Saturday, August 12, 2017

Your Equity Committee Ain't Shit

I've had two events occur this week that compelled me to write this blog post.  A phone call and a radio interview.  First some background.  I was invited to speak as an expert on a local radio show about maternal mortality.  Here is a link to said interview:  http://kcur.org/post/maternal-death-rate   Fine. There were three of us.  One was a reporter who had written nationally published articles on the topic.  Her name is Nina Martin and I thought her contributions to the conversation were stellar.   The other guest was a local physician.  Like many of her ilk, she seemed clueless about the realities of daily life of the women she 'serves'.  She actually mentions 12 week maternity leaves!  Maybe that's what she gets but not the women I serve at Uzazi Village.  If they get 2 weeks off (even after a cesarean) they can consider themselves lucky.  So that was the interview.  I only spoke the last 20 minutes, which wasn't near enough time to make my points, but I did my best.  Next, the phone call.
I received a call from someone who was a board member for a national professional organization. I represent many professions and nearly all of them have a professional organization.  While I have vowed, on this very blog, not to sit on any more professional national boards, I will take calls from them.  This call came from a board member who had read some of my work and basically asked me to speak to her sister board members.  Now it just so happens, that this board commissioned a report in 2014 to study how they were doing on equity and diversity issues.  They were doing terribly.  The report was scathing and embarrassing to the organization. So what did the organization do?  They buried it.  I asked the caller to give an account of which recommendations were followed so far.  Of course she could not.  I told her, if they didn't listen to their own report- which they had commissioned- then why would they listen to me?
Okay, that was the preamble.  Here is the message to all White led professional organizations out there: (bold letters because I'm yelling at the top of my lungs)
STOP FORMING YOUR SHITTY LITTLE COMMITTEES.  STOP MAKING EQUITY AND DIVERSITY PANELS.  STOP FORMING TASKFORCES.  STOP COMMISSIONING REPORTS. NONE OF THAT IS THE WORK- THOSE ARE ALL WAYS TO LOOK LIKE YOU ARE DOING THE WORK WHEN YOU AREN'T DOING JACK SHIT.  WORSE- ITS A WAY TO MAKE THE PEOPLE OF COLOR IN YOUR ORGANIZATIONS DO THE WORK YOU SHOULD BE DOING AND WHEN THEY AREN'T SUCCESSFUL, YOU CAN SAY ITS THEIR FAULT.  THESE EQUITY COMMITTEES ARE JUST ANOTHER EXPRESSION OF WHITE SUPREMACY. STOP THIS SHIT NOW AND START TO MAKE SOME ACTUAL CHANGE IN YOUR ORGANIZATIONS.
The caller asked me what I would do if I could make change happen- make the boards more diverse? I said, fuck no, I'd make them ALL diverse.  I'd fire everyone white and replace them with a person of color.  That would start some culture change.  One token black or brown wont' do anything but keep white people in their comfort zone while making them think they have done something noteworthy.  THAT SHIT AIN'T NOTEWORTHY.  These fucking committees don't change organizational culture- they keep organizational change from happening by sealing up all the change makers in a bureaucratic little bundle that has little clout and even less power. Diversity is a smokescreen that in and of itself insures nothing. Equity committees are some serious bullshit.  When organizations are serious about change- we'll all know it, because white people will be shitting their pants from the discomfort. Until that happens, its business as usual. If you think this essay does not pertain to you- rest assured, it does.  There is not one organization that I am aware of that I don't find wanting. None of you is actually doing the work.  Some of you talk a good game, but your shit still stinks. Don't complain to me that you are TRYING.  Well my people are TRYING not to fucking die.  Black women die in childbirth in these shitty hospitals, Black babies die from preventable causes, and Black men die like dogs in the streets or rot in the white man's prisons.  This whole fucking country isn't TRYING hard enough. These organizations could change, but they don't actually want to.  Heaven forbid that these good ol' (white) girls clubs give up any fucking power.  Therefore, here's what needs to happen.  Black and Brown people, start your own organizations.  Leave en masse (like what happened at MANA) and let them work on equity without any Black or Brown people to hold their hands and reassure them that their token efforts are good enough. That's what I'm doing.  Rather than squander one more moment of my precious and valuable time on the local breastfeeding committee that never listens to a damn thing I say, I'm starting the MOKAN Black Breastfeeding Collaborative here in my city.  Instead of Black infant mortality being used to legitimize funding streams that never quite make it to our community, we will make it a true priority and actually promote and protect breastfeeding in our Black and Brown communities.  Instead of pimping Black death for organizational profit, we will work within our own communities to create solutions that improve the lives of families that live among us.  That's what I'm gonna do.  Join me, or get the fuck out of my way.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Stories Wrung from Bone

There is an ever growing need for sacred Black space.  I feel it more and more.  More of my precious brothers and sisters are seeking a space where they can breathe a collective sigh of relief, if only for a short while.  There has gone up a call for a community retreat.  I agree that this is something that needs to happen all over the US. Those of us in the daily trenches need time set apart, on the land, in the spirit, singing songs, beating drums, telling our stories, nourishing our bodies and our souls.  I didn't know how badly I needed it, until a dear Sister posted this" 
I seriously need an all black retreat! #wilderness #noelectricity #Africansonly #ancestorworship #feedmysoul #ancestorscalling

When I read this I thought immediately  of the passage from the book, "Beloved".  I thought of the gathering in the field on a Saturday afternoon of the entire Black community.  In lieu of worship to a cruel white god, they were led in a worship of their own Black selves. Baby Suggs leads them in what is the purest expression of love:   "Here, . . . in this place, we flesh; Flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it, love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. . . . Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them, touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face, ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, You! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. . . . You got to love it. This is flesh that I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance, backs that need support; shoulders that need strong arms. . . . More than eyes and feet. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear em now, love your heart. For this is the prize"  I thought of that worship in the clearing.  The worship of an outcast people.  That's how I imagined the OP's request being manifest.  That in that holy clearing, the modern day descendants of the original worshippers gather, to find respite from a world that does not love them, by profoundly loving one another and themselves.  I love her admonishment to "love it, love it hard"  We must love hard.  We must move our feet hard.  Raise our voices in song hard.  We must beat our drums hard.  We must love ourselves hard, love our families hard, maintain our communities hard.  We must educate our children our hard, grow our own food hard, birth our babies hard, invest and divest hard. We must teach our own hard, grow our own hard, pool our resources hard, own the land hard, build on that land hard, bear fruit on the land hard.  Our inheritance from the world is inequity and despair, but we can change that.  We can claim our rightful inheritance.  We are our own best thing.  That is the lesson.  It is just not the OP who is tired and in need of respite.  All my people are tired and in need in respite.  I can stand in the field and bid them come, and love their beautiful selves.  I see now, I was born to this.  I will take up the work of my mother before me and her mother before her.  I will call forth the ancestral call to worship, the call to prayer.  The call to work hard, and play hard  and rest hard.  The call to love hard the Black bodies that move through this world, buffeted on every side.  We will build a fire under the full moon as our ancestors did.  Men, women, children, Black bodies connected to the earth.  We will dance the dances that emerge from our bodies, sing the songs that emerge from our souls, we are the descendants of the stolen.  Our bloodlines are severed from our original mother, but our bones remember.  Our stories are hidden away for safekeeping in our DNA.  Only in sacred Black space, will they be coaxed to the surface.










Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lessons Learned

Greetings Readers, I've been too long absent from this blog.  Rest assured that things are progressing as planned.  I've entered my third and final year of my midwifery apprenticeship.  I am learning so much about life, relationship, and healthcare.  It has been an amazing journey with an amazing preceptor.  My preceptor has one other student, who is just about finished.  Our little threesome has become a sisterhood.  We are about to add another to our number- another Black woman who is an Uzazi Village Sister Doula.  In fact we have two women from Uzazi Village who have just applied to an online midwifery program.  I wrote letters of recommendation for both of them.  I am so excited to see this progression toward growing our own midwives, finally!  Our core group of doulas and other birth workers grows as well.  Between the Community Health Worker course, and the Basic Perinatal Health Course, and the Perinatal Doula Course, we are seeing amazing growth in folks who want to do birth work in our community.  It has been an amazing privilege to galvanize and prepare these amazing individuals who value what Uzazi Village has to offer.  We now have a groundswell of birth workers to restart our Birth Workers of Color group.  We have aspiring doulas, lactation consultants, midwives, and physicians and nurses.  It has been quite amazing.  We can now offer more services and support to these folks because we are moving to a bigger space!!!  Our new space is just down the street a few blocks.  I feel so blessed when I think of the new space.  We will move in May- the landlord is completing a buildout.   Our capacity will increase by so much with the new space- the first floor will hold a common area for classes and receptions, There will be a lactation/examination room, a fixed area for Uzazi Closet, a demonstration kitchen, and out back, a community garden.  Upstairs will be devoted to the midwifery school.  We will have a big open area for classroom space that can also be used for yoga classes, drumming lessons, Tai Chi, whatever we want.  The second floor will also hold an office, and a private therapy room that can be used for counseling, massage, chiropractic, lactation, other provider visits.  There will be bathrooms on both floors and we have a full basement for storage.  I am so excited about this space and the good work that will be accomplished in it.  I feel that we (the board and I) are being entrusted with so much.  I am ready for that challenge.  I'm up for it.

One of my lessons in this journey of discovery is that I accept who I am- and all that comes with it.  I accept that I am a leader in a movement and at the same time a deeply flawed person.  I accept that I was given certain work to do, and that I must do it- to the best of my ability, for as long as I can do it.  I accept others as they come and go to partake in this vision.  I welcome those for whom this place has been prepared.  I live in an extreme state of grace.  I have so much to be grateful for.   I am so glad I began this journey.  It is tough from time to time, but overall, I confess- I love my life.  I love waking up everyday and putting my feet on the floor and seeing my dreams become realized in ways I could have never expected.  Everyday is a step of faith, yet everyday brings a miracle.  Here are a few things in the works:
  • The Gathering- A weeklong gathering in the woods of central Missouri for Black birth workers from Kansas and Missouri (and a few guests from other states) sponsored by Uzazi Village and Community Birth and Wellness. This is a learning intensive for us to teach one another skills that honor our African traditions.  If it goes well, we'll do it annually, but maybe find a bigger space to accommodate more people. We will use grant money to underwrite the cost so that folks only have to pay a nominal fee. Families are welcome, but you must be willing to pitch a tent and help with communal meals. We expect this event to be ground breaking and move us all forward in the trajectory of becoming self sufficient within our own communities. 
  • I will be starting a city-wide organization focused on Black infant and maternal mortality.  Instead of playing at decreasing disparities, like current local organizations do now, we will do the actual work of dismantling white supremacy as it is expressed in healthcare organizations,  that undergirds these disparities and makes them impenetrable to any clinical solutions.
  • BWOC- Birth Workers of Color will re-start in April 2017 every 2nd and 4th Friday of the month from 6-8pm.  We will have a potluck meal and discuss issues of relevance to birth workers of color.  We will share local and regional resources, trainings, and classes.  The group will offer a supportive place to land for those who are in or seeking to get into the perinatal fields.
  • I will be moving deeper and deeper into anti-racism training, which I am feeling called to in order to work more closely with those who want to make real change.  Warm fuzzy feelings don't change outcomes.  Gut level hard work and sheer determination do.  We can't keep pretending that getting Black women to come to (functionally useless) prenatal care visits will change outcomes.  We have to do the work of dismantling discriminatory systems.  We must and will focus our efforts there.
  • We are currently re-focusing, sharpening and refining Uzazi's vision.  With the move to a new space, we will also be doing essential house cleaning with our Council of Elders to tighten things up in order to increase our influence and effectiveness and measure our impact in our community.
  • Increasing partnerships.  Uzazi Village has worked in its own silo up to this point, but no more.  It is now time to join others who are equally invested in the work we are doing to increase both our influence and impact.  We look forward to working with others who have demonstrated a common lens on where the problem lies and who seek community led solutions that center families of color and Afro-centric values.
  • We now have the required five people (3 in Kansas City, 2 in St. Louis) to start a WOC committee of the Missouri Midwives Association.  We will be applying to the organization to start such a committee within the greater organization. 
  • Watch this Spring for the new Lemonade Series- a front porch gathering (with Lemonade) that will focus on real talk about women of the African Diaspora and Sex.  Be sure to wear white, natural hair optional, and come discuss sexual health matters over a potluck lunch at the Guest House.  We plan a series of 3 over the Spring and Summer over the following topics: Orgasm Class, Pregnant Sex, and Sex and Body Image.
There is this and so much more to come.  I want to hear from the community, what more you would like to see happen at Uzazi Village.  Thanks for listening.