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Five Bay Area counties have launched a campaign to raise awareness around how racism is affecting, even killing, Black moms and their babies.

The campaign called #DeliverBirthJustice is part of a statewide effort called the Perinatal Equity Initiative, led by state public health officials, to wipe out disparities related to infant deaths.

“Every single time we dismantle structural racism, we’re saving a Black mother’s life and we are saving a Black baby’s life. Our lives matter.”

Dr. Zea Malawa, Expecting Justice

“Racism is stressful, and the research shows that racialized stress is taking an undue toll on Black births,” Dr. Zea Malawa, perinatal equity medical director at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and physician director of Expecting Justice, said in a statement.

“Every single time we dismantle structural racism, we’re saving a Black mother’s life and we are saving a Black baby’s life. Our lives matter,” Malawa said.

Participating counties include Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Solano.

Disparity in mortality rates

Research published in 2019 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that for every 100,000 U.S. births, 41 Black women died from pregnancy-related causes compared to 13 white women. The research looked at deaths between 2007 and 2016.

In California, Black infants die at two to four times the rate of other groups, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.

“When we start listening to Black mothers, and start realizing that we are human beings, and our voice matters just as much as anyone else’s, that’s when we’re going to start seeing health issues decline,” says Sharayah Alexander of Alameda County. (Photo courtesy of DeliverBirthJustice.org)

“We deserve to have healthy births, for our babies to be taken care of,” said soul and R&B musician and activist Goapele, who served as a campaign spokesperson, in a statement. “See us, hear us, know our stories and help uplift us.”

Public health officials also said poor birth outcomes among Black women persist even when they get pregnant at an optimal age, are well-educated or have a high income.

In addition to research, the testimonies of Black women are helping to inform the campaign.

“The serious challenges that Black moms are facing in regards to health and their community is because of racism,” Sharayah Alexander, a Black mother in Alameda County, said in a statement.

“When we start listening to Black mothers, that’s when we’re going to start seeing health issues decline,” Alexander said.

Rooting out racism

Health professionals may be able to help by taking implicit bias training, partnering with doulas and midwives, and creating systems to report and address racism in health facilities.

“Being a Black, single mother in America requires a strong team for motivation and guiding her young kings and queens towards success and a healthy future,” says Ke’Ira Robertson of Solano County. (Photo courtesy of DeliverBirthJustice.org)

“We must take action now to root out racism and bias and repair the harm it inflicts on the health and lives of Black mothers, families and babies,” state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said in a statement.

Funding for Skinner’s Senate Bill 65 was included in the latest state budget. Called the California “Momnibus” Act, it aims to improve the health of Black moms and their babies.

More work is expected from county and campaign leaders. County leaders are expected to provide Black moms and their families the opportunity to share their stories around birth justice.

Campaign leaders are expected to work with policymakers to shed light on policies that disrupt racism and help Black parents have healthy children.

(Video courtesy of #DeliverBirthJustice/YouTube)