While Black; how racism and white privilege kills Black babies."  We are living in very difficult times.  When I watch my TV and see thousands marching in the streets of American cities, I know change is coming.  Whether it be for the better or worse, I do not know.  All I know is that now is the time to add my voice to the conversation.  Now is the time for the publication of my book.  I will not only complete my book, but also write curriculum for my new cultural congruency training for maternal infant health organizations.  I hope to complete both by December and start offering my curriculum in 2017 as well as (hopefully) a book tour.  I am greatly disturbed by what is happening in our country, as are many of you.  This is the contribution to that dialog that is for me to make.  Thank you to those who continue to hear my voice.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Today I took a dear friend out to lunch and had the misfortune of sitting behind two white female OBs.  I couldn't help but hear them loudly exclaim that they knew exactly what THOSE women needed to do to improve their birth outcomes.   If I hear one more arrogant white person state what we need....I swear I'll explode.  Truth be told what we need is a whole lot fewer arrogant white obstetricians thinking they know what ails us.  What ails us is them.  They are our problem, along with the entire healthcare system they rode in on. This also happened last month when I attended a monthly meeting on infant mortality and listened to blatant indictment of Black women as the cause of Black infant death.  It simply is not so. All across the country I hear this, Black women, Black families, the Black community blamed for Black infant deaths.   Deaths that are entirely preventable.  Deaths that aren't prevented because Black lives don't matter in this country.  Deaths that are caused by systemically racist healthcare and economic systems that fail Black women and Black families. I want to scream at the top of my lungs and I shall.  Our hands are not the hands bloody with these deaths. Listening to those women smugly and arrogantly parcel out advice from high atop their mountain of privilege made me want to come up with my own list of demands that point out the true villains when it come to Black infant mortality.


Number One: (to Black women)
Whenever you can, wherever you can, opt out of the system.  This system is not intended for you, means you no good, and is largely responsible for your poor outcomes, while blaming you for them.  Get out, however and whenever you can.  Look for alternative ways to get your healthcare.  Look for alternative providers.  Pay for your own care, after all you really do get what you pay for.  The 'free' government run system will keep us and our babies sick and dying. Get out of it if you can.

Number Two: (to Black people)
We are not who they say we are.  They pathologize us, but we are not pathology.  It is not our bodies or our culture that is flawed it their system.  Their flawed system pathologizes us.  Our bodies are strong.  Our minds are strong. Our collective will is strong.  We have survived everything they have brought against us.  We are still here.  We still survive.  Now it is time to thrive.

Number Three: (to white careproviders)
Take your white hands off my Black body.  Until you can see me, hear me, respect me, love me you have no business touching me. Every touch will be an act of violence upon my person.  You do not have permission to touch me until you can see me. Until you can look at me as a real person and not a caricature or a stereotype, you may not touch me. Until you can actually listen to the sound of my voice and hear and respect what I have to say and not dismiss me, you may not touch me. You haven't earned the right.

Number Four: (to white people)
Allieship on our terms.  You are allies when we say so and how.  Otherwise your allieship is not to be trusted. You are not to be trusted.  You do not even know when you are being untrustworthy.  You must depend on our guidance and our say so.  If you are not willing to do this, we have no use of you.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Number Five: (to the Black community)
Cultivate our own maternity care system.  We must restore our community midwives.  We must invest in midwifery schools and the midwifery arts.  We must train our own to serve our own.  We are the solution to the healthcare crisis that plagues our communities.  Outsiders can only play a limited role, if any in relieving us of this burden of health outcome disparities.  We must do it for ourselves.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Colonization of Black Birthing Bodies

I attended a community meeting this past week.  The meeting purpose was to examine causes for infant deaths in our community (which overwhelmingly happen to Black and Brown babies).  Despite the fact that I was surrounded by leading professionals who were knowledgeable about all aspects of maternity and newborn care, the best they could come up with was to blame the victims (the mothers) themselves.  There was no critical examination of the role of systemic racism within policies that kept them locked out of care.  Only criticism of imagined failures of each mother as her case was presented.  When I tried to point out that there may be other factors, there was deafening silence.  I was told later by another party that my words were being dismissed by other participants because they had faith that the system was delivering good care. 
Well I have no such faith.  I have watched Black and Brown women be chewed up and spit out by the system for decades now.  Our current system of maternity care for low resource women is toxic and punitive. Privileged whites have no business judging Black and Brown women's healthcare decision making- they should be seeking to understand why they make the decisions they do.  The paternalism and assumption of rightness is maddening. 
It is self-righteous attitudes like these that keep the system from being accountable to those it allegedly serves.  The 'system' is deemed above reproach.  Black and Brown women are not.  Let's add insult to the injury of the death of a baby by questioning the mothers habits and motives.  This is why we need to focus on system's change.  No one is asking why Black and Brown women are twice as likely to be tested for drug use (when they are not twice as likely to use drugs).  In my state it takes weeks if not months to be added to Medicaid and the mothers languish while they wade through a system sorely in need of an update.  This is yet another example of hatred parading as helpfulness.  The healthcare system is full of such landmines for Black and Brown women.  They too believe the system to be altruistic, at least until they experience it for themselves.
We have got to do better.  We have got to be more intentional about examining how we arrive at certain outcomes. As I travel across the country I see more of the same.  Legions of white providers that have written off their Black and Brown patients as irredeemable, while giving themselves complete immunity for their own implicitness in those terrible outcomes.  While the lone voice of the professional of color is criticized for not bearing the party line.    Where is the hope in this?  How long will our bodies bear the brunt of suffering from white judgment and white indifference?  When will corrupt systems be made whole, so that we are enriched rather diminished by our interactions with them? 
I think it may be- when we create our own.

Monday, March 7, 2016

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

I've given a lot of thought lately to what it means to be connected in a common cause.  I can't give up on allyship, but I have grown increasingly frustrated with it.  The more I do this work, the more work I see that there is to be done.  As I sat at a table with an elderly mother to mother support group leader this past weekend, trying to communicate the concept of systemic racism and the resulting inequities that exists within organizations and institutions, I realized we had no basis for a conversation.  Our common verbiage meant different things. True communication was not taking place.  We didn't even have enough in common to have a conversation.  She looked hurt and so puzzled.  Was I saying they had not done the right thing?  Were not doing the right thing?  That's just it, I said.  What you perceive to be the 'right thing' is grounded in your own ethics and ideology, not ours.  We are not on the same page about anything at all.  What she perceives and what I perceive are worlds apart.  She was very far out from beginning to hear my message.  She was too stunned to have to accept that I did not accept 'her truths' as 'my truths.'I could tell she walked away from our conversation with a heavy heart.  She is at a precarious point.  She could just as easily reject as accept my point of view.  It is difficult to accept that your thinking for so long has been really wrong on something.  When it comes to health disparities, White people will have to accept some culpability right off the bat.  For a) establishing and maintaining corrosive and corruptive systems that harm people of color continuously and b) for failing to recognize them as such.  This fantasy world view must first be shattered.  Its a very difficult and disorienting journey, but one that must be undertaken if any progress is to be made.  If you are a White person and consider yourself an 'ally' but you don't feel as though your world has been shaken to the core or that everything you hold dear has been challenged, then you are not there.   You have not arrived and your usefulness as an ally is truly debatable.   Listen to this account I had with a friend on Facebook:

Last night I hung out with my dear friend Karen. We taught an evening CPR class together and then went out in search of drinks. I was broke (per usual) and all she had on her was her "Apple Pay". We could not find a bar that took Apple Pay so we went to a late night Whole Foods and settled for soup and soda. As we laughed and talked, the conversation turned serious, and Karen (whom I've known and loved for nearly 20 years) began to tell me how she had been challenged by my Facebook page. I know that many of my former white friends have fled my page- some not before telling me how wrong I am. Karen said at first she felt just like those that left, she felt shocked and challenged by the things I was saying, but she didn't leave. She didn't unfriend me. She stayed and continued to listen even when she didn't understand why I was saying the things I was saying. She continued to read everything I posted. She too had grown up impoverished and didn't see how White Priviledge applied to her. And then one day, it happened. After reading someone else's post on the subject- a white person's- she suddenly understood. She said from that point on she began to see the small injustices, and what was worse, she couldn't unsee it. She talked about how disturbing and unsettling this kind of paradigm shift is. For forty plus years, she thought the world was one thing, and then found out it was quite another. As time goes on she notices things on a daily basis. How we all live steeped in this racist ideology that is American culture. She is a nurse, and as I've always contended, surely there's no American institution more corrupt, more morally bankrupt than healthcare. There is plenty for her to see. Karen says the discomfort is tremendous, and worst of all, she doesn't know what to do about it. She says its as though her dreams have been shattered. The world she thought she lived in does not actually exist. She compared it to the plot of The Matrix (a movie I have not seen). She says she is trying to find her way in this new, darker reality. She lives now in this uneven shaky world, surrounded by other white people who still live in the illusion. I can understand the supreme discomfort of this, but I resist expressing sympathy. After all, I never got to be a part of the illusion. I tell her that what she has to do now is tell others. Starting with her children. And her husband. Of course they won't believe her at first (maybe not ever), they'll deny and castigate her. They'll deny that they are racist or can be racist. But she must stand in her truth and speak the truth whatever comes her way. After all, she now knows the truth, and there is no going back from it. (Like after I had my first homebirth, I could never love hospital birth again.) I was so excited to hear that Karen had 'crossed over'. I have a daily onslaught of dealing with folks who think they have, but have only done so theoretically, but never had that 'road to damascus' conversion. They have adopted an intellectual argument, but they are not truly changed. They can talk the talk, but their truest selves peak out from behind the curtain and reveals itself. Those individuals are exhausting and come in no short supply. White people like Karen, who finally at long last 'get it' are few and far between. I know when I am in their presence because they are the only White people who do not drain my energy- and those encounters are rare indeed. I tell her that her discomfort is my salvation. Only when the mass of White people have reached the point where she is at, can we begin to have a national dialog on racial reconcilliation, until that point, there is no common ground for conversation. After all how can someone in the real world share a common vision with someone living in an illusion?

This conversation is everything.  But it cannot be had until you are a puddle on the floor, or balled up in the fetal position with despair.  Only then can you be sure you have seen the light.  Until you as a White person reach this point, you are not helping me, you are using me to help you.  You are siphoning off my valuable time and energy to your own advantage.  Keep learning and listening- to and from other White people until understanding comes to you.  Until then, we are not even speaking the same language.  I know what I am asking takes humility.  White people are used to being right about things and its disorienting to hear about your mistakes from a person of color.  You'll have to get used to that.  You'll have to get used to a great many things in this new world of true equity where your thoughts and ideas take a back seat to others.  It will be odd living in a world where Whiteness is not centered, and the lens through which all reality is viewed, but you will get used to it. When you come out on the other side, you'll find me waiting.